Data standards: What are they? And why does philanthropy need them?


(Michael Lenczner) #1

In April, Ben outlined a value proposition for open data in philanthropy. In his post, he highlighted how publicly available data on grantmaking can help enable evidence-based, strategic decision making in philanthropy. This kind of data provides opportunities for funders to identify collaborators, and for potential grantees to strategically identify funding sources.

In general, open grants data has the potential to provide a rich picture of philanthropy. This understanding becomes richer and more comprehensive as more funders share their grantmaking data openly. As more Canadian funders, such as OTF and Tides Canada join the open data movement, this data will have the most value if it can be easily combined, compared, and analyzed across different funders.

Inconsistencies between datasets are a barrier

What do we mean by this? You can imagine that if different funders share their data as different file types, with different information categories, and different systems for identifying organizations, it would be challenging to compare data across funders. These inconsistencies would also render it difficult to combine datasets across funders to get a more comprehensive dataset. How can we minimize inconsistencies between how different funders publish their data?

There is already a solution established for addressing this, thankfully: data standards. We can think of data standards as a set of rules around how data should be published. A data standard might specify the format(s), fields (information categories), and systems for identifying organizations (e.g. funders or grantees), of a published data set. Data standards are used in a number of different sectors. Grantmaking is one of them.

A data standard for publishing grants data openly in the UK: The 360Giving Standard

The 360Giving Standard is a standard for publishing open grants data in the UK. There are currently over eighty UK funders publishing their grants data using the standard, meaning they all use a common, consistent format specified by 360Giving when they publish their grants data online. This has created a rich dataset that is of use to many stakeholders in UK philanthropy. For example, 360Giving data forms the backbone of Beehive Giving, a platform that helps non-profit fundraisers identify potential funding sources.

Although the 360Giving standard is currently used primarily by UK-based funders, Canadian funders could choose to align with it, or go their own direction. Another option could be aligning to the standard for reporting grants and contributions developed by the Government of Canada. As the open data movement among Canadian funders begins to grow, we’re excited to see a conversation on what a data standard for Canadian funders could look like.

Unique identifiers: why open grants data need them