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Opening up data around grant making – a demonstrator for Esmee Fairbairn


In 2010, Esmee Fairbairn a leading grant maker in the social justice area held a futures event.  One team took Esmee’s grant information from their website (where it was published in pdf documents) and turned it into a database.  By turning the data into a versatile database, instead of static documents they were able to present the information in a range of different ways (including the map).  The blog describes their journey.

The team was able to produce a simple map of grants and a motion chart of how the type and size of grant changed over time.

But most of their limited time was spent wrestling the data into a database.  The team from practical participation wrote a blog post on what else they could do.

For example, loaded into statistical software (and cleaned up more) it could be used to explore how much of a charities income grants from the Foundation made up in a given year. Or, if we could merge non-charity grants with details of those organisations, it could be used to explore the difference between grants to charities and other organisations.

We could explore how photos, media and reports from Flickr and other websites could be attached to unique grant identifiers and displayed on the Foundation’s website to give a visual impression of the impact of the grantmaking.

One way to explore the impact of grantmaking is to see what grant recipients are saying about the Foundation on their websites. Because Open Charities provides websites URLs for many charities, we can take the list of website addresses from our merged Fusion Table and use this to create a Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) that searches just the websites of grant recipients.

The critical step was to turn the grant making information in pdf files – essentially something closed to a computer – into open data that a computer could read.  At simple level just publishing the grant information as a CSV file or basic spreadsheet would make life much easier.  We are aiming for a world where the vast majority of grant data are published as open data that computers can read. This then unlocks huge potential for understanding and analysis of who is making grants to whom across a wide range of bodies.  Grant makers would be able to see at a glance who was funding in a similar area and then choose to collaborate or learn from the other funders’ experience. This will take us one step nearer to a more strategic approach to philanthropy for donors and recipients.