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We are 5: our highlights, lessons and hopes for the future

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Today is our 5th birthday 🎂 

To mark it, we’re sharing some – well, five – of our biggest highlights, challenges and lessons over the last five years, along with five things we hope for the future.


Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

We can’t believe it’s been five years since our journey began. We were set up in 2015 because our founder, philanthropist Fran Perrin, couldn’t find the information she needed to inform her funding decisions.

Since then, we’ve worked hard to help funders publish open data about their grants – using the 360Giving Data Standard – and empower people to use this data to improve charitable giving. We couldn’t have got as far as we have without our funders and supporters, our tech team, the Standard’s Stewardship Committee, and – crucially – the amazing funding organisations who took a leap of faith in publishing their grants data openly, and continue to work to update and improve their data.

In this post, we share some of our team’s highlights, challenges and lessons learnt in our journey so far, along with things we’d love to see in future.

Five highlights 🥳

Reaching critical mass for publishing grants data. When we started out five years ago, the idea that it could ever be ‘the norm’ for UK funders to regularly publish data about their grants openly seemed ambitious. But now, hundreds of funders are doing this. Without early adopters taking a leap of faith in opening up their grants data, we couldn’t do what we do.

Launching Version 1 of the 360Giving Data Standard. It took a lot of work for us to launch the 360Giving Data Standard. The initial research to develop the Standard started in 2013, with the first funders publishing data in 2015. Most people are not aware, but until June 2018 the Standard was in “beta” (testing) mode. Once the 360Giving Data Standard Stewardship Committee was satisfied that the schema worked well, we created Version 1. The current version of the Standard is 1.0.2 – meaning we’ve only made small changes to it since we released Version 1.

Being adopted as a government standard. The Open Standards Board selected the 360Giving Data Standard for use by central UK Government departments and their agencies when disclosing grant-giving data. Given its rigorous assessment process – both of the data and our infrastructure – this was a sign of maturity for the Standard. It also gives us credibility and helps us work with central and local government to publish data in the Standard.

Working to improve data quality. As part of our new 3-year strategy, we set out goals that went beyond normalising data to improving the quality of data being shared, so the information can be usable and useful. We’ve been working to help people in the voluntary sector think about data in different ways, to get more value from it.

Helping funders to build a data culture. We’ve been working with funders to build a data culture in their funding organisations. Through our Data Champions programme, we’ve seen many grow their skills, make friends, share their challenges and learn from each other.

Five challenges 🤔

We’re one of a few open data standards. We had a few other standards like us to look to (for example, the IATI Standard and the Open Contracting Data Standard), but mainly we had to develop it by ourselves. In many respects, we had to start from scratch – the regulations, technology and data infrastructure that we needed weren’t always there.

Our team started small (and we’re still quite small). With our ambitious goals, and numerous products and programmes, some people assume we have a big team. But we started with just two members of staff, and have only grown by necessity since then to four full-time staff. Our capacity has sometimes been stretched.

Promoting digital skills in the voluntary sector. There haven’t traditionally been many career paths open to data experts in voluntary sector organisations – data roles haven’t been prioritised. This has meant a lack of digital skills in the sector. Therefore, in working towards our mission to help organisations publish open, standardised grants data – and empower people to use it to improve charitable giving – we’ve had to spend time training and upskilling.

Bridging the reality gap. Publishing data openly to a high standard isn’t a trivial task and many of the concepts are unfamiliar to our community, so it can be a challenge to communicate what it involves. We aim to make it as straightforward as we can, but it can still be intimidating for some funders sharing data for the first time. Database systems and data quality have a big impact on how easy it is to share data. It can take time and effort to get data cleaned and in order but, once it is, the benefits can be felt more widely.

Missing datasets. The UK Government, in spite of its efforts, has been slow to open its grants data. The delays mean we’re still waiting for it to fulfil its commitment to publish its data, using the 360Giving Data Standard. Without this crucial information, we can’t have the fuller picture of UK grantmaking that we know is possible.

Five lessons 🎓

Get cornerstone stakeholders onboard early. Getting key funders to publish their grants data early on was helpful in encouraging others to do the same. We received vital early support from Indigo Trust, National Lottery Community Fund, Nesta and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation – both in funding our work and publishing their grants data. Funders of all types and sizes published data before we were a year old: Dulverton Trust, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, Northern Rock Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Wolfson Foundation, Oxfordshire Community Foundation, Macc, Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council, and ZING, and six of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts.

Have patience. It’s all well and good planning ahead, and setting out a theory of change for how you will progress. However, in our experience, things like changing culture can take longer than they theoretically should. But it is worth the wait!

Invest early in joined-up communications. Being such a small team, until recently we did not have an in-house communications function. It’s great to have input and expertise from consultants, but we’ve learnt that having the capacity to plan communications at the beginning of projects, and deliver them consistently within the team, is hugely valuable.

Being open doesn’t always mean accessible. We are an open organisation – openness is central to our values – but it hasn’t always been easy for people to find us. It takes targeted communications to ensure that data, guidance and even the benefits of a campaign are clear and accessible to audiences.

Show don’t tell. Nothing beats showing people a process, or a tool, when you’re helping them to learn. We have learnt the value of investing in clear, engaging guidance for people looking to publish or use data, or use our tools. This is something we’re now prioritising.

Five things we want to see in future 🔮

More data initiatives and datasets to connect to. We would love to see a more mature infrastructure in the voluntary sector so that our hard work – and the hard work of all the funders publishing data about their grants – can be complemented.

Funders using data as well as publishing it. It is brilliant that so many funders are now publishing data about their grants, but we would love to see all of them using the data regularly too, to inform their decision-making.

Funders investing in in-house data skills. If more funders and voluntary sector organisations invested in digital skills, so much more could be done with data. We’d love to see more career paths open up to data experts, analysts, developers and other digital professionals in the sector. This could bring about more technical maturity in organisations, where ‘data’ isn’t looked at as one person’s job, but instead a data culture has been embedded, and seen as important to everyone.

More collaboration in the sector. With more technical maturity, we’d love to see more confidence amongst (potential) data publishers and users in the voluntary sector to discuss ideas and make contributions to the development of the 360Giving Data Standard itself, by sharing ideas with the Stewardship Committee.

More publishing capabilities built into publishers’ systems. It would make life easier for everyone if the process of publishing grants data in the 360Giving Data Standard could be integrated into more grants management systems.

Once again, we’d like to thank all of our wonderful community for helping us get to where we are today. We are excited to see what the next five years bring!

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