One of the key insights we’ve uncovered over the course of the Markets for Good initiative has been that real social impact comes when people across the social sector – from beneficiaries to social entrepreneurs to funders of all sizes – are empowered with better information to make better decisions. Efforts to unlock and open “big data” are great and sorely needed in the social sector, but if we can’t make sense of that data – if we can’t connect it with other data and turn it into useful information that is presented to the right people at the right time to help them make better decisions – then it’s all for naught.
Which is why Liquidnet and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered to source innovative new solutions to the challenge of data fragmentation in the sector. Using the Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations platform, we solicited groundbreaking solutions from across the world to help increase the interoperability of data for social good. We sought approaches that dealt with not only the technological barriers but also the policy and behavior barriers to achieving interoperability, and encouraged projects that understood the complexity of the issue.
With almost 400 proposals from 45 countries, we realized that there are many wrestling with this issue. We appreciate all those who submitted proposals. Thanks also to our 15 external reviewers – which included other funders, social sector researchers, technologists and data experts – we were able to decide upon six finalists, each of whom will receive $100,000 to take their idea to the next level.
We look forward to tracking these projects and learning from them, to help us discover broader trends for how the social sector can better combine, link, and connect different “data islands” from a range of sources into useful – that is, actionable – information. It is our hope that these projects might also help others working in different fields and geographies, providing inspiration to help uncover solutions to their own challenges. Interoperability is key to making the whole greater than the sum of its parts, so that all of us throughout the social sector have greater knowledge to make more impactful decisions.
Here are the winning entries, which we are excited to publicly announce this week:
“Foursquare for Development”
By Columbia University, Modi Research Group
Efforts to map “things that matter” in development often involve enormous effort and result in duplicate, contradictory, or out of date information. This bold idea makes data about things interoperable through registration and update via mobile apps. Users can register something in so it gets a unique identifier and then they and others “check in and check out” data about the object quickly and easily. This point of interest service (for mapping schools, clinics, water points, resources, etc.) will enable simple in-app check-ins and updates across platforms and organizations to better coordinate aid and create a fuller picture of the global social infrastructure.
“Aligning Data Across Incompatible Geographical Units”
By University of Michigan
Important data is often reported in different jurisdictional units, such as county, zipcode, or school district. Defining geographical units in different ways makes it very difficult to connect and layer various data sets. This pilot will attempt to make a framework for re-aligning data in common reporting units, using a technique from the physical sciences called “re-gridding” to change the reporting unit and enable interoperability. It will build out a number of techniques for different circumstances, use them on open data sets, and test them with different users including social workers, NGOs, policy analysts, and others. If it’s successful, these techniques could be used around the world, getting rid of a fundamental barrier to connecting up thousands of data sets in a meaningful way.
“Interoperable Data for Poverty Eradication”
By Development Initiatives
In many places, but particularly in developing countries, it’s very hard to know if the resources are going to the areas most in need and if they are making a difference. Data on spending needs to be combined with social impact data. This idea is to create a pilot model of an ‘open resource toolkit’ by collating all available data on social spending in two specific sectors, within specific trial localities, and building interoperability between these datasets as well as social impact data. There will be a strong emphasis on feedback loops, testing, and the data user (community) instead of the data producer.
“Bridging the Last Mile: Education Feedback Loops in Nairobi”
By Development Gateway
This proposal has an ambitious goal: combine citizen-generated data with official government data in a way that allows slum dwellers to access and use this information to make decisions to improve their community. This collaborative wants to give the poorest citizens the information they need to improve their communities. With a pilot in three Kenyan slums, they hope to show that fixing broken feedback loops in philanthropy and development can lead to more impact.
“Open Humanitarian Initiative”
The purpose of this project is to increase interoperability and openness of data used by on the ground organizations during humanitarian response situations. NetHope’s Open Humanitarian Initiative is focused on the sharing of data and information in a way that can deeply inform decisions that have to be made quickly in order to save lives. This effort tackles many piece of the puzzle at once – the creation and adoption of data standards across multiple agencies, creating a cloud-based software solution that works, and leveraging in-kind donations of resources and expertise from the private sector.
“Build Interoperability into NGO Information Repository”
By Civil Society Information Services
Many philanthropic intermediaries are collecting their own data in their own formats in a way that’s inefficient for both donors and NGO’s. The overall purpose of this project is to get online philanthropic intermediaries to use a common repository to collect, validate and store information on not for profit organizations (NPOs/ NGOs) to power their constituents’ giving decisions. This pilot in India will create a common repository for information on NGOS’s and allow philanthropic intermediaries to contribute and receive information in the format they need. Starting with information on 4,000 Indian NGOs, this group has a coalition of 9 India/US intermediaries who have an immediate need for this solution.