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Blog reposted from the Data Stewards Network Medium.

Data is everywhere, but many innovative data-driven methods and tools have not yet been leveraged by the philanthropic sector. How can philanthropies use data to prioritize investments, shift from addressing symptoms to root causes, and understand community experiences?

On February 6th, 2024, The GovLab and Paul Ramsay Foundation participated in Philanthropy Australia’s webinar, “Accelerating Data-Driven Innovation Across the Grant Making Cycle,” which explored how innovative uses of data can address these questions and transform grant making processes. The webinar included in-depth discussions on the growing potential for data across philanthropic processes as well as the launch of DATA4Philanthropy.net—a new platform that aims to build a community of practice around data for philanthropy. A summary of these conversations is outlined below. 

Event Summary

The webinar began with opening words from Jack Heath AM (CEO of Philanthropy Australia) on the importance of data in addressing today’s complex problems. Jack emphasized the need for new tools and information to make data-informed decisions in this dynamic landscape. 

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His statement was followed by opening remarks from Kai Graylee (Head of Innovation and Integration at the Paul Ramsay Foundation) who provided context about Paul Ramsay Foundation’s collaboration with The GovLab. Kai explained that there were many questions that could not be answered using existing data and saw a need for new data sources from across different sectors. 

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Next, Stefaan G. Verhulst (Co-Founder and Chief R&D at The GovLab) and Hannah Chafetz (Research Fellow at The GovLab) presented a summary of the DATA4Philanthropy.net, focusing on its four main functions:

  1. Demystifying Data and Methods: DATA4Philanthropy features primers on innovative methods using data and how those methods could be combined throughout the entire grant making process. The platform currently features primers on Participatory Sourcing of QuestionsDigital Ethnography, Living Evidence and Visualization, and Futures Studies, but the intent is to expand these in 2024. 

  2. Featuring Case Studies: DATA4Philanthropy includes tangible case studies on how these methods have been applied within the philanthropic and social sectors, including how they were used, outcomes, and key learnings from the process. 

  3. Curating Insights and Recent Developments: The platform provides the latest resources around innovative uses of data for philanthropy and upcoming learning events from across the Australian and global philanthropic community. 

  4. Building Community: DATA4Philanthropy is building a growing network of philanthropic data leaders. Philanthropists interested in learning more about the initiative can join by filling out the form on data4philanthropy.net/join.

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Following the presentation, Robert McLean AM (Author of Bulletproof Problem Solving and The Imperfectionists) moderated a panel discussion with Professor Sally Cripps (Co-Director, Human Technology Institute, University of Technology Sydney), John Sukkar (Executive Leader, Technology and Innovation Minderoo Foundation), and Stefaan, discussing how data is being used their work and reflecting on the methods included in DATA4Philanthropy. 

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A few key takeaways from the panel discussion:

  • Robert provided reflections on the mindset required to become data-driven in the context of philanthropy. He explained that in his book, The Imperfectionists, he advocates for starting with big questions, incorporating multiple perspectives, and focusing on robust experimentation. He emphasized that “systems change is more likely when collective intelligence is brought to bear.” He concluded by providing examples of work at the Paul Ramsay Foundation that used these approaches to drive positive change. One example was how Anne Summers’ work on using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on domestic violence and poverty impacted policy making. 

  • John discussed the importance of having reliable data to inform decisions around today’s systemic problems: “At least for Australia, impact philanthropy is not as well known as in North America and Europe. If we're focused on impact through systems change, we need to understand those systems and understand their work and the surprising number of competencies in those systems."John explained how not having an updated evidence base on these competencies could cause harm later on and the role of partnerships in building this evidence base. To illustrate this point, he spoke about his own personal experiences as a firefighter and how satellite data helps to identify and mitigate emerging fires before they spread widely. 

  • Sally focused on the value of combining several methodologies to evaluate student performance in schools. Sally explained: "We really do need to combine the flexibility of things like crowdsourcing with the rigor of randomized control trials.” She emphasized the importance of an adaptive approach–using complementary methods to build an evolving evidence base that can be adapted. Sally concluded by discussing the opportunities of incorporating evidence based on lived experiences in a systematic way. She explained how incorporating lived experiences in evidence bases could help identify data gaps and understand what data is most important for different contexts.  

  • Stefaan spoke about The GovLab’s work around increasing access to data across sectors. Stefaan explained how in order to become data-driven, you need access to data. But, in many cases there are significant barriers that stand in the way. Stefaan elaborated on the value of gaining access to non-traditional data sources specifically: “It's not just about surveys but also about satellite data, consumer data, and many other sources. We need to maintain access to existing repositories, but we need to think about the variety of other data that exists.”

The event concluded with closing remarks by Stefaan and Jack about how the launch of the Data4Philanthropy is not the end but just the beginning of an in-depth exploration and exchange on how to transform grant giving and problem solving by leveraging data in new ways. Both also called upon the participants to join the peer-to-peer learning community (by joining here)  ***

The full recording of the event can be found here. Sign up for the DATA4Philanthropy network here or submit a case study to DATA4Philanthropy here.

Please email DATA4Philanthropy@thegovlab.org with any questions or if you are interested in collaborating.