Our Community's Innovation Lab is where we seed ideas to do old things better or new things first.
Our founding aim in 2000 was to build stronger communities through stronger community organisations. We have done this by creating useful online tools and capacity building education and training at a price even the smallest not-for-profit groups can afford.
We've also worked to keep the money moving, creating smarter grantmaking methods and tools, and a commission-free online donations platform. Billions of dollars are now moving into the not-for-profit sector more efficiently through our grants administration tool (SmartyGrants), while more than $12 million per year is flowing from individual donations to good causes through GiveNow.
By forging partnerships with business, government and philanthropy we've accelerated our impact and increased our reach beyond our home zone of Australia. We're now servicing grantmakers in 32 countries around the world.
Now there is a new currency that is powering social reform. Data is reshaping our world. New tools allow us to collect, distil, understand and act on data like never before, hastening the pace of change. We want to make sure the social sector can grasp the possibilities presented by these new tools.
Below we have outlined some of the key initiatives that Our Community will use to propel the social sector into a new data era, and the values that underpin this work.
The work of Our Community's Innovation Lab is guided by the principles outlined below, as well as the Our Community group's Manifesto.
CLASSIE is a landmark initiative that enables systematic classification of Australian social sector initiatives and entities - an Australian social change dictionary.
Using the US Foundation Center's well-respected and recently revised taxonomy as the spine of the system, the taxonomy draws on a well of knowledge contributed by a voluntary team of more than 50 subject matter experts.
CLASSIE (Classification of Social Sector Initiatives and Entities) is used to create consistency across Our Community platforms - without consistency, global insights are very difficult to extract.
Developing a common language helps us join the dots and derive insights that cut across a range of government, business and community activities.
We want to make it easier for community groups to recruit, raise funds, fast-track grant applications and manage all of their information in one place.
Project Streamline centralises and systematises the storage and retrieval of reusable information about social sector organisations.
A central repository will be linked with Our Community's numerous online systems (including SmartyGrants, GiveNow and the Join In, Join Up! directory), making uploading and updating of data into online appeals, grant applications and a range of other services and platforms instant and effortless.
Project Streamline also lays the groundwork for the creation of networking, benchmarking and governance/oversight tools that can help social sector organisations identify allies and collaborators, compare themselves with other organisations in their field or of their type, and super-charge their performance.
Millions of hours and billions of donors are flowing into the social sector each year - to what end? We want to know what changes are being created, as well as learning how we can replicate the good changes and avoid the bad ones.
We're working on the creation of a universal Outcomes Classification (part of CLASSIE) that can be used to help us collect and categorise information about what changes are being sought, and how those initiatives are panning out.
In addition, we're working on systems that can be embedded into our platforms (our "Outcomes Engine") that will help generate better-designed, better-interrogated, better-understood social-change initiatives.
Importantly, we want to showcase what is learned along the way to anyone and everyone working towards the same aim. The Centre for What Works will reveal insights about what activities and outputs seem to lead to particular outcomes, while the Plans and Tools Bank will provide a knowledge base of templates and tools associated with interventions that work.
Our 'What Works' initiatives will help our partners close the design > deliver > evaluate > design loop.
Machines can't do everything, but they can do a lot of things.
It's a brave new world, but we're getting started. Our first major step into this arena is an investigation of how algorithms and artificial intelligence can be used to eliminate bias and speed up grant application assessments. We're also looking for ways to assist grantwriters to draft and check their applications, to improve the quality of applications submitted.
Next up is an online donations experience that's tailor-made for the user.
In our artificial intelligence projects, we always aim to build explainable models. We avoid black-box algorithms (opaque systems of decision-making) as much as possible, focusing instead on methods that allow us to quantify the 'why' in the prediction. Why did our method lead to this decision? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the algorithm? Are we propagating existing biases in the data, or eliminating them? How will our model behave in the future? We believe these questions are imperative, and more important than a 0.1% more accurate model.
We support transparency in the social sector, particularly when it comes to knowing and showing where the money is going, and the effect that money is having in creating social change.
There is an increasing level of interest in open datasets, as well as new regulations that seek to apply transparency to the work of government.
We want to help platform users open up their data and provide them with tools to help navigate it.
Work is under way to adopt an open data standard for grants information in SmartyGrants, and provide a one-click tool to allow willing grantmakers users to export what they want to where they want it.
We have an in-house data science team and a number of initiatives planned and in progress to interrogate the data we oversee.
Our outputs in this arena are underpinned by our "useful trumps interesting" mantra, driving us to ensure that any findings we arrive at have real-world applications.
Some samples of our outputs are outlined below.
In 2016 we conducted an in-depth review of donation data in our GiveNow platform and launched 'Who Gives?', a ground-breaking report that can be used by community groups to inform their fundraising strategies.
The analysis of more than half a million donations over 15 years allowed us to uncover emerging trends in donation patterns, as well as sector-specific and gender-specific donation patterns that not-for-profits can use to tailor their approach.
In mid-2017, we launched dashboard functionality in SmartyGrants (our grants administration software) to deliver instant insights to grantmakers and help them visualise their data.
Dashboard widgets encourage grantmakers to think more strategically about how they administer their programs and interrogate more carefully their funding patterns.
Our latest Grants in Australia report (July 2017), the ninth instalment in a decade-long grants research project, combines the data analysis prowess of our data scientist with the deep grantmaking domain knowledge of our team, allowing us to chart historical trends and create practical takeaways for grantmakers and benchmarking insights for grantseekers.
We started producing aggregate maps as part of the 'Who Gives' report. We are now exploring the use of interactive maps in SmartyGrants to see where grant funds were requested, where they were allocated, and to help identify areas that have been overlooked.
We use data analysis as input into our feature design. For example, we use techniques such as A/B testing to better understand user behaviour and to assess what options are the most appealing/effective.
Can you influence donor decisions about what amount to give to a particular cause? Our A/B tests are providing some deep insights.
We're creating a range of tools to help grantmakers and grant recipients uncover and remove biases, creating fairer, more effective social change.
In our first initiative we worked with the Australian Women Donors Network to create greater gender awareness in the awarding of grants. Gender-wise grantmaking occurs when grantees are encouraged to consider the social disadvantage women and girls face when designing and delivering grants-funded projects and programs, and where grantmakers themselves consider gender when setting and reviewing funding priorities. This work included research into ways in which organisations can apply a gender lens to their work.
Awareness-raising is never enough for us. We want to create the tools that will turn awareness into action. Three new Gender Lens standard fields were introduced to SmartyGrants in November 2016. We are monitoring the use of these fields as part of our efforts to ensure this important work can stick and spread.Read more about our gender-lens work with grantmakers.
We are mindful of our obligations to provide proper stewardship and safeguards over the data that's in our keeping.
Data ownership, privacy and confidentiality are top of mind as we navigate the new era.
Our data reference group provides input into our decisions as we transition our policies and practices, nut out answers to some of the more difficult questions around access and security, and help gauge how our user base might respond.
Our policies and practices are designed to support our ambitious agenda, while maintaining our hard-won position of trust.
Contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.