Developing new models for social transformation

Report by Sarah Pearson: We live in unprecedented times. A period where globalisation has supported relative peace and growing prosperity. Where technological innovation has transformed social connectivity, democratised access to information and power, and driven new industry and jobs. The current pandemic, geopolitical power struggles, and a widening disparity in the distribution of the benefits of technology, however, threatens this progression. Many people have been, and many more are being left behind, with the recent COVID-19 pandemic seriously affecting progress in areas such as gender equality. Innovation, from an operational, business model, technological and societal perspective, is poised and ripe to help. This research focused on how this innovation could be applied to philanthropies seeking to address social change, overcome disadvantage, and build Equality of Opportunity.

Opportunities abound: starting with how we lead and govern in Foundations so that we unleash creativity and opportunity, throughout the organisation and externally; how we become more open and access new impactful ideas we would not have dreamt of without looking more widely; how we fund differently in order to make the most of our corpus, apply a gender lens, provide more than financial resources,
and support long term impact through new funding models; how we manage programs with sufficient flexibility to allow for unforeseen impact and experimentation by those we support; with whom and how we partner to deliver greater systemic change, and how to engage in an inclusive ecosystem of impact; how we leverage data to understand the issues, provide an asset for innovation, and measure our impact; and crucially how we set up for a diverse, experimental, learning culture. And in all of this, how we connect to and empower those with lived expertise to build economic self-determination, and combine with other expertise to grow inclusive problem-solving communities…(More)”.

Data for Social Good: Non-Profit Sector Data Projects

Open Access Book by Jane Farmer, Anthony McCosker, Kath Albury & Amir Aryani: “In February 2020, just pre-COVID, a group of managers from community organisations met with us researchers about data for social good. “We want to collaborate with data,” said one CEO. “We want to find the big community challenges, work together to fix them and monitor the change we make over ten years.” The managers created a small, pooled fund and, through the 2020–2021 COVID lockdowns, used Zoom to workshop. Together we identified organisations’ datasets, probed their strengths and weaknesses, and found ways to share and visualise data. There were early frustrations about what data was available, its ‘granularity’ and whether new insights about the community could be found, but about half-way through the project, there was a tipping point, and something changed. While still focused on discovery from visualisations comparing their data by suburb, the group started to talk about other benefits. Through drawing in staff from across their organisations, they saw how the work of departments could be integrated by using data, and they developed new confidence in using analytics techniques. Together, the organisations developed an understanding of each other’s missions and services, while developing new relationships, trust and awareness of the possibilities of collaborating to address community needs. Managers completed the pilot having codesigned an interactive Community Resilience Dashboard, which enabled them to visualise their own organisations’ data and open public data to reveal new landscapes about community financial wellbeing and social determinants of health. They agreed they also had so much more: a collective data-capable partnership, internally and across organisations, with new potential to achieve community social justice driven by data.

We use this story to signify how right now is a special—indeed critical—time for non-profit organisations and communities to build their capability to work with data. Certainly, in high-income countries, there is pressure on non-profits to operate like commercial businesses—prioritising efficiency and using data about their outputs and impacts to compete for funding. However, beyond the immediate operational horizon, non-profits can use data analytics techniques to drive community social justice and potentially impact on the institutional capability of the whole social welfare sector. Non-profits generate a lot of data but innovating with technology is not a traditional competence, and it demands infrastructure investment and specialist workforce. Given their meagre access to funding, this book examines how non-profits of different types and sizes can use data for social good and find a path to data capability. The aim is to inspire and give practical examples of how non-profits can make data useful. While there is an emerging range of novel data for social good cases around the world, the case studies featured in this book exemplify our research and developing thinking in experimental data projects with diverse non-profits that harnessed various types of data. We outline a way to gain data capability through collaborating internally across departments and with other external non-profits and skilled data analytics partners. We term this way of working collaborative data action…(More)”.

Philanthropy to Protect US Democracy

Essay by Lukas Haynes: “…Given the threat of election subversion, philanthropists who care about democracy across the political spectrum must now deploy donations as effectively as they can. In their seminal book, Money Well Spent: A Strategic Plan for Smart Philanthropy, Paul Brest and Hal Harvey argue that generating “alternative solutions” to hard problems “requires creativity or innovation akin to that of a scientist or engineer—creativity that is goal-oriented, that aims to come up with pragmatic solutions to a problem.”

In seeking the most effective solutions, Brest and Harvey do not find that nonpartisan, charitable efforts are the only legitimate form of strategic giving. Instead, they encourage donors to identify clear problem-solving goals, sound strategy, and clarity about risk tolerance.

Given the concerted attack on democratic norms by political candidates, there is no more effective alternative at hand than using political donations to defeat those candidates. If it is not already part of donors’ philanthropic toolkit to protect democracy, it needs to be and soon.

Once Big Lie-promoting candidates win and take power over elections, it will be too late to repeal their authority, especially in states where Republicans control the state legislatures. Should they successfully subvert a national presidential election in a deeply polarized nation, the United States will have crossed an undemocratic Rubicon no well-intentioned American wants to witness. So what are the most effective ways for political donors to respond to this perilous moment?…(More)”.

Is digital feedback useful in impact evaluations? It depends.

Article by Lois Aryee and Sara Flanagan: “Rigorous impact evaluations are essential to determining program effectiveness. Yet, they are often time-intensive and costly, and may fail to provide the rapid feedback necessary for informing real-time decision-making and course corrections along the way that maximize programmatic impact. Capturing feedback that’s both quick and valuable can be a delicate balance.

In an ongoing impact evaluation we are conducting in Ghana, a country where smoking rates among adolescent girls are increasing with alarming health implications, we have been evaluating a social marketing campaign’s effectiveness at changing girls’ behavior and reducing smoking prevalence with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Although we’ve been taking a traditional approach to this impact evaluation using a year-long, in-person panel survey, we were interested in using digital feedback as a means to collect more timely data on the program’s reach and impact. To do this, we explored several rapid digital feedback approaches including social media, text message, and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys to determine their ability to provide quicker, more actionable insights into the girls’ awareness of, engagement with, and feelings about the campaign. 

Digital channels seemed promising given our young, urban population of interest; however, collecting feedback this way comes with considerable trade-offs. Digital feedback poses risks to both equity and quality, potentially reducing the population we’re able to reach and the value of the information we’re able to gather. The truth is that context matters, and tailored approaches are critical when collecting feedback, just as they are when designing programs. Below are three lessons to consider when adopting digital feedback mechanisms into your impact evaluation design. 

Lesson 1: A high number of mobile connections does not mean the target population has access to mobile phones. ..

Lesson 2: High literacy rates and “official” languages do not mean most people are able to read and write easily in a particular language...

Lesson 3: Gathering data on taboo topics may benefit from a personal touch. …(More)”.

Why Funders Should Go Meta

Paper by Stuart Buck & Anna Harvey: “We don’t mean the former Facebook. Rather, philanthropies should prefer to fund meta-issues—i.e., research and evaluation, along with efforts to improve research quality. In many cases, it would be far more impactful than what they are doing now.

This is true at two levels.

First, suppose you want to support a certain cause–economic development in Africa, or criminal justice reform in the US, etc. You could spend millions or even billions on that cause.

But let’s go meta: a force multiplier would be funding high-quality research on what works on those issues. If you invest significantly in social and behavioral science research, you might find innumerable ways to improve on the existing status quo of donations.

Instead of only helping the existing nonprofits who seek to address economic development or criminal justice reform, you’d be helping to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The result could be a much better set of investments for all donors.

Perhaps some of your initial ideas end up not working, when exhaustively researched. At worst, that’s a temporary embarrassment, but it’s actually all for the better—now you and others know to avoid wasting more money on those ideas. Perhaps some of your favored policies are indeed good ideas (e.g., vaccination), but don’t have anywhere near enough take-up by the affected populations. Social and behavioral science research (as in the Social Science Research Council’s Mercury Project) could help find cost-effective ways to solve that problem…(More)”.

Unlocking the Potential of Open 990 Data

Article by Cinthia Schuman Ottinger & Jeff Williams: “As the movement to expand public use of nonprofit data collected by the Internal Revenue Service advances, it’s a good time to review how far the social sector has come and how much work remains to reach the full potential of this treasure trove…Organizations have employed open Form 990 data in numerous ways, including to:

  • Create new tools for donors.For instance, the Nonprofit Aid Visualizer, a partnership between Candid and Vanguard Charitable, uses open 990 data to find communities vulnerable to COVID-19, and help address both their immediate needs and long-term recovery. Another tool, COVID-19 Urgent Service Provider Support Tool, developed by the consulting firm BCT Partners, uses 990 data to direct donors to service providers that are close to communities most affected by COVID-19.
  • More efficiently prosecute charitable fraud. This includes a campaign by the New York Attorney General’s Office that recovered $1.7 million from sham charities and redirected funds to legitimate groups.
  • Generate groundbreaking findings on fundraising, volunteers, equity, and management. researcher at Texas Tech University, for example, explored more than a million e-filed 990s to overturn long-held assumptions about the role of cash in fundraising. He found that when nonprofits encourage noncash gifts as opposed to only cash contributions, financial contributions to those organizations increase over time.
  • Shed light on harmful practices that hurt the poor. A large-scale investigative analysis of nonprofit hospitals’ tax forms revealed that 45 percent of them sent a total of $2.7 billion in medical bills to patients whose incomes were likely low enough to qualify for free or discounted care. When this practice was publicly exposed, some hospitals reevaluated their practices and erased unpaid bills for qualifying patients. The expense of mining data like this previously made such research next to impossible.
  • Help donors make more informed giving decisions. In hopes of maximizing contributions to Ukrainian relief efforts, a record number of donors are turning to resources like Charity Navigator, which can now use open Form 990 data to evaluate and rate a large number of charities based on finances, governance, and other factors. At the same time, donors informed by open 990 data can seek more accountability from the organizations they support. For example, anti-corruption researchers scouring open 990 data and other records uncovered donations by Russian oligarchs aligned with President Putin. This pressured US nonprofits that accepted money from the oligarchs to disavow this funding…(More)”.

The New Moral Mathematics

Book Review by Kieran Setiya: “Space is big,” wrote Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979). “You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

What we do now affects future people in dramatic ways—above all, whether they will exist at all.

Time is big, too—even if we just think on the timescale of a species. We’ve been around for approximately 300,000 years. There are now about 8 billion of us, roughly 15 percent of all humans who have ever lived. You may think that’s a lot, but it’s just peanuts to the future. If we survive for another million years—the longevity of a typical mammalian species—at even a tenth of our current population, there will be 8 trillion more of us. We’ll be outnumbered by future people on the scale of a thousand to one.

What we do now affects those future people in dramatic ways: whether they will exist at all and in what numbers; what values they embrace; what sort of planet they inherit; what sorts of lives they lead. It’s as if we’re trapped on a tiny island while our actions determine the habitability of a vast continent and the life prospects of the many who may, or may not, inhabit it. What an awful responsibility.

This is the perspective of the “longtermist,” for whom the history of human life so far stands to the future of humanity as a trip to the chemist’s stands to a mission to Mars.

Oxford philosophers William MacAskill and Toby Ord, both affiliated with the university’s Future of Humanity Institute, coined the word “longtermism” five years ago. Their outlook draws on utilitarian thinking about morality. According to utilitarianism—a moral theory developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the nineteenth century—we are morally required to maximize expected aggregate well-being, adding points for every moment of happiness, subtracting points for suffering, and discounting for probability. When you do this, you find that tiny chances of extinction swamp the moral mathematics. If you could save a million lives today or shave 0.0001 percent off the probability of premature human extinction—a one in a million chance of saving at least 8 trillion lives—you should do the latter, allowing a million people to die.

Now, as many have noted since its origin, utilitarianism is a radically counterintuitive moral view. It tells us that we cannot give more weight to our own interests or the interests of those we love than the interests of perfect strangers. We must sacrifice everything for the greater good. Worse, it tells us that we should do so by any effective means: if we can shave 0.0001 percent off the probability of human extinction by killing a million people, we should—so long as there are no other adverse effects.

But even if you think we are allowed to prioritize ourselves and those we love, and not allowed to violate the rights of some in order to help others, shouldn’t you still care about the fate of strangers, even those who do not yet exist? The moral mathematics of aggregate well-being may not be the whole of ethics, but isn’t it a vital part? It belongs to the domain of morality we call “altruism” or “charity.” When we ask what we should do to benefit others, we can’t ignore the disquieting fact that the others who occupy the future may vastly outnumber those who occupy the present, and that their very existence depends on us.

From this point of view, it’s an urgent question how what we do today will affect the further future—urgent especially when it comes to what Nick Bostrom, the philosopher who directs the Future of Humanity Institute, calls the “existential risk” of human extinction. This is the question MacAskill takes up in his new book, What We Owe the Future, a densely researched but surprisingly light read that ranges from omnicidal pandemics to our new AI overlords without ever becoming bleak…(More)”.

What Works? Developing a global evidence base for public engagement

Report by Reema Patel and Stephen Yeo: “…the Wellcome Trust commissioned OTT Consulting to recommend the best approach for enabling public engagement communities to share and gather evidence on public engagement practice globally, and in particular to assess the suitability of an approach adapted from the UK ‘What Works Centres’. This report is the output from that commission. It draws from a desk-based literature review, workshops in India, Peru and the UK, and a series of stakeholder interviews with international organisations.

The key themes that emerged from stakeholder interviews and workshops were that, in order for evidence about public engagement to help inform and shape public engagement practice, and for public engagement to be used and deployed effectively, there has to be an approach that can: understand the audiences, broaden out how ‘evidence’ is understood and generated, think strategically about how evidence affects and informs practice and understand the complexity of the system dynamics within which public engagement (and evidence about public engagement) operates….(More)”.

Data in Collective Impact: Focusing on What Matters

Article by Justin Piff: “One of the five conditions of collective impact, “shared measurement systems,” calls upon initiatives to identify and share key metrics of success that align partners toward a common vision. While the premise that data should guide shared decision-making is not unique to collective impact, its articulation 10 years ago as a necessary condition for collective impact catalyzed a focus on data use across the social sector. In the original article on collective impact in Stanford Social Innovation Review, the authors describe the benefits of using consistent metrics to identify patterns, make comparisons, promote learning, and hold actors accountable for success. While this vision for data collection remains relevant today, the field has developed a more nuanced understanding of how to make it a reality….

Here are four lessons from our work to help collective impact initiatives and their funders use data more effectively for social change.

1. Prioritize the Learning, Not the Data System

Those of us who are “data people” have espoused the benefits of shared data systems and common metrics too many times to recount. But a shared measurement system is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. Too often, new collective impact initiatives focus on creating the mythical, all-knowing data system—spending weeks, months, and even years researching or developing the perfect software that captures, aggregates, and computes data from multiple sectors. They let the perfect become the enemy of the good, as the pursuit of perfect data and technical precision inhibits meaningful action. And communities pay the price.

Using data to solve complex social problems requires more than a technical solution. Many communities in the US have more data than they know what to do with, yet they rarely spend time thinking about the data they actually need. Before building a data system, partners must focus on how they hope to use data in their work and identify the sources and types of data that can help them achieve their goals. Once those data are identified and collected, partners, residents, students, and others can work together to develop a shared understanding of what the data mean and move forward. In Connecticut, the Hartford Data Collaborative helps community agencies and leaders do just this. For example, it has matched programmatic data against Hartford Public Schools data and National Student Clearinghouse data to get a clear picture of postsecondary enrollment patterns across the community. The data also capture services provided to residents across multiple agencies and can be disaggregated by gender, race, and ethnicity to identify and address service gaps….(More)”.

Arts Data in the Public Sector: Strategies for local arts agencies

Report by Bloomberg Associates: “Cities are increasingly using data to help shape policy and identify service gaps, but data about arts and culture is often met with skepticism. Local arts agencies, the city and county entities at the forefront of understanding and serving their local creative communities, often face difficulties in identifying meaningful metrics that capture quality as well as quantity in this unique field. With the Covid-19 pandemic and intensifying demand for equity, the desire for reliable, longitudinal information will only increase in the coming years as municipalities with severely limited resources face critical decisions in their effort toward recovery.

So how can arts-minded cities leverage data to better serve grantees, promote equity in service delivery, and demonstrate the impact of arts and culture across a range of significant policy priorities, among other ambitions?

Produced by our Cultural Assets Management team, Arts Data in the Public Sector highlights the data practices of fifteen local arts agencies across the U.S. to capture a meaningful cross-section of constituencies, resources, and strategies. Through best practices and case studies, the Guide offers useful insights and practical resources that can assist and inspire local government arts funders and advocates as they work to establish more equitable and inclusive practices and to affirm the importance of arts and culture as a public service well into the future…(More)”.