23 January 2023

Open data: from sharing standards to spreadsheets with the Data Science Group

A lack of truly open data and evidence continues to hinder engagement and collaboration amongst various actors in the philanthropic space yet many grantmaking foundations are increasingly recognising the value of accessible data, that can catalyse change and enhance collaborative efforts. To truly utilise data for social good, the democratisation of data, through providing open data which is accessible and equitable, should be encouraged and enhanced.

The concluding Data Science Talks of 2022 took place on 10 November, where the group convened on the subject of Open Data. To help explore the topic further, Tania Cohen, Chief Executive, 360Giving, joined the online session to present and highlight the work of 360Giving, and give the participants a snapshot of what is being done in the UK to promote and assist funders in publishing and using open grants data.

Explaining the mission of the charity, to help UK funders publish open standardised grants data and empower people to use it to improve charitable giving, Tania focussed on the different core elements that enable the tools that 360Giving offers. This includes the 360Giving Data Standard that was developed by grantmakers for grantmakers. It is imperative that there is an agreed format for open data, so it can be easily compared with data from other organisations.

Following this, the standard rules are further defined by JSON Schema and a range of funders, data users and technical specialists govern this JSON schema and the fields that are included. She pointed out that a JSON schema needs specialist technical knowledge, which means that only three funders directly use this and that others are utilising spreadsheets instead, demonstrating that a low barrier to entry is essential for the take-up of the standard and publishing. The spreadsheets contain 10 mandatory fields that funders need to complete, and through this medium, a wider level of adoption is achieved; rather than purely pursuing the JSON schema. The 10 core fields of data include categories such as: name of the funder and the grant identifier.

To assist funders make sense of how to publish open grants data, 360Giving also have a guidance site that details many of the different steps. Tania homed in on the point that as well as the data being open, everything that the charity does is open. For example, anyone can copy the standard and adapt it to however they wish to use it. She noted that this could be emulated and adapted to different countries and this is enabled by the fact that, additionally, the code for the tools is open licence. Overall, the publishing of this grant data is not reporting it to 360Giving but publishing it on funders own websites and something that is owned and seen as an integral part of grantmakers’ work.

Tania talked about the importance of the quality of the data, and the necessity of this so that the data points are in fact “useful.” In fact, there is a data quality testing tool to assist funders in making sure that high-quality data is inputted and a quality dashboard to view the results of the data published to support continuous improvement. Highlighting the organisation identifiers, she raised its importance as it creates links between funders, recipients and official data sources. This is in turn reinforces producing high quality, open data. Finishing her presentation, Tania went over the various uses of the data, as well as the benefits to the funders who publish their data. Using the data to support collaborations between funders has been critical to the impact of the initiative. This has also included development of mechanisms to monitor the equity of grantmaking.

The second part of the online event, saw a live presentation of some of the tools that 360Giving provide, including the GrantNav, which allows a user to navigate and explore the various grant data that has been published by UK funders. Participants were able to ask Tania questions throughout the session but also in a Q&A session.


Daniel Spiers
Programme Manager – Peer-Exchanges & Knowledge