Australia's leading social enterprise, Our Community, today launched a series of groundbreaking data initiatives designed to accelerate the move to evidence-based social practice in Australia.
The Melbourne-based organisation launched the seventh generation of its cloud-based grantmaking system, SmartyGrants, providing hundreds of grantmakers and thousands of not-for-profit organisations access to a shared taxonomy to help them systematically describe themselves and their initiatives.
The taxonomy (known as CLASSIE - Classification of Social Sector Initiatives and Entities) is designed to underpin a range of data initiatives, including funding and donations trend analysis, benchmarking initiatives for grantmakers and not-for-profits, and open data, cross-sector and international data-sharing projects.
"The goal is to get us all speaking this same language, which will provide enormous opportunities for collating and comparing data, with a view to extracting insights that will help improve social change work in the future," said Our Community Group Managing Director Denis Moriarty.
"We want to cut through the hyperbole surrounding 'big data' and use it to better understand the stuff that really matters."
CLASSIE is already being used to categorise organisations and projects on a range of Our Community platforms including GiveNow, GoodJobs, the Funding Centre's EasyGrants Database, and the Institute of Community Directors Australia's Board Matching Service.
As of today, it will also be available to grantmakers and grantseekers via standard questions that grantmakers can add to their SmartyGrants application and acquittal forms.
The questions encourage organisations to self-classify themselves and their projects in terms of "subject" (e.g. arts, sport, health) and "beneficiaries" (e.g. young people, refugees, women).
"This represents a huge shift into the world of data intelligence for us and our community of users," said Mr Moriarty.
"The more grantmakers who use these fields, the more insights they'll be able to collect - knowledge that in the future will help grantmakers to reduce red tape and improve decision making.
"This is the most exciting time in history for people who seek to create positive social change. We have always had the will - now we have the tools to turn our passions into action."
Today also sees the launch of additional standard questions in SmartyGrants that will help funders apply a gender lens to their grantmaking.
"We live in a sexist world where the default setting favours men," Mr Moriarty said. "If we don't bring our biases out into the open we risk excluding people from our work, which means we're reducing the chances of creating positive social outcomes."
Our Community worked with the Australian Women Donors Network to create the new fields.
"This is another way we're using our tech platforms to drive behavioural change," Mr Moriarty said.
The new CLASSIE and gender lens standard fields are embedded in SmartyGrants template forms that can be used for grant applications, assessments and acquittals.
The new forms encourage grantmakers to take a more outcomes-oriented approach to their decision-making, and encourage grantees to focus on learning rather than showcasing their successes.
The forms also seek to drive greater standardisation across grantmaking sectors. Template budgets are now more closely aligned with the National Standard Chart of Accounts, while question fields align, where possible, with those in Philanthropy Australia's standard forms.
This week Our Community is also launching a new SmartyGrants website and a new SmartyGrants Help Hub, as well as the 10th annual Grants in Australia Survey, which takes the pulse of the nation's grants landscape and helps drive changes in grantmaking practices over time.
Meanwhile, the first generation of dashboards are due to arrive in SmartyGrants in December. The first four dashboard widgets will help grantmakers answer at a glance four fundamental questions about their program:
Benchmarks that line a grantmaker's data up against that of other similar grantmakers will later be added to these widgets, along with a number of additional graphs.
More classification types are also in the works, with outputs and outcomes classification a top priority for CLASSIE.
"Once we can line up project outputs and outcomes in a systematic way, we'll be able to get a better picture of what truly works to create positive social change," Mr Moriarty said. "That's when we'll see truly useful insights emerge."
Our Community is in the process of establishing a reference group comprising representatives of not-for-profits, government agencies, and philanthropic and corporate convenors and funders to help guide the shift into the data era. Click here for more information or to express an interest in joining the group.