While many charities, particularly smaller ones, are still trying to board the digital revolution, the next technological revolution has already arrived; open data is transforming the way we work, live and play.
New apps and platforms that use freely available data are helping us travel better, buy more efficiently, save energy, know more about the places we live in and build smarter cities.
Open data that can be easily accessed, modified and re-used is powering a new economy and philanthropist and Indigo Trust founder Fran Perrin is keen to see that the charitable sector is not left behind by a data-driven age.
Inspired by open data initiatives such as City Mapper, that is integrating data on all urban modes of transport taking the guesswork out of public travel and making cities easier to use, Fran, a self-confessed ‘geek’, wants to harness the power of open data to improve the efficiency of grant making in the UK.
“When I first began grant making I had lots of questions about where I should start. I wanted to know how I could do as much good as possible with my money - who was already being funded, and how much was going to which causes - so I could target my money with maximum impact.
“I trawled the internet but the answers were not easily found. I realised the sector was funding in the dark. I questioned why that information didn’t exist and how funding might change if it did,” says Fran.
It was the inspiration to launch the charity 360Giving that has developed a standard format for releasing grants data so everybody can see who is funding what and where.
Developing a standard approach to sharing information is a simple idea. It ensures funders make their data available in a uniform way, meaning it can be easily accessed and compared; and because the data is openly licensed, anyone can access and use it for their own research and to create new services and businesses.
Since the launch of 360Giving in 2015, more than 60 funders – including the UK’s leading grant makers; corporate, community and family foundations; local councils and government departments – are sharing information on more than £17bn worth of UK funding.
Already new platforms such as GrantNav and Beehive, both of which use 360Giving data, are saving funders and grant seekers time and money, and bringing a new level of transparency.
Grant seekers can use Beehive to help match them with suitable grant makers at the click of a button, addressing one of the sector’s major bugbears – ineligible applications, that the Directory of Social Change estimates accounts for years of wasted effort over any one year.
“Before Beehive was launched, grant seekers had to rely on data that was painstakingly collected from funders’ websites and annual accounts. Now users can access more recent data that reflects current strategy,” explains Fran.
GrantNav, launched in September 2016, is a free to use, searchable platform that uses 360Giving data so funders can discover within three clicks who else is funding the same kind of organisations, activities and regions as themselves. Perhaps more importantly, it is also being used to help identify funding cold spots.
And by overlaying 360Giving data with the thousands of open datasets now available around the world, from live traffic feeds to crime rates, from poverty profiles to flood maps such as those found at Data.gov.uk, the potential for new tools and apps that can ramp up the value of grant making and transform how we respond to social challenges is endless.
But Fran says: “We are just at the start of the open data revolution. To deliver on its potential, we need more data, more skilled people who can work it, and tools that can make it accessible and useful for us all.”
360Giving has launched a Challenge Fund, that is looking at shared challenges within the sector and exploring with others how open data can be used to help solve them.
They are also working to encourage government to open up its grants data while also looking at how it can engage with the sector in a more holistic way.
“For example, charities are asked to provide a lot of the same information to different departments when looking for grants. We think this could be more efficient if a ‘publish once, use often’ policy was adopted by government,” explains Fran.
360Giving is urging more funders to publish good quality data and offers pro bono technical support to grant makers who want to join what they are calling the #greatergrantsdata movement.
“We want to take the guesswork out of grant making so that funding becomes more evidence-based and data-driven. Open data is already transforming the way we live and it has the potential to transform how we give,” says Fran.
Get in touch with 360Giving by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fran Perrin Managing Chair of 360Giving’s Board of Directors
The information contained in this article is believed to be reliable and accurate, but without further investigation cannot be warranted as to accuracy or completeness. The opinions expressed in this document are not necessarily the views held throughout Brewin Dolphin Ltd.