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Evidence-based philanthropy: more talked about than done

31 mei 2018, 06:00
Evidence-based philanthropy: more talked about than done
Evidence-based philanthropy: more talked about than done
De Dikke Blauwe en media-partner Alliance Magazine wisselen regelmatig artikelen uit. Onderstaand artikel verscheen in het nieuwe Alliance Magazine en gaat in op het 'buzzword' van dit moment: evidence based philanthropy. Goed doen op basis van feiten, data en empirie is een proces waarbij veel organisaties geholpen kunnen worden door filantropische fondsen die zich vooral richten op het versterken van de filantropische infrastructuur. Een (Engelstalig) artikel van Aurelia Kassatly

Evidence-based philanthropy is more talked about than done. Philanthropy support organisations can help to remedy this.

Though evidence-based giving and data-driven philanthropy have become buzzwords in the sector, they have yet to be widely practised by private philanthropists and foundations. Data1 collected is often unhelpful, nor does it significantly influence a funder’s strategy. Many of the reasons for this could be addressed by philanthropy infrastructure organisations. This article looks at why smaller grantmaking organisations have yet to fully embrace data-driven philanthropy, what the potential benefits of data are and how it should be used, and how philanthropy infrastructure organisations could help.
 
The challenges of data collection and use
Ultimately, the impact (defined here as lasting and sustainable positive change that you are seeking to achieve) philanthropists can have is limited by: the area they focus on; the interventions and organisations they fund; and the outcomes (both positive and negative) of that organisations work. Data can be used at all three stages. Unfortunately, there are a number of challenges that prevent this evidence-based approach from really taking off among smaller grantmaking institutions.
 
Capacity
The first is capacity. Many smaller foundations do not have the capacity to do extensive analysis of impact reports on different interventions, nor do they have the in-house expertise or funding to support charities in collecting monitoring and evaluation (M&E) data. As a 2014 UN reporton the use of data in sustainable development notes: ‘too many people, organisations, and governments are excluded from this new world of data because of a lack of knowledge, capacity, or resources.’
 
Motivation
The second is motivation. Many philanthropists and smaller private foundations are more inclined to fund causes or organisations that they feel a personal connection to, not because evidence suggests they are effective. It is not the case that donors do not care about impact, or ensuring that their money is making a difference, rather that a different set of heuristics are employed to try and ensure this is the case. Anecdotal evidence suggests that donors often rely on their proximity to, or knowledge of, the area where the programme is being implemented, or the size of the charity requesting funds to determine whether an organisation is effective or not. Despite feeling comfortable and intuitive, these measures rarely give any indication of a charity’s effectiveness.
 
Complexity
The third is focus area. A common refrain is that problems that are complex, address the future, or involve multiple stakeholders are nearly impossible to collect accurate monitoring and evaluation data or prepare comprehensive impact assessments about. Donors who take this view often further argue that the growing importance of data and evidence is having the counterproductive effect of discouraging philanthropists from taking risks. In reality, neither proposition is true. The Open Philanthropy Project, for example, applies a ‘hits-based’ approach to giving, funding projects that could be 90 per cent likely to fail provided that they also have a very high expected value; the Hewlett Foundation, which places an absolute premium on outcomes despite the variety of cause areas they support, including hard-to-measure areas such as policy; and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University where a team of researchers and academics is actively working to build the knowledge base around biological, nuclear and environmental threats and the best way to address these challenges.
 
Availability of high-quality data
The fourth challenge is availability. Good quality data on successful interventions is still not widely published. As a 2014 reportby the Conference Board argued, foundations rarely collect information about their constituents, or ultimate beneficiaries including their unmet needs, mechanisms for meeting those needs, or the work of similar organisations. Even today, four years later, the most common type of information shared by foundations is grantmaking data – how much money was given to which organisation, for what programme, and for how long, which teaches us nothing about the impact that these grants have had. It is also not legally mandatory for grantmaking organisations to share this information so the extent to which foundations, particularly smaller foundations, participate is limited.
 
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