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.
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.
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