Powered by Data recognized at CODS17!

Photo credit: @tjzed via Twitter

Photo credit: @tjzed via Twitter

We are honoured to have been awarded the Open Data Accessibility Award during the Canadian Open Data Awards annual ceremony on June 13th, 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta. The Canadian Open Data Awards are part of the 2017 Canadian Open Data Summit and they celebrate national leaders for their exceptional and transformative work in the field of Open Data. The Open Data Accessibility award is given to those helping to improve accessibility to policies and/or processes through Open Data.

Here at Powered by Data, we have been working since 2013 with leaders at nonprofits, governments, and foundations to help them better use, share, and learn from data. This means making sure all of the different stakeholders in the sector have access to the data they need to make informed decisions. To accomplish this, we have focused on getting Open Data published. The key datasets we have focused on are datasets about the entities that comprise the nonprofit sector, as well as the funding transactions that link those entities.

Key datasets we have helped to “liberate” in that area include the Canadian Revenue Agency T3010 tax forms, gaming grant records of the BC government, and granting records of several key funders in Canada. In 2016, we added a new item to that list. In the context of the federal government commitments in their Third Biennial Plan to the Open Government Partnership, the proposal we submitted for the federal government to develop an Open Data standard for grants and contributions data was adopted and forms the basis of Commitment 11: Increase Transparency of Grants and Contributions Funding. Eighty organizations and individuals in the nonprofit sector stepped forward to support it, making it the highest voted on proposal in the consultation.

Doing this work would not be possible without all our partners who have stepped up to open up and publish this important data. This includes the B.C. Open Data Team, the Federal Open Government Team, the Edmonton Community Foundation, and the Canada Council for the Arts.

In particular, we would like to single out the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF). OTF is a pioneer in the Open Data movement who back in 2015 became the first funder in Canada to to publish Open Data about their grantmaking. Their leadership has made an important contribution to increasing the number of funders joining the open data movement.

We’d like to thank all these partners for contributing to our success. This recognition at the Canadian Open Data Awards means a lot to us. More importantly it helps validate our approach and provides us with momentum to continue forward. Thanks to everyone who has played a part in Powered by Data’s journey. Here is to many more years of working together to make open data more accessible.

Launching the Transform the Sector 2017 Video Series

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve produced a video series of the sessions at Transform the Sector 2017. The series includes a conference recap and also videos that cover the various topics discussed at the conference including open data and funders, administrative data, data capacity and data ethics.

These videos are the first part of the work we are doing to take the conversations that happened at Transform the Sector 2017 and turn them into useful resources. We are also in the process of finalizing a series of reports that summarize the conference and take a deeper dive into the topics discussed at the conference. So keep a look out for the reports which should be published soon. 

In the meantime, you can check out the full video series here

What we heard at Transform the Sector

It’s been a month since Transform the Sector, the conference on building a data-informed social sector, that we co-hosted with the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab. We are still feeling energized by seeing 300 people from government, foundations, and nonprofits come together with international and Canadian experts to discuss how digital data can move their work forward. Having that many people talking about digital data in the same space was a first for the Canadian social sector.

Throughout the day, we consistently heard the need for more —  more discussions, more gatherings like Transform the Sector, and more knowledge sharing. We heard you loud and clear. As a first step, we are working to take the great conversations that happened at Transform the Sector and turn them into useful resources. Stay tuned for further updates.

In the meantime, here is our list of the 5 themes that we heard emerge throughout the day:


1) The importance of doing data ethically

As Lucy Bernholz made clear in her keynote speech, we need to build a digital civil society that reflects our values. That means ensuring that data collection and storage is done in a way that respects the people it is being collected from, and ensures that already vulnerable people are not being put at greater risk.


2) Administrative Data is the new cool kid in town

There is a new cool kid in town and their name is administrative data. We heard how administrative data can help the social sector better evaluate its impact. What we found even more exciting was that we heard — from Tris Lumley at New Philanthropy Capital in the UK and Canada’s Robyn Blackadar at PolicyWise — about projects that are using administrative data already. Given the success of these existing projects, it’s clear there are opportunities to scale up the use of administrative data in Canada.


3) Data will continue to impact the relationship between civil society and government

A lot of thought has gone into how nonprofits can maintain their independence from funders but it is important to be reminded that the increased use of data will likely continue to push the sector towards a more integrated model. The way the sector chooses to handle this transformation will impact the extent to which that happens. The sector could mitigate this loss of independence, but only if it recognizes this trend and develops alternative models. 


4) The social sector needs to increase its data capacity now

While panelists and participants pointed to the work done by the Mowat Center and by ONN as early initiatives highlighting the importance of the sector learning how to benefit from data, that need became increasingly apparent throughout the day. The signal to build that capacity is reinforced both by the surprising demand for the conference — which resulted in us doubling the number of seats — and our early analysis of the post conference survey responses. Nearly 60% of respondents said that they specifically needed help “increasing the social sector's (or my sub-sector's) ability to use data”. Given the high demand, it’s not clear we can wait for policymakers, funders, or habitual leaders to help us build this capacity. 


5) The data transformation is already underway

A new mix of organizations has emerged as leaders doing this work already. They were showcased in the Lightning round, as well as sessions like Collecting Data for Collective Impact and Beyond Dollars: How Funders are opening their Data for Impact. They included relative newcomers such as the First Nations Information Governance Centre, the Calgary Homeless Foundation, and PolicyWise as well as more established organizations like the Canadian Council for Social Development, CanadaHelps, and the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

Giving beyond Tuesday: Online donation data sharing and collaboration

Do you wish your organization could access online donation data to better understand donor behaviour and drive your own online donations?

Woodrow Wilson, CEO & Founder of With Intent, is working on a project that is doing just that. Woodrow is a consultant with The Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at 92Y, managing the #GivingTuesday Data Project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Datakind. The project aims to build a dataset from the data from giving platforms and payment processors collected during #GivingTuesday.

Woodrow is pitching the benefits of the #GivingTuesday dataset as part of the The Data is Coming! The Data is Coming! plenary at Transform the Sector. That plenary will be a fun break from the more traditional conference sessions. Different organizations and government departments will each have five minutes and five slides to pitch their new and improved data.

To date, the #GivingTuesday Data Project has signed up an impressive list of providers who have all agreed to donate their data. They are using a standardized data collection and analysis schema developed with the help of DataKind, that allows participants to map their data in a consistent way. It also makes it easy for everyone involved to analyze the data. Only aggregated data (by geography, for example) is shared in a semi-open data store. All the participating platforms are given access to their own data as well as the shared data set to perform their own analysis.

The purpose of collecting this online donation data is to measure and understand the impact of #GivingTuesday. Beyond that goal, the intention is to help the entire sector better understand giving trends and donor behavior

Initial results from the platforms that have signed up have been collected, giving them a rough measure of the total online giving activity on #GivingTuesday 2016. They are in the process of collecting much more detailed multi-year transaction data in preparation for an upcoming DataDive that’s happening in New York from March 3rd to 5th.

The DataDive will convene 100+ data scientists who will use the data they have collected to address specific questions and provide insight into individual giving behavior. A report on this learning will be shared publicly.

Powered by Data (PBD) discussed Woodrow’s involvement in #GivingTuesday Data Project project to get a hint at what he will be covering during his lightning round pitch:


PBD: How did you get involved in such an awesome project?

Woodrow: This project began as an initiative by 92Y to begin to measure the impact of #GivingTuesday. I have been working as a consultant for 92Y engaging online donation platforms to ask them to share their results to help us better understand the impact of #GivingTuesday, and it was their enthusiasm and willingness to share detailed transaction data that inspired the evolution of the project into something much bigger.

Do you have any recommendations about how to get involved for people trying to get involved in work like this?

For me, one of the key lessons from #GivingTuesday is that extraordinary success is possible when you remove traditional boundaries and barriers. This project is a perfect example of that: companies and organizations of every size working with their competitors and finding a way to share proprietary data for mutual benefit. The result is something much larger and more impactful than we had imagined, and much more than any one player could have done alone. The greater lesson: get out of your silos. Think about the possibilities of doing so, not just the risks.

Is this project limited to U.S. organizations or can Canadian organizations participate?

GivingTuesday is open to any organization in Canada. The official Canadian movement (givingtuesday.ca) started in 2013 and there are now 5,786 organizations involved here. The data project itself is looking at primarily US data, but we’re very interested in looking at Canada (and the rest of the globe).


We are looking forward to Woodrow making his pitch on behalf of the #GivingTuesday dataset and hearing all the lightning round pitches from the other dataset champions. It is going to get #dataintense!

Announcing the selection of Transform the Sector's Conference Fellows

We are excited to announce the first milestone in this process: the selection of 22 Transform the Sector Conference Fellows, drawn from a pool of more than 50 outstanding applicants. These individuals are using digital data in a wide range of creative ways to strengthen their work within marginalized communities across Ontario, Québec, Western Canada, Atlantic Canada, and the Prairies.

Our interview with Tris Lumley

Another one of the great reasons to attend Transform the Sector is getting to hear Tris Lumley from New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) discuss his work. Tris is participating in two plenary panels at Transform the Sector. In his first panel, he will be discussing NPC’s work unlocking administrative data. In his second panel, and the final one of the conference, he will focus on his work digitally transforming the UK’s charitable sector.  

Tris is part of NPC’s Senior Management Team as their Director of Innovation & Development. NPC is a UK-based charity think tank founded by former partners at Goldman Sachs. The original inspiration behind NPC was to put capital to use as effectively in philanthropy as it was being used to drive high financial returns in the the financial markets.

In 2002, NPC was launched as a charity and since then NPC has grown into a respected consultancy and think tank. NPC operates at the intersection between charities and funders. This unique position allows NPC to help both charities and funders use their resources more effectively by inspiring new thinking and by prioritising impact.

NPC’s Justice Data Lab project is one of their innovative approaches focused on impact. The Justice Data Lab works with the UK Ministry of Justice to help charities understand the impact of their work with offenders by enabling them to access re-offending data.

The main focus of Tris’ work is on NPC's Digital Transformation program. The goal is to transform the way the social sector functions by supporting the adoption of digital technologies. This means making changes to the fundamental architecture of the sector in order to make it easier for charities to integrate, collaborate, and coordinate their activities. 

We recently had the opportunity to interview Tris about his work and his two upcoming panels at Transform the Sector.


PBD: Through your Justice Data Lab initiative, your organization is a leader in the UK at making administrative data available to nonprofits. In a recent update, NPC mentions a building momentum for other data labs in the areas of health, employment, and education. Can you explain the reason for this growing momentum?

TRIS: The policy agenda continues to be supportive: there is a desire to use existing government data to benefit the social sector, and to maximise the social impact of services delivered by public, private and charity sectors. There’s a recognition that this is not just about open data. That it is possible to do more than just publish data sets and wait for someone to make use of them. The enabling and facilitating of data usage is also a key priority. I think the impact data labs model (of which the Justice Data Lab is the first example) is a great model for this – government matches and analyses the data internally, so all the charity or other service provider needs to do is supply the data set of the individuals whose outcomes are being analysed.  

In the criminal justice field, policy is moving towards greater autonomy at the level of individual prisons, which potentially creates stronger incentives for better decision-making at that level, and the Justice Data Lab can help.

In other areas of government, the Justice Data Lab has shown what can be achieved, how barriers can be overcome, and how a greater range of data sets can be brought into scope over time, so other departments are benefiting from the experience of the Justice Data Lab and team behind it.

PBD: Can you share the most important benefits NPC has witnessed as a result of the unlocking of administrative data for the nonprofit sector through the Justice Data Lab?

TRIS: For the first time, organisations providing services can get efficient access to administrative data at the organisation or project level. Government already has the data - now there's an efficient way of connecting it to organisations. For organisations, under pressure to provide data on their outcomes, now they can, at zero cost. And in fact it’s not just charities – public and private sector organisations are using the Justice Data Lab to do this too.

In the future, there’s also the promise of better research – using impact data labs to conduct meta-studies, and building further research on to them. And with increasing interest in the use of linked data, with the impact data labs model it’s possible for this linking to be done by government data analysts in a way that’s safe and managed, and for external organisations still to benefit from this.

PBD: We know that your work at NPC is focused on digital transformation of the social sector in the UK. Can you give us a hint about what you will be sharing with conference attendees in regards to this work?

TRIS: At NPC, we believe that focusing on digital technology and data creates a unique opportunity for catalysing collective action in the social sector, and I’ll be sharing our initial progress on trying to make that happen through strategic initiatives at the sector level. We're developing a user-centred approach to mapping the potential for technology to create impact in ‘sectors’ like youth development and women’s empowerment, and working towards launching pooled grant funds built on this foundation. Our aim is to flip the usual flow of grant funding into tech products and services – instead of charities applying to funders to support their unique offering, we want innovation to be driven by a shared understanding based on real people’s lived experience – so the funding follows problems and solutions, not organisations and their own vested interests.

PBD: With the UK being a leader in the two areas discussed above, what are you looking forward to learning from your visit about the Canadian social sector?

TRIS: I definitely see the Canadian sector leading on open data, and thinking and practice in grant-making around this, so I am excited to learn from recent progress in this area. I’m also keen to see how the collective approaches we’re trying to push resonate in Canada, and whether there may be opportunities for partnership and collaboration where both UK and Canadian sectors can benefit from each other’s pioneering work and experience.

For more on Tris, you can read his bio here.

Joining the call to shed light on beneficial ownership

Today, we joined over 20 organizations and individuals to call on the Government of Canada to commit to creating a public registry of the beneficial ownership of companies and trusts, and to make that registry available in open data format.

The main thrust of the effort was to tackle the elaborate corporate structures that hide secret companies and ensure that Canada does not become a haven for money launderers and tax evaders. By taking action, Canada has an opportunity to play a leading role in the fight against corruption, money laundering and tax evasion by shedding light on beneficial ownership. 

To learn more, read the press release and the letter to President of the Treasury Board Brison and Minister Bains. 

Another reason we joined this effort is because this data is important for the nonprofit sector. A public registry of companies and trusts would also include nonprofit and social sector organizations, and as a result would lead to two benefits for the sector:

1) Provide data that advances our ability to understand and analyze the sector but also increases the availability of the raw data that spurs social innovation, and the development of additional apps and web services to support the sector.

2) Maintain the high-level of public trust towards the Canadian nonprofit sector by increasing the transparency of the connections between individuals and organizations.


It’s time to get PolicyWise about administrative data

Robyn Blackadar, President & CEO of PolicyWise

Robyn Blackadar, President & CEO of PolicyWise

Are you ready to build a data driven social sector? Transform the Sector's early bird registration is closing on December 9th, so make sure to register soon if you haven't had the chance.

We are excited to announce Robyn Blackadar will be joining us on February 23rd at the MaRS Centre. Robyn will be sharing how her organization is working with multiple Alberta ministries to access previously unlinked administrative data about children and youth.

Robyn is President and CEO of PolicyWise. She has over 20 years of experience in Alberta’s social and health system focusing on policy development and analysis, quality improvement, knowledge mobilization, and data system innovation. With the development of the Child and Youth Data Laboratory in 2007,  PolicyWise plays a unique role in the analysis and interpretation of linked administrative data collected across all child and youth serving ministries in Alberta.

The use of administrative data by the social sector is one of the topics we’re most excited to cover at Transform the Sector. Unlocking administrative data is important for improving evaluation and research, but it’s also a key enabling tool for social finance and social impact bonds. It’s a hot topic internationally. With the rise of the open government movement, governments across the world are seeking to harness the potential of their administrative data. There are a variety of terms to describe the innovative approaches to unlocking this data but the core idea remains the same. In each case, relevant government administrative data — like offender history data, job retraining programs information or social housing databases — is shared with nonprofit organizations delivering programs in those areas. Although these databases do contain private information, they are made available in ways that ensure confidentiality. Accessing this data in a controlled manner enables these organizations to better understand how their services are being used and what kind of impact their various programs are having.

Unfortunately, despite growing international successes, for the most part, the social sector cannot yet access administrative data in Canada. We’re thrilled that one of the Canadian leaders in this area will be with us in person to share the story of her work to harness administrative data for more effective public policy and service delivery. So make sure to register before December 9th and take advantage of the early bird rate.


Appointed in September 2012 as President and CEO, Robyn is responsible for strategic and operational leadership of PolicyWise for Children & Families.  Robyn oversees PolicyWise’ generation and mobilization of evidence for child and family well-being through a collaborative cross-sector approach between government, academia, and the community. You can find her full bio here.

If you can’t wait until February to learn more about this topic, you can read our previous blog post entitled: How a social innovation is unlocking government administrative data.  


A chance to learn how to do good data

Andrew Means, Head of beyond.uptake

Andrew Means, Head of beyond.uptake

One of the reasons we are so excited about Transform the Sector is because Andrew Means will be presenting. A leader in the world of data and philanthropy, Andrew is in high demand to speak at conferences around the world.

Andrew is the current Head of beyond.uptake, the philanthropic and civic innovation arm of the Uptake business intelligence platform. He is also the founder of Data Analysts for Social Good, a professional organization for individuals interested in how data, research, and analytics are changing the social sector. Back in 2013, Andrew started Do Good Data: an annual two-day conference that attracts hundreds of social sector leaders.

Do Good Data has just joined forces with Data On Purpose to launch a world tour. Transform the Sector is the first stop on that world tour. 


We recently had the chance to chat with Andrew about his work and the upcoming world tour:

Powered by Data (PBD): What kind of work are you doing now?

Andrew Means (AM): I'm focused on getting beyond.uptake off the ground. We are working on building some great data tools for organizations fighting poaching and human trafficking, and students trying to find colleges they'll likely get into and graduate from. We also just launched a Data Fellowship program that I am very excited about. Too often, data leaders in this sector don't get the mentoring, coaching, and professional development they deserve. We are hoping to change that.

PBD: What part of your work are you most excited about?

AM: I am excited right now because I am seeing traction. More resources are being dedicated to support data infrastructure and the use of data applications. More tools are being built. More people are gaining the skills to turn data into insight into action. We are moving in the right direction. There is still a long way to go of course but we have also come a long way in a short amount of time.

PBD: What are you looking forward to discussing in Toronto and on the world tour?

AM: I am so excited for the world tour. When I started Do Good Data in 2013, I had no idea it would take off like it has. To take Do Good Data global is exciting and I am so glad to be launching in Toronto. You guys are leading the way in transparency and I'm excited to not only come and share my experiences but to learn from yours.


Transform the Sector is a one-day conference about revolutionizing the Canadian social sector’s use of data. It is taking place at the MaRS Centre in Toronto on February 23rd. Register today before the early bird expires on December 9th or tickets sell out.

The Canada Council and the Benefits of Publishing Open Grant Data

Image via screenshot from the Canada Council for the Arts website.

Image via screenshot from the Canada Council for the Arts website.

This past summer, we wrote about the increasing number of funders joining the open data movement by publishing their grant data in an open format. These funders were joining the open data “dance party” started by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and followed by the Canada Council for the Arts.

It’s been almost a year since the Canada Council for the Arts launched their open data pilot project, publishing data about their grants for the 2013 -14 and 2014-15 fiscal years. It was a signifcant contribution — as the Canada Council made more than 6,000 grants in each of those years, which adds up to roughly $145 million in funding being disbursed per year.

There have been many changes at the Canada Council since the publication of their data last year. As part of a broader strategy to benefit from the possibilities of an increasingly digital and changing world, the Council will be moving to a new funding model and new online portal. We are happy to report that alongside those changes, their commitment to open data continues. They just published the data for their 2015-2016 grant recipients.

In a recent blog post about the publication of the new datasets, the Canada Council reflects on their experience over the last year after publishing their grant data as open data. They mention receiving an overwhelmingly positive response and provide examples on how the public has been engaging with their data. These include people creating graphics and charts from the open data files, using the Council’s data to support research on specific disciplines within the arts, and using the data to identify grantees in their local communities.

The Canada Council’s experience is exactly one of the positive outcomes of publishing grant data long highlighted by open data advocates. This benefit is echoed in a recent report by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC): Valuing data: How to use it in your grant-making. The report argues that grantmakers should see their data as a resource that can benefit the broader public:

“Data held by funders is not only relevant to funders — it is also of use to charities, statutory organisations and those with a wider interest in the charity sector. If published as open data ... it can be combined with data from other sources, with huge potential for creativity and innovation in terms of how it is used. Open data is already being used to shape products, services and interventions across different sectors —we are just at the beginning of this journey in the charity sector.”

The report also makes the case for why grantmakers should see their data as a resource that can be used to benefit their organization. These internal benefits are summarized nicely by NPC in a blog post published alongside their report:

  • Data helps funders better understand their impact, improve their internal processes and learn as the go.

  • Data allows grantmakers to see patterns and trends, inform their strategy and contribute evidence to support a particular part of the sector.

  • Data can support collaboration between funders and improve funding application processes.

  • By accessing open grant data, funders are better to identify the needs in the community or the issue they are funding.

The benefits outlined in NPC’s new report and the positive experience of the Canada Council are a few more reasons why more Canadian grantmakers should be joining the open data movement. If you work with an organization interested in exploring what that process might look like, feel to free to contact us.

Register or find out more about Tranform the Sector - a one-day conference about radically increasing the social sector's impact through its use of digital data

Powered by Data announces the launch of Transform the Sector

November 2nd - Powered by Data announced today that they have teamed up with the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society's Digital Society Lab to launch the premiere digital data conference for the Canadian social sector!

Transform the Sector is a one-day conference taking place on February 23rd at the MaRS Centre in Toronto, Ontario. This conference is an opportunity to build the digital data capacity of social sector organizations in Canada. It is the first stop on the Do Good Data / Data on Purpose world tour launched by the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society’s Digital Civil Society Lab and Do Good Data.

“The Digital Civil Society Lab is committed to helping people use digital data and infrastructure safely, ethically, and effectively for public benefit. This conference, and the World Tour of which is part, is key to building awareness and capacity. We’re thrilled to be launching this work in Canada at this important event.” said Lucy Bernholz, Director of Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society’s Digital Civil Society Lab.

The conference will bring together Canadian experts and globally renowned thought leaders to discuss a range of topics including creating and structuring policies and procedures around digital data and evaluating outcomes with data.

“Canada is already a leader in the world open data and open government. I strongly believe the Canadian social sector can transform itself and increase its impact by embracing the best practices for data use. I am excited to help bring these global experts to Toronto for a day of learning, networking, and strategizing on how to a build a digital data-enabled social sector for the 21st century.” added Michael Lenczner, Director of Powered by Data.

Upcoming PFC webinar on how funders can join the open movement

2016 is shaping up to be the year that Canadian foundations joined the “open” movement. Foundations and government grantmakers are increasingly adopting open data policies with the aim of mobilizing all of their resources for transformative change.

As part of Philanthropic Foundations Canada 2016 webinar series, our Director, Michael Lenczner, will be speaking with Mariana Catz, Chief Operating Officer for the Ontario Trillium Foundation about this growing movement. The webinar is on Wednesday, October 19th from 1:00 - 2:00 pm ET. You can register for the webinar here.

Participants will learn about the steps that Canadian grantmakers are taking to share their digital information. They will also discover the global context of those emerging practices, and hear directly from grantmakers who are opening up their data to drive funder collaboration, innovation, and improved decision-making.


For an overview of some of these foundations’ “open” policies and projects, see our recent blog on the subject.

Vote for a stronger nonprofit sector

Many of us watching the U.S. election are probably wishing we had the chance to vote. Unfortunately, without American citizenship our chances aren't great. The good news? Until October 12th, we have the chance to vote on ideas that will drive change and build a stronger nonprofit sector. All that it takes is a quick read of this blog, and a few clicks.

Here’s your mission should you choose to accept it:

The Opportunity:

Ontario is in the middle of a consultation to find the best ideas for their commitments to the Open Government Partnership. Ideas have already been submitted on themes ranging from enhancing accountability, public participation, access to data and innovation in Ontario. Now, they are asking the public to vote on the ideas that they want to see the government commit to working on.

We submitted an idea for the sector that builds on a previously successful commitment we obtained from the Federal government. We need your help to make this one successful too.

Our idea:

We think that the Ontario government should:

Develop a new standard for publishing grants and contributions data with input from open data experts, policy makers and non-profits to ensure that the information published is detailed and structured enough to be useful for a wide variety of stakeholders.

Why is this important?

One of our main objectives at Powered by Data is to create an enabling data environment for the nonprofit sector. This means making sure all stakeholders in the sector have access to the data they need to make informed decisions. But we are still missing key datasets to create that enabling environment. If adopted, our proposal will lead to more data being unlocked for the sector.

How to vote:

The way the voting is set up requires you to vote on one idea per theme. Each theme is on a different page. Our idea is on the 3rd page under the Public Participation section. It is the fourth one from the top:

voting screenshot.png

As for the other proposals, there are too many to cover in detail here. So we created this online spreadsheet with annotations about those ideas that impact either the entire nonprofit sector as a whole, or sub-sectors like the environment or health. You can use that to guide your other choices while voting.


How a social innovation is unlocking government administrative data

With the rise of the open government movement, governments across the world are seeking to harness the potential of their administrative data. Data Labs are becoming an important way for governments to accomplish that objective. This important social innovation is also referred to by a variety of other terms, including: Integrated Data Systems (IDS), Frameworks for Responsible Data Sharing, or even RCT-”Lite” evaluations. But the innovative approach to impact measurement remains the same.

In each case, relevant government administrative data — like offender history data, health & vital statistics or workforce development data — is shared with nonprofit organizations delivering programs. Although these databases do contain private information, they are made available in ways that ensure confidentiality. Accessing this data in a controlled manner, enables these organizations to better understand how their services are being used and what kind of impact their various programs are having.

New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) has a good outline of the four necessary elements of a Data Lab:

  1. Government data about clients is accessed, either directly from government or through a third-party service.

  2. A comparison group is set up through statistical matching or by random assignment.

  3. Program outcomes are evaluated by comparing relative outcomes for service users vs non service users.

  4. Results of the impact measurement are shared to build a body of evidence for best practices.

NPC helped support the development of a successful Justice Data Lab in the UK. Data on reoffending rates was shared by the Ministry of Justice and was used to compare the effectiveness of programs delivered by organizations working with ex-offenders.

NPC has also articulated the benefits that various stakeholders receive from data labs:

  1. Nonprofit organizations get clear feedback about the effectiveness of their interventions.

  2. Researchers are able to access a larger body of evidence, allowing for meta-analyses and a better understanding of what programs are working.

  3. Service users benefit from improved and effective interventions.

  4. Government is able to empower organizations of all sizes and skill-levels and increase learning throughout the nonprofit sector.

It should be noted that accessing administrative data held by government is also a crucial element to enable Social Impact Bonds. Nonprofits can use these labs to determine if their programs are successful enough to meet the criteria for payout.  

Unfortunately, despite growing international success, the practice of Data Labs has not yet taken hold in Canada. We are looking forward to discussing Data Labs at the upcoming ONN conference in October, where we are organizing a panel on the topic. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about this innovative evaluation practice, here are two resources to get you started:

Also, if you are a visual learner, check out this introductory video by New Philanthropy Capital:

If you are interested in this topic, you can learn more by attending our Transform the Sector conference on February 23rd, 2017 at the MaRS Centre in Toronto. Transform the Sector is a one-day conference about radically increasing the social sector's impact through its use of digital data. Data Labs will be covered in the one of the plenary panels. You can register for the conference here.

Why we are celebrating Prime Minister Trudeau's shirtless summer vacation

Photo by Marnie Recker Photography via Twitter

Photo by Marnie Recker Photography via Twitter

Has our Prime Minister’s recent summer vacation taken Canadian transparency to a new level? Spotted by a Peterborough family emerging from a cave shirtless, and later photo bombing a wedding in a wetsuit on a beach in British Columbia, our prime minister’s chiseled abs have been covered by national and international media alike.

We’ll leave the debate over the deeper significance to the political pundits. In the context of recent developments here in Canada, we see the Prime Minister’s shirtlessness as a symbol of an increasingly open nonprofit sector.

Here’s a list of what has got us wanting to take our own shirts off and run into the wide open Canadian wilderness:

The Canadian federal government committing to increase the transparency of its grants and contributions funding

The federal government has committed to developing a new grants and contributions standard data as part of their Third Biennial Plan to the Open Government Partnership 2016-18. As we laid out in our proposal during the plan’s consultation process, improved grants and contributions data will enable the development of innovative solutions and help Canadians better understand government spending in the nonprofit sector.

Vancouver Foundation working openly towards their commitment to openness

The Vancouver Foundation has outlined how they are working openly towards implementing the commitment to openness they made in May of last year. The foundation has adopted an Open Licensing Policy for the social innovations stemming from their Field of Interest Grants. They have also committed to finalizing their Open Policy by December 2016. The process looks like a great one: they are including their stakeholders and employees through meetings, feedback and comments.

Edmonton Community Foundation developing an overview of philanthropic funding

The Edmonton Community Foundation is leading the charge among Edmonton grantmakers by opening up their own data. They are — full disclosure, in partnership with us — working on developing a version of Landscape for the Edmonton area. The tool should be launched by the end of the summer or early fall and will provide an unprecedented view of that city's community sector.

Combined with the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s earlier announcement they are releasing their board level investment reports, this summer has become a tipping point for openness in the sector. So crank up the volume on your speakers and join us in taking a few minutes to celebrate the summer of Canadian transparency.

How open data innovations can transform Canada’s international aid

We don't often talk about this, but part of Powered by Data’s original inspiration was an important innovation in international development — the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). As a Canadian organization devoted to developing our nonprofit sector’s data infrastructure, it’s easy to get caught up with our work here.  But it's important for us to discuss international best practices — especially when they are applicable back home.

IATI is one of those best practices.  It’s one of our favorite innovations that demonstrates the potential of open data for social impact. IATI is a framework for sharing information about international development activities using a specific data format called XML. Compared to Word files, PDFs, or even spreadsheets, the XML format enables machine-readable data to be easily exchanged, compared, and mashed up with other data.

IATI is currently being used by many of the largest and most influential development stakeholders in the world. These range from NGO’s like Oxfam Netherlands, to funders like the UK’s Department for International Development, to country partners like Bangladesh.

The UK’s Department for International Development’s use of IATI was just recognized in an international report released by the Open Government Partnership (OGP). This report identifies IATI as one of ten “star” commitments with a potentially transformative impact. According to the report, the UK’s adoption of IATI “allows donors, recipients, and civil society advocates to better plan, coordinate, and execute their development programs”. The report also describes how IATI helps recipient countries understand how international aid is allocated.

We think this recognition of IATI is exciting, given it was the central point of our submission to the Canadian government’s recent public consultation on international aid. With the early success of IATI adoption in the UK, and other leading countries like the Netherlands, we think it makes sense for Canada to expand its limited application of IATI. We are confident that this would transform the effectiveness of Canada’s international aid by enabling collaboration and helping to improve decision-making.

We’re looking forward to continue raising awareness of successful international open data practices back here in Canada. But don’t worry, we won’t forget to keep talking about all the great stuff being developed right here at home.


For those of you looking for more information on IATI, we recommend watching this video.

And for a great writeup from a Dutch perspective on the impact of IATI on their international development sector —  see this piece by Anne Murray Brown.

Read our submission to the Canadian Government’s Department of Global Affairs

ICYMI - Building a Better BRIDGE: Open Infrastructure for the Social Sector

Photo courtesy of Markets for Good

Photo courtesy of Markets for Good

We recently published an article in Markets for Good. It outlines some of our concerns with the BRIDGE project. Despite the good intentions of those behind it, we think that the BRIDGE project currently stands at odds with technical best practices and some of the social sector’s values…

Read the full article at Markets for Good.

Celebrating the Federal Government's OGP Commitments

One of our objectives is to create an enabling data environment for the nonprofit sector. This means making sure all of the different stakeholders in the sector have access to the data they need to make informed decisions.

We have made some great strides over the past three years. Datasets we have helped to “liberate” include the Canadian Revenue Agency T3010 tax forms, gaming records of the BC government, and granting records of several key funders in Canada.

Now we have a new item to add to that list.

The federal government recently announced the commitments in their Third Biennial Plan to the Open Government Partnership. We are proud to report that the proposal we submitted as part of the earlier consultation process was adopted. 80 organizations and individuals in the nonprofit sector stepped forward to support it, making it the highest voted on proposal in the consultation.

There are 22 commitments in the plan. Our proposal forms the basis of Commitment 11: Increase Transparency of Grants and Contributions Funding. We’re excited to work with the open government team to ensure that they capture important information about federal funding, and make that data available to the nonprofit sector. Data elements that we are hoping make it into the standard include consistent reporting of the business number of the recipient, the aim of the funding, the expected location of the project, and the intended beneficiaries. Of course, all of this should be available in machine readable format through the open data portal.

In short, this commitment is great news, as it will continue the process of opening up the crucial data the sector needs to have an enabling environment for its work.

Honouring the spirit of open government: beyond open data sets

Last summer, we were delighted to help the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) become the first Canadian grantmaker to publish their grants in a raw, open and machine-readable format. Others have taken notice and started to join in — the Canada Council for the Arts launched an open data pilot project, publishing open data about their grants for the past two fiscal years.

OTF has recently announced they have publicly released their board level investment reports. The newly released Investment Summary Report contains an analysis of their grantmaking across Ontario and acknowledges that not everyone in the sector has the capacity, time, or resources to analyze raw grant data themselves.

This decision represents a significant and exciting progression of their open data policy. Moving beyond releasing datasets in an open format to releasing open reports respects the core principles and values of the larger open government movement.

We are hopeful that other funders are paying attention to these developments. Just as OTF’s leadership with grant data did, this release may be the beginning of a new trend.