Data for Action: Good data for better decisions

In the context of grantmaking and optimising impact, the time for data is now. In the era of big data, the road to making strategic decisions in philanthropy could be laid by relevant and consistent data that informs action, supports impact, and helps maintain linkages between the two.

Data has the potential to drive action as it enables grantmakers to reflect on two pertinent questions:

I. What are the needs of today?

II. How can we best respond to these needs?

I. What are the needs of today?

Activating philanthropy begins with identifying needs. There are a myriad of causes and issues that philanthropy can support for social good. An effective approach to maximise philanthropic efforts is to identify what data conveys about the needs of a community.

Integrated datasets or information hub models are increasingly becoming a source of data that can help grantmakers better understand the context around social problems and causes of their interest. These information hubs collect and synthesise vast amounts of data from across a given sector or issue area. They include indicators or aggregate measures that are reported at a population level e.g., poverty rate, homelessness rate, median income, among others. Such datasets can inform the needs of a community, sign post possible responses to needs, strengthen the strategy behind philanthropic efforts and enable informed decisions around giving.

In Ireland, the Central Statistics Office collates datasets and information hubs across a broad variety of themes, including health, housing, education, well-being, and sustainability, among others. There is ample scope for such datasets to be further developed and augmented in the context of enabling informed philanthropic efforts. Grantmakers, trusts, foundations and philanthropists can benefit from tapping into the potential of such datasets and accessing quality, consistent, and relevant data that can help them make strategic decisions.

Additionally, there is merit in drawing from integrated datasets from around the world which demonstrate the role of Government and the potential of robust central data made available for social good. The philanthropy sector in Ireland could use anonymised microdata across departments and tailored data reports which could be selectively made available whilst complying with confidentiality requirements. Further, to effectively harness the power of such datasets, there is a need to build capacity across the broader sector to make strategic use of data for action.   

INTEGRATED DATASETS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Stats NZ or New Zealand’s statistics department collects data from different sources and links it together to create integrated data. Its Integrated Data Infrastructure is a large research database containing anonymised microdata about individuals, households and businesses from surveys run by both government agencies and NGOs. This data feeds into a range of research efforts across areas including health, people and communities, income and work, education, employment, housing, social services, and wellbeing, among others. The power of integrated data and research around it has empowered policy makers and organisations working for social good to broaden understanding of issues and further make strategic decisions to address them. For example,  New Zealand’s Ministry for Children and organisations working with vulnerable children have been using the stats NZ database to make evidence-based decisions and to improve the effectiveness of their services.  

UK Ministry of Justice established the Justice data lab which provides tailored data reports for organisations working with offenders. The lab combines administrative data from criminal justice charities and public service organisations. The statistics reports that it provides help organisations assess the impact of their work on reducing reoffending. With Justice lab statistics and its services, organisations working in rehabilitation of offenders have access to information in a clear and easy to understand format, with explanations of the key metrics, and any caveats and limitations needed to interpret the results. The lab enables organisations working in this area to make strategic decisions more efficiently, especially considering that they previously relied on their own efforts to collect data from various sources.


II. How can we best respond to the needs of today?

Data can play a central role in unpacking the many aspects of this question including nature of program to fund, choice of grantee, other funders in the space, track record of projects being funded, and the kind of reporting and evaluation to be undertaken. To strategically approach the three aspects laid out above, it can be effective to draw from data around philanthropic giving patterns.

Open data platforms and annual giving reports essentially capture data around philanthropic giving patterns i.e., who gives what, what are the nature of programs being supported and where. To truly make an impact, it is important for grantmakers and philanthropic organisations to see the complete picture. Giving data can help identify others working to address the same social problems, their role in the ecosystem, impact they’re having and the scope for collaboration. Additionally, an understanding of giving patterns can provide insights into initiatives, geographies and communities that are getting funded and the ones that are being left behind. Access to such information can develop a holistic and strategic approach to philanthropic funding.  

Reports like ‘Giving Ireland’ and data made available by the formerly active ‘Benefacts’ provide an insight into the landscape of philanthropy in Ireland. Despite the value of these sources of data, there is a lack of up-to-date comprehensive data on overall scale of philanthropic giving in Ireland. It has been identified that there is a strong need for consistent data around private, family, corporate and institutional giving in the country. Open data platforms and data sharing solutions can bridge the identified data gaps with the support of government policies that promote data transparency around philanthropy.

OPEN DATA PLATFORMS AROUND THE WORLD  

Run by a Canada based software company, Fundtracker is an online platform which combines open and public data with their own research to help funders and non-profits better understand giving patterns with focus on risks and opportunities in their funding environment. The platform provides a comprehensive view of who is funding what, where, and how much in Canada.

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UK’s open data platform for grantmaking – 360 giving facilitates over 225 funders to publish their grants data in a standard format that enables a comparative analysis of grants data across the country. In addition to sourcing data from grantmakers and funders the platform supports a peer-network for people in funding organisations looking to learn how to use data to make more informed decisions and improve the effectiveness of their grantmaking.  


Data for action – good data for better decisions: Data has immense potential in informing grantmakers and philanthropic organisations on the needs of today and how best to respond to them. Given the significant role of data in philanthropy it is crucial to facilitate and promote data-driven strategic philanthropic giving. As technological infrastructures continue to develop and the cost of technologies continue to drop, philanthropy should find increasing benefit in using data to promote social good and lasting change.

The next part of this reflection piece on data will highlight how good data can promote social learning and help create lasting impact. Read more on: Data for Strategic Giving (Part 2)

By Pavithra Ramesh
Impact Research Lead
Philanthropy Ireland