Join the open grants movement

We are a charity that helps organisations to publish open, standardised grants data, and supports people to use it to improve charitable giving

A product manager’s approach to enhancing the 360Giving Data Standard


How data standards can take a product-led, user-centred approach.

When I became the first dedicated Product Manager at 360Giving in April 2021, I knew what to expect when it came to managing a suite of software tools like GrantNav and 360Insights. But I had no idea how I’d go about managing the 360Giving Data Standard, which would also be part of my new portfolio. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned to do this by thinking strategically, understanding user needs and testing different approaches just like any other product. I was able to lead on enhancing the Standard to support users to collect and use more meaningful data – a process that we are continually working on.

Getting started

Initially, it felt like the 360Giving Data Standard was this intangible artefact that I couldn’t look at – unless you count peering at the JSON Schema (pronounced “Jason”), the technical language used to describe the rules of the Standard. So I couldn’t just try it out and ask myself “What would I do to improve this?”. As our friends at Open Data Services like to say: “JSON? Never heard of him”.

But then I learned that the Standard describes the shared rules and format used by 273 funders (and counting) who publish their grants data as open data, meaning it can be used by anyone, for free. Because the rules are consistent, the data is machine-readable and can be accessed by software like our search engine GrantNav. The Standard is also overseen by an independent Stewardship Committee, whose role is to ensure that it is maintained appropriately and updated as necessary. To update the Standard would be to change those rules, or add new ones – but why would we do that?

Strategic planning

Well, not long after I joined 360Giving, we began the process of developing the next strategy, as our existing one was set to end in March 2022. This allowed us to focus on what was necessary to deliver our mission for grantmaking in the UK to become more informed, effective and strategic. Our aim is for more money to go to where it is needed most to support communities and causes through a better understanding of the grantmaking picture – so we needed to appreciate what the barriers were to people understanding this picture.

We consulted users via a strategy survey, and by listening to and being embedded within the sector, were able to identify emergent needs in response to changes in funding practices and the environment. We saw that there was a need to understand the equity of grantmaking, and that grants to individuals were a missing part of the grantmaking picture.

Understanding user needs and priorities

In addition to being strategic, a key part of my role was to develop the Standard to respond to user needs. For that, I needed to know more specifically who its users were. The most obvious group of users are the funders who publish data, and who use the Standard to format it consistently every time they publish new grants. But the people using the resulting data are also, by extension, using the Standard. This includes anyone accessing the data via the Registry, the Datastore, and the tens of thousands of people who access it each year using GrantNav! Demand for a new field or category could come from anyone interested in grants data, including researchers, analysts and policymakers, not just funders.

So now we’ve landed in familiar territory. In order to effectively manage the 360Giving Data Standard as a product, I needed to start where I always start – understanding our aims, talking to users and doing research to understand their needs. From there, I could adapt my usual approach and develop the Standard’s product management process. Here’s a diagram I made to document it and share my learning, which is based on a typical software product management lifecycle.

A diagram of the product management lifecycle of the 360Giving Data Standard.

We had some idea already about the needs of our users, thanks to my brilliant colleagues in the publisher Helpdesk and our analysts, as they regularly speak to and support people publishing or analysing the data, and use the data themselves. We knew important challenges that users faced included understanding where grant funding is spent geographically, and understanding flows of funding when money is regranted. We confirmed that these were the right priorities and dug deeper into users’ data needs via facilitated user working groups.

‘Developing’ the product

From there we did the ‘Development’ bit of the cycle – but instead of getting software developers to write code, this meant drawing up concrete proposals of what these features would be in the Standard. Did we need new fields? What would people put in those fields? And how should the data be structured (or formatted)? The Standard already collects a lot of useful qualitative data in grant Titles and Descriptions, and important quantitative data in Award Amounts, Award Dates and so on. But what was missing were standardised categories, like a drop-down on a web form, which could let users more easily group similar grants together and compare them or put them into a chart.

We shared these proposals with users and ran several consultations, which we talked about in our blogs on each of the proposed new features: DEI Data Standard, regranting, location and grants to individuals. These allowed us to confirm that the categories were meaningful, descriptive and comprehensive while remaining high-level enough to be analysed straightforwardly. This was an important part of our commitment to openness, not just of the data itself but of the process for changing the Standard. We also tested ideas on a practical level, where possible, using funder data.

Release! (and Monitor)

After getting insights from and going through the governance process with our Stewardship Committee, the new features were released into the wild (well, into the Standard) and became available for use by funders publishing their data. As with software, we monitor takeup, but instead of using analytics, we look at the data itself to see how many funders are using the new fields. Finally, we made sure they were available to end users by making them accessible in our tools. You can filter by whether grants are for regranting or are grants to individuals in GrantNav and 360Insights now!

Starting the cycle again

Like any product, the 360Giving Data Standard has a roadmap of future developments. The direction of travel is towards more categorisations, and it is likely that we’ll be looking at the funding type category next. So watch this space, as there’s more to come that will allow you to understand grants better. In the meantime, if you share your grants data in the 360Giving Data Standard, make sure you’re getting the most out of it by taking a look at our updated guidance to use the regranting and location scope fields, or find out how to share data on grants to individuals.

And if you do have ideas for new types of data that could be shared in the 360Giving Data Standard which we should consider during the prioritisation of the roadmap, please let us know by emailing us at