10th January 2018, words by Oliver French
This week Lankelly Chase has joined the growing group of charitable foundations who have made our spending data more open, accessible and understandable through the 360giving platform. You can take a spin here.
This data has always been in the public domain through our annual reports, for those with the time and energy to track it down. But this goes a step further by making the data more accessible and comparable, and by feeding into a bigger dataset with equivalent information from other foundations too. For all that we might talk about our strategy development and our emerging work as a foundation which sees itself as an active partner rather than ‘just’ a funder, we recognise that where our money goes is probably the simplest signal of what we’re up to. So we’re happy and interested to make this information as open as possible.
Initiatives like 360giving also speak to some bigger questions for us and others in the field. To bring in a timely comparison: the recently published Lammy Review of outcomes for BAME people in the criminal justice system called for a system of ‘explain or reform’. The argument is that if (robust) data shows a disparity that you can’t reasonably explain – like people being given different custodial sentences for the same crime – then you must take action to reduce it. So what would happen if the principle of ‘explain or reform’ was applied to charitable foundations? Could it push us to take a more curious approach to the significant amounts of data that we have at our fingertips? Or to look more methodically at the kinds of organisations that we fund – like where they are, what issues they focus on, and even who leads them?
This isn’t to say that we should be aiming for an artificial ‘funding equality’, if we could even decide what that looked like in the first place, given the range of issues that foundations are dedicated to. For one, we might look outwards to explain any disproportionality that we did find – like levels of applications from different regions, leadership trends in the wider voluntary sector, or simply the anticipated impact of the ideas that come our way. But we could also do much more to look inwards at our own practices and blind spots – however meritocratic we think our grant processes might be – and examine in earnest what the data tells us.
I’ll finish on another point from the Lammy Review. It looks like good and fair decisions are made when decision-making processes involve openness and scrutiny, like peer-reviewing case files or deliberating together as a jury. Bad and unfair decisions emerge in the opposite circumstances. Are our decision-making processes transparent and open to scrutiny? It doesn’t always feel that way. But with any luck (and no small amount of commitment), initiatives like 360giving will make this more of a reality, and the groundswell to open up information on foundation practice more widely will maintain its positive momentum.