Open Data : From audience to participant.

360Giving is a non-profit data collaborative. Read more on our about page.

At 360Giving we help funding bodies and charities to publish and better understand the value of open data. Much of what we have been doing has therefore been around raising awareness of the project among different groups ; building an interest among the varied audiences for the idea.

360Giving has many angles which are exciting to different people for different reasons. Mostly it is about helping them do new things that have not been possible before. For example, last week, speaking to a group of regional foundations and trusts the conversation focused on their interest in collaborating on impact and evaluation; when speaking with charities earlier this month, they wanted to better understand how to improve funding applications and find collaborators on programme design, and later on today, I expect that Opentech 2015 attendees will have interest in the way the data itself is structured and converted.

It is a promising sign for our work at 360Giving that we are exciting and engaging a range of audiences because it means that the project sits at an intersection between overlapping areas of interest. This is usually a good sign that you are on to something new and useful! Realising the value of open data for the charity and voluntary sector is an emerging area, and one where we hope that a non-profit collaboration like 360Giving can make a real difference. This means bringing together the best open technology and ways of working; alongside funding bodies’ and charities’ desire to understand and make more of their own data for the people they wish to benefit.

The success of the work depends entirely upon  audiences and interested audiences becoming imaginative and enthusiastic participants. A number of those from the initial audience have over time become participants, whether publishing open data, developing tools for analysis of the data, or as users of the tools. We hope that many more will become collaborators in the future.

I have shared just a few of the questions that people have been asking us below to show the variety of interest:

  • How can foundations and trusts make better use of the data they already gather and require from their grantees?
  • In what ways can we more easily combine funding data with other data sources (such as indices of deprivation or local authority spending) to add context to decision making?
  • How can those seeking funds and developing new charitable and voluntary programmes use data tools to understand how to best shape their work with others?
  • How can we make it technically very easy for publishers to structure their data using simple spreadsheets, and for developers to easily get the JSON formats they require to make analysis tools?

These are just a few questions that we have seen coming up as themes of interest and we are at the beginning of a journey towards answering them. I expect there will be many more! We hope that we’ll be able to work with many of you reading this as participants and collaborators to develop answers and practical solutions together.

If you are interested in finding out more about 360Giving contact alice.casey [at] nesta.org.uk or say hello on twitter @cased.

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Activity report – pipeline, firming up the 360giving data model and a registry

It’s been a while since I wrote here – we have been very busy working with grant makers to help foundations publish to the 360 data standard and, as part of that process understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the technical bits.  We’ve done a lot, mainly behind the scenes and there’s still lots to do.  It’s been great to receive such a strongly positive response as we talk to people about 360giving.

We have strengthened our core team with generous support from NESTA both in cash and kind, Indigo Trust and in kind from Dulverton.  This has allowed us to anchor the project securely and put a proper structure around it.

We now have a good pipeline of of grant makers publishing to the 360 standard, people who are preparing to do so and people who are interested.  We have 14 grant makers actively publishing in the 360 standard, varying from small family foundations to major charitable institutions.  One group of foundations is publishing grants in near real time from their in house database.  And we have roughly the same amount again in the pipeline.

Now we have grant makers publishing, we need somewhere to put the links to the data being published – known as a registry. We have engaged Practical Participation to map out a path to deliver a registry, which we shall populate and launch shortly, hopefully in early March.  When we do that we shall write more about the pipeline.

The early work with grant makers has thrown up some fascinating issues with the bare bones technical standard.  Practical Participation is also working on this to produce a more robust data model.  You can follow some of the work on the registry and data standard here.

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GrantNav beta – powered by 360giving data

Using 360giving standardised data we have worked with developers Aptivate to produce a grant navigator – GrantNav – that allows searching, charting and mapping of UK grant data from a dozen or more major grant makers.

360giving is about helping people publish data – we provide support, advice and a data standard that enables data to be compared.  If you can use a spreadsheet, you can publish to 360giving.  Having a common standard allows data from different grant makers to be compared, contrasted, searched and analysed far more easily.  It’s a bit like people speaking in the same language and using the same alphabets and numbering systems – you can understand a lot more.

Now we have lots of 360giving-standardised data (see our Summer 2014 update) people can build things with it and start to use the data to tell stories.  As part of our testing of 360giving, we thought we would get the ball rolling with a simple 360-powered demonstrator, GrantNav.

We began by using the rudimentary grant data published by the lottery distributors and some statutory grant makers, often in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.  The technology for development NGO Aptivate converted this data to the 360giving standard we found some grant maker’s data online, which we also converted and we began to gather more comprehensive data published to the 360standard by early-adopting private grant makers.

Aptivate then worked with us to create a prototype searchable database of about 240,000 grants worth some £16 billion over 20 years from over a dozen grant makers.  The GrantNav beta also allows comparative charts to be drawn of grants over time.  Where grant makers have provided good location data, Aptivate have also mapped the grants.

GrantNav is deliberately rough and ready – we want 360giving to be about the publishing of data for others to analyse, visualise or search (we are talking to researchers and sector analysts all the time). GrantNav is also a ‘beta’ – which means it is testing and development, will contain errors and things will go wrong – and we are adding new data as it arises.  But we thought we would set the ball rolling and see if this database woudl help people make better grants.  And what the wealth of data talent in and around the sector can come up with using the data we have standardised.

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360giving – summer update 2014

With our 360 partners NESTA, BIG Lottery, Nominet Trust and Practical Participation and we have been working quietly with leading grant makers, grant recipients and technologists for the last few months on publication of data to the 360giving standard.

For grant makers this means helping them get data from their grant management systems into the 360 standard for publication, working through the issues that arise and then discussing online publication.  We have given number of briefings and talks to spread the word in trade groups special interest groups and donor collectives.  And we have funded the services of a data scientist to help people publish.

 

We have been delighted by the support and constructive challenge we have received.  We are particularly pleased to see Paul Hamlyn Foundation publishing its grants to the 360 standard.  We have commitment to publish from a number of other leading grant makers too, on which more soon.  It’s good to see Nominet Trust starting to publish richer data and doing interesting things such as mapping it with links through to recipient and grant details.

We are starting to see how having something as mundane as a data standard for grants  enables, makes easier or augments other projects that join grant makers up.  The 360 standard provides a common thread for Dulverton Trust’s work on a common grants management system in Salesforce.com and we are talking with Marcelle Spellar at Localgiving about how standarised data could contribute to their work, such as on a clearing house for applications.  We shall write some more on this.

On the technology side, we have taken large quantities of grant data and tested standardising it to the 360 giving data standard.  We used for testing the rudimentary grant data published by the lottery distributers and some statutory grant makers, often in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.  Working with the technology for development NGO Aptivate, we created a prototype searchable database of about 240,000 grants worth some £16 billion over 20 years from over a dozen grant makers.  Because the grant data is standardised, comparisons can be made between different grant makers.  The 360 prototype also allows comparative charts to be drawn of grants over time.

We are now adding into this prototype the more comprehensive data from early-adopting private grant makers.  Aptivate have also mapped the grants of two major grant makers over time allowing a fascinating comparison of grant making geography.  We shall release it online shortly warts and all – watch out for a blog post here.

Looking ahead to the Autumn working with partners we are now starting to think through how to create a registry of where 360giving data is published, building on but separate to the work of Open Spending.  And we are coming up with a plan for support of the 360 initiative going forwards.  We shall continue to work with grant makers to help them publish their data – we try to be discreet and supportive in our approach – a hectoring, regulatory-led approach is unlikely to succeed in this sector.  I shall blog some more about the pipeline for helping people publish and the common issues that they raise.

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Giving Trends – Top 300 Foundations 2014 report

Fascinating morning at the launch of the Association of Charitable Foundations and CASS Business School report on the Top 300 UK Foundations Giving Trends.  It’s an excellent piece of work, but we were struck how much richer and easier the work would be if grant makers published their grants to an open data standard along the lines of #360giving.  A number of speakers from the floor and the platform said that the grant making sector desperately needed more information.  As Jon Cracknell put it:

‘We can’t do our grant making any worse if we know what each other is doing, surely?’

Professor Cathy Pharoah, said:

“Better data on philanthropy is increasingly vital. It helps provide a realistic context for assessing the feasibility of political aspirations for the role of private philanthropy in public welfare provision. We also need to know whether philanthropy is growing at a time of increasing private wealth, but continuing social inequality.”

It was good to hear from Anna de Pulford from Dulverton Trust who is doing some fascinating work on Salesforce for grant management and building a plug in to allow that to export data in the 360giving format.

The report, great work largely by Cathy Pharoah of Cass will be online here shortly.  Here’s a round up of the tweets: 

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Aptivate engaged by #360giving to build data demonstrators and road test data standard

We are going to build some demonstrators to show what can be done with open data about grant making.  Indigo Trust has engaged Aptivate an NGO expert in data manipulation and visualisation to build some demonstrators and in so doing test the draft data standard. Aptivate will use as a base load the hundreds of thousands of grants we have obtained by FOI from Lottery Distributers.

The work will be carried out in two sprints the first sprint will broadly look at gathering the data and converting it into the 360 giving data standard  in a database to learn how well the data standard works. And sharing the experience through blog posts.  Any scripts (small programs) that are written to convert data into the standard will be published so that others might use them, as will the database.

One of the issues we expect to arise from the first sprint is that the rough data we have gathered so far, largely through FOI is often lacking useful fields – eg precise location of grantee, their company number etc.  This will inform our work to help people publish more useful data and influence some aspects of the second sprint.

The second sprint, depending on the first will roughly look at what can be done with that database of standardised grants that will be useful to grant makers.  With Nominet Trust, NESTA and BIG Lottery, Indigo will give Aptivate purposeful, task orientated things to demonstrate with the data that will be genuinely useful to grant makers.

We shall write more about that soon, but suggestions are always welcome – what would you want to know from a database of around 200,000 grants from Lottery distributors, Wellcome, Technology Strategy Board and others covering the length and breadth of the UK?

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Data, data everywhere…

360 giving wants to free up 80% of the UK’s grants by value as open data.  So we need to encompass the biggest grant makers. We were delighted to work closely with BIG Lottery officers and recently their Chief Executive Dawn Austwick to begin publishing their impressive grant record as basic open data (on which, more developments soon).

But there are a good number of much smaller lottery distributors who make tens of thousands of grants between them.  Most of the distributors are covered by Freedom of Information legislation and I’ve been beavering away over the last few weeks with a series of FOI requests politely asking for their data for each of the last five financial years. Generally I have been asking:

>>I should be grateful for a spreadsheet/csv file of your grants made for the last five financial years. I should like to know the
name of the recipient organisation,
date of grant,
purpose of grant/description,
address of recipient including post code,
company or charity number of recipient,
[activity] of recipient,
scheme under which grant was made,
source of funds (eg lottery, exchequer etc).

Which seems reasonable to me and something that a statutory grant maker will have in their database – it is public money after all.  Some have given a great response, others not. There seems to be a particular reluctance to provide the company or charity numbers of grantees, which is odd.   I am now working with a number of experts to find a way around the problem.  But this exercise has brought a further hundred thousand grants or so into the public domain as primitive open-ish data.

Our grant data page shows all the data we have unearthed so far by FOI as well as data found simply by tracking it down in a grant-maker’s website.  I was particularly pleased to bump into the Technology Strategy Board who pointed me to their grants spreadsheet with over £2 billion of grants in it.

This creates a further challenge – lots of spreadsheets scattered all over the internet with data in all sorts of forms, none of it standardised.  So you can’t be sure what information is in which column. We want people to publish their data themselves in a standardised format so that others can re-use it for better grant making.  But we have only just published our data standard and it needs road testing.  And in the very early stages of an open data journey you need to keep things simple

grass-roots action is essential. Put the data up where it is: join it together later.’

Tim Berners-Lee

Our model at 360 giving is NOT a ‘library publishing’ model, where we gather all the data up and keep it safe and then charge for access to it.  But in the very early stages we need to pump-prime data standardisation and manipulation.  We think that the best way is to demonstrate by doing.  So we are going to engage some experts to standardise the data we have found so far, despite its gaps and flaws and create a public database as a demonstrator.  We can then feed the learning back into our work helping people to publish.  More on that in the following blog post.

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