One reason 360Giving could deploy this tracker with daily updates is because we’ve collaborated to build a streamlined and automated data publication pipeline, whose first application is 360Giving’s search engine for grants data, GrantNav.
While we hadn’t predicted our pipeline would support the COVID19 Grants Tracker when we started the work in 2019, the system was designed to support exactly this kind of tool. The fact our new pipeline was used for such an important use so soon after we went live shows how taking stock and building resilient infrastructure can make open data more useful, usable and in use.
Updating the pipeline has had immediate impacts: we’ve removed the need for developers to fetch all the data before they can start to explore it, and allowed research tools to be built in a matter of hours (rather than weeks) using automatically updated information.
In this blog post, we share how we worked with 360Giving, some of the technical details of the pipeline, and what we’ve learned along the way.
As we spend a great deal of time understanding who uses 360Giving and their needs, we identified two main issues: the manual process of loading data into GrantNav, and the lack of access to a relational database that enables users to explore the data.
No more manual loads
At the start of the project, loading data into GrantNav was a monthly, manual process that required developer time. Funders would publish a spreadsheet using the 360Giving Data Standard on their website, and the data would be fetched, checked and loaded into GrantNav by 360Giving and Open Data Services.
In the early days, these manual loads helped us find errors and build resilience into the system. They gave 360Giving opportunities to understand their data, helped shape guidance for grantmakers, and familiarised our team with the project.
As we now had a better understanding of the data and GrantNav’s role in grantmaking transparency infrastructure, we decided the time was right to automate the pipeline to increase the frequency of uploads and free up developer time.
No more duplicated data fetching
360Giving recognised the importance of a ‘show, then tell’ strategy for open data early on. As well as getting funders to publish and share data, users also need to be able to see and interact with it.
With this in mind, GrantNav was initially created as a data visualisation and access tool in the form of a document store (which is optimised for searching text and casual, human exploring), rather than a relational database (which is optimised for linking entries together, and for applications and tools).
During the 360Giving Visualisation Challenge in 2018, we saw that many entries wrote code to fetch the information before transforming it into a relational database so it could be queried in more interesting ways. This meant people were duplicating work, and spent less time analysing and visualising grantmaking information overall.
Building resilient infrastructure