2012 Trends in Philanthropy: DataPosted: 14 February 2012
This is the final installment of our three-piece post examining what 2012 has in store for philanthropy. We’re taking our lead from Lucy Bernholz’s Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012 which notes three big shifts in store for the sector this year. Today we’ll be taking a look at data and it’s role in creating the social good.
Data and the desire to accumulate it tends to fall in and out of fashion in Australian philanthropic circles. Opponents compare the collation with the chains of government bureaucracy or worse still, that overly self-indulgent practice of ‘naval gazing’. On the flip side of the argument you have proponents espousing data as a commodity every bit as important as the currency distributed through grants.
Gone are the days of data being considered simply numbers on a spreadsheet. The Blueprint paints a wonderful picture of the changing face of data and how we use them:
In reality, anything that can be digitized can become data. This includes items that start out digitally – photos, videos, cell phone calls, text messages, Facebook posts, and blog comments. It also includes things we convert to digital form – books, old newspapers, films, music, and the content of our file cabinets. Once this material is digitized and we can click on it, “like” it on Facebook, or share it via Twitter with friends we create another layer of data.
Data allows for the impact of our philanthropy to be captured, shared and understood in ways like never before. Equally we can better and more quickly measure the campaigns people respond to and as a result help to bring resources and effort to major issues more quickly. As individuals we can donate via text messaging (not as well as we should be able to here in Australia), crowd funding, Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers, and an array of other web tools – all of which leave a trail of giving data behind. We respond and interact with data in today’s world – we are the creators the next role is to become the curators.
So has philanthropy in Australia responded to this changing landscape of data collection and use? In grantmaking philanthropists have long backed data collecting and building in the area of medical research but the sciences have a longer history of utilizing the power of data in their research and storytelling. For the community sector the sell to philanthropy is much tougher. Research, evaluation and data collection doesn’t excite philanthropists in the same way that getting tangible things done on the ground does.
The community sector is not alone in being under resourced to measure and understand its own impact. The philanthropic sector, which houses huge amounts of data, makes precious little use of any of it. The tide is slowly turning however. The Centre for Social Impact is undertaking mapping work, led by former Philanthropy Australia CEO – Gina Anderson, to examine where some of Australia’s major trusts and foundations are making gifts. Research at Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies is exceptional and building, while Swinburne University continues to grow its credentials in this space. All of these are positive advances but more can be done and is required.
Data is powerful. It helps us to tell our stories. To excite and teach us. Data helps us to build a picture of where we are as a society and where we might be headed. How we use and interact with data in 2012 has the potential to influence the trends we will be seeing in 2013. Is Australia’s philanthropic sector ready for this shift? I have my doubts but there is a slow movement occurring. Let’s revisit at the end of the year.
If you have not already done so, head to the Philanthropy 2173 Blog to get your hands on a copy of the Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012
You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the Blog via @3eggphil