What we’ve learned implementing a Data Champions initiative

Our work with 360Giving and UK Community Foundations to establish a network of data champions, has revealed the thirst that community foundation managers have for being data-informed to improve the impact of grantmaking.

This has been reposted from our report on the 360Giving website. There is also a summary.

Building on last March’s blog detailing learnings from creating a data champions network, this post reflects on concluding the pilot initiative and plans to integrate these learnings into future activities.

The initiative supported 360Giving’s vision for UK grantmaking to be more informed, effective and strategic. It provided insights into the challenges for community foundations to use data to support decision making. It also offered a direct connection and feedback loop to users of 360Giving data and tools.

In the summer of 2017 360Giving collaborated with UK Community Foundations (UKCF) in providing a Data Expedition workshop for community foundations’ staff. Due to this success, UKCF decided to support the journey their members had taken with data by establishing a network of practice – a Data Champions initiative. This ran from September 2018 to June 2019. Dianne Jones, UKCF’s Head of Membership, provided oversight; Mor Rubinstein, 360Giving’s Product & Programmes Manager, provided guidance; and Dirk Slater, FabRiders, implemented it.

Reflections on the Initiative

As this was seen as a pilot initiative, we interviewed participants at the conclusion, to learn how they benefitted and how we might build on future efforts. They pointed out that the initiative had allowed them to learn new ways to understand need and deprivation within their areas and the impact and effectiveness of their grantmaking. Things that they particularly liked about the initiative:

  • The opportunity for informal conversations about priorities and challenges they faced in their work
  • Not being tool-centric and being challenged to think differently about approaches to using data.
  • Framing data use around problems and questions, rather than the data itself.

360Giving and FabRiders reflected on the initiative and noted the following learnings for future network building initiatives:

  • Have clarity about being participant-driven. We took a user-centred approach to design and implementation of the initiative. This element of the project made it successful but was confusing to participants at the beginning. This was partly due to cultural and already established expectations that initiatives have solid plans, rather than a learn as you go approach.
  • Be more prescriptive at the beginning. Start with topics that will allow for learning about participants and for participants to learn about each other. We used the topic Using External Databases as a starter topic for online discussions but then moved to individuals and what they were learning. For example, Nicola Frost from Devon Community Foundation on harmonising qualitative and quantitative data and Andrew Ridgewell from Somerset Community Foundation on using GIS to analyse grantmaking data.
  • Understand Participant Drop-Off. Expect people to drop out due to other commitments and factors beyond their control. Especially if they are in small organisations.  But strive to always understand the reasons for a drop-off, and don’t miss the opportunity to improve the initiative.
  • Be patient and flexible with scheduling. Identifying optimal dates with tools like doodle led to greater participation. But also understand that people have competing priorities and things might come up that prevent them from honouring a commitment. Regardless of the number of participants that actually show up, you will likely have a worthwhile event. 
  • Have useable comms tools. We used 360Giving’s Discourse as a place to document the initiative, to store notes from meetings and discussions. Discourse worked well as a repository, but it was less helpful for driving dialogue as most participants didn’t use it regularly. Online discussions were held on Zoom and most were recorded and shared on YouTube.

How 360Giving will carry learnings forward.

360Giving learned from the participants in the Initiative what it means to be a ‘data champion’. That it is not about an individual gaining a certification or a level of expertise. It is about aspiring for their foundation to champion use of data. For the foundation to be able to make data-informed decisions. To help the foundation establish a ‘data culture’ – a learning culture – where data is identified to answer questions.

We also learned from participants that there is an enormous benefit in convening space for peer-learning amongst individuals who are engaged in driving their foundations to be data champions. They learned from each other how to enhance abilities to understand need and deprivation within the communities they serve and increase the impact and effectiveness of their grantmaking.

360Giving, working with FabRiders, will build on the pilot initiative with a broader data champions programme starting in Autumn 2019. Join us on 9th October to find out what’s involved and how you can apply. Express interest via this form.

What happened

We began with ten individuals who work in community foundations and had taken part in the Data Expedition in 2017 and indicated they would like to continue learning about using data. In September 2018, we began by interviewing them to understand better what they would want from a ‘data champions’ initiative.

During those interviews, we learned that most of our data champions had developed skills in utilising data ‘on the job’. They are first and foremost managers of grants, donors and programmes. They are aspirational about making data-informed decisions and have a clear understanding of when and how data should play a role. They are interested in learning from each other about the challenges they face in integrating data into their work and the steps they are taking to overcome them. They want to compare notes about external datasets, ways to get valuable data from grantees, and help donors understand how they can have the most impact.

Community foundations participating in the Data Champions Initiative:

We wanted to start with a face to face meeting, but scheduling became increasingly difficult. We pressed ahead with convening online discussions on “Using external datasets” & “Getting useful data from others”.

The first face to face meeting was held on February 1st at UKCF’s offices. The topic was data workflows in community foundations. Because of the healthy, robust and dynamic exchange that occurred at the workshop, we could see how much the participants valued time focusing on each other.

We also used this workshop to launch a knowledge sharing asset for the network, called the Data Champions Resource Library. We saw how the participants in the Data Champions network are relying on each other, their eagerness to compare notes and experiences. The resource library was developed to help support that connection and engagement.

After the first workshop, we began to focus the online discussions on the champions themselves and letting them take the lead in discussing challenges and lessons learned in their use of data. Topics covered were: data sharing, harmonising qualitative and quantitative data, using GIS, and grantmaking analysis.

We held the second face to face workshop on April 5th, on building a data culture in community foundations. During this workshop, participants talked about being more intentional about surfacing existing learning opportunities, and ways to engage their colleagues on defining problems they want to solve with data.

A final online discussion took place in June 2019 and focused on how to drive the use of dashboards using tools like Power BI.