From spaghetti junction to open, transparent grantmaking data

This blog first appeared on Medium, as part of the Funding Utupia project, Exploring radical, transformative ideas for the future of UK grant funding. 

A Funding UtopiaAt present, it’s not possible to find a complete dataset on all charitable grants provided in the UK. This means the huge financial flows from grantmakers to grantees are opaque. This vastly increases costs for all actors in the sector — collaboration between grantmakers is made harder; due diligence is done with limited information and grant applicants face significant information barriers to find out who might fund them.

Ultimately, this impacts negatively on grantees and their beneficiaries — the people and organisations that grantmakers want to support.

But imagine if…

Imagine if you could go to one website and find data on all the grants provided across the UK for the past year.
You could see where the £3.3 bn of grants awarded by central government had gone and how that flow of funding complemented the grants made by lottery funders, local authorities and the £6.5 billion of grants made by charitable foundations.

Or imagine if you wanted to see all the grants awarded to food banks in England in 2013 and compare that to 2018. Has this funding increased or decreased? Who provided it? Are there more food banks in 2018 compared to five years ago? Where are they based?

Imagine you’re a funder in Wales and you are developing your next five-year strategy. Who else is funding in Wales? What are they funding and where? Has this increased or decreased over the past decade? Is this funding from the EU, the Welsh government or an independent funding source?

Put yourself in the shoes of a fundraiser. Imagine the time you’d save if you no longer had to trawl 40 different websites to find out who is getting funding for activities similar to the ones your organisation does. You wouldn’t have to rely on funding databases that show old data taken from annual reports and instead could see the latest grants awarded. You could check your eligibility with new funders more easily and reduce wasted time and effort submitting applications that won’t be considered because the funder’s strategy has changed.

Imagine if this spaghetti junction of funding data was freely available and at the click of a button.

Well some of it already is, and with more data being opened up each month, this utopia could be a reality in five years’ time.

What would that mean for the sector? I can see three key impacts:

1. The sector would be better understood

Civil society is often misunderstood in the UK. Its size, the contribution it makes to wider society, how many people it employs, how its regulated, how it’s funded and by whom— all this matters. Open grants data helps people understand and talk about this in a more informed way and makes it easier to use funding data alongside other datasets.

See for example this research by Nesta and NCVO which found 33,000 small organisations delivering services “below the radar”.

2. We could have more data-informed discussions

There is a lot of discussion within the sector about giving communities more of a voice and the need for deeper, closer connections.

Data would help understand these communities better and help to identify similarities and differences with other communities. See for example the Young Foundation’s mapping of patterns of philanthropic and charitable spending against deprivation, public spending and the EU Referendum result. This research adds to our understanding of the differences between areas that voted to leave or remain in the EU.

3. People could improve their work

It’s not just geeks and academics that want information on funding flows. Grantmakers and grant seekers do too. It’s a win-win situation that helps conversations be more efficient and would reduce the sense of “giving in the dark”.

See for example, NPC’s research on the need for more systematic funding for homelessness; or this analysis of funding provided to London and the city’s changing needs.

Information = power

Information is an asset. It is also knowledge and power, so it matters how information is shared if you want others to benefit from it. Whilst transparency is a good thing for grantmaking organisations to aspire to, this should not be confused with better data sharing. The key to this is publishing open comparable data, not more PDFs.

In my funding utopia, people will be able to access the information they need in order to make more informed funding decisions and more targeted funding applications.

I want anyone to be able to quickly see who is funding what, how much and what for so the sector can better understand itself and be understood more easily by others.

At 360Giving we’re already working hard towards making this vision a reality. If you’d like to join us then please get in touch.