Beth Simone Noveck and Andrew Young in Governing: The Innovation the Grantmaking Process Needs

Ana Tovar — January 14, 2016

This week, Network chair Beth Simone Noveck and Network Coordinator Andrew Young wrote in Governing about the way governments give out money to solve public problems. They argue that “the time has come for innovation in grantmaking. Despite its importance, we have a decidedly 20th-century system in place for deciding how we make these billions of dollars of crucial public investments. To make the most of limited funding – and help build confidence in the ability of public investments to make a positive difference – it is essential for our government agencies to try more innovative approaches to designing, awarding and measuring their grantmaking activities.”

With this need for innovation in mind, Noveck and Young make ten specific recommendations aimed at increasing the openness and effectiveness of grantmaking across its three stages:

“The pre-granting process:

  • Use ‘ideation’ challenges. Institutions can use ‘the crowd’ to help formulate the problem a grant would be designed to solve.
  • Improve the quality of applications through matchmaking. Online matchmaking tools can help connect grant applicants with complementary partners to strengthen applications.
  • Prioritize bottom-up participation.  To break out of the traditional top-down approach, agencies may consider making bottom-up participation – a scientist engaging non-professionals in data gathering, for example – a condition of funding.

The granting process:

  • Create open peer review and participatory judging processes. More open judging can solicit public input at the outset to narrow a broad field or, later on, to select final winners from a shortlist.
  • Mobilize evidence-based grantmaking. Greater openness in grantmaking processes has the potential to lead to the availability of more and better evidence as to what works in practice.
  • Leverage expert networking, matching experts to opportunities. Advances in information-retrieval technology and the large-scale availability of relevant data about people’s skills have made it possible to automate the process of finding the right applicants or judges.
  • Explore open alternatives to traditional grants. Through crowdfunding, micro-payments and prize-backed challenges, government can use its convening power to harness more broad-based sources of funds.

The post-granting process:

  • Open up data about grants, grantors and grantees. Allowing others to easily discover what activities are funded has the potential to avoid duplication of investment, decrease fraud and abuse, enable better analysis of impact, and create a marketplace of non-winning proposals.
  • Standardize reporting. To make open grantmaking data more useful, it is important to develop more uniform reporting standards for grantors and grantees alike.
  • Open access to grant-funded solutions. Increasing access to the work product developed as a result of a grant helps ensure that the public can benefit from the knowledge that grantees produce.”

Read more here.

These recommendations are explored in more detail in a new series published on Medium by The Governance Lab and Grantcraft, a service of Foundation Center, on “Open and Effective Grantmaking.” The GovLab and GrantCraft are asking readers to help them gather and curate information about open and effective grantmaking innovations, analyze their potential uses, and encourage their adoption where appropriate.