Open Source It, Why Don’t We?

A cascading thought on What If… very quickly rushed up on us:

If we’re building a plug-in that not only gives grantmakers a searchable database of grants on the web in a format that’s readable by big data initiatives…

…why not make it free, open source code?

Community cooperation, a driving concept of open source, is also signature of our shop. Our grantmaking seeks to leverage public-private partnerships and collaborations for results that no single actor can accomplish.

However, we’re well aware of the tendency in our field to develop solutions to common challenges in isolation and with proprietary tools. In grantmaker technology it’s quite pronounced, with solutions developed grantmaker by grantmaker, leading to a proliferation of data types, taxonomies and infrastructures.  Bradford K. Smith’s post to the Philantopic Blog takes this on directly, a “data dilemma” by his reckoning with some bold recommendations for philanthropy.

So, Yes, Do, Let’s.

We are approaching this challenge with the intent to share our techniques and tools with our peers, embrace open source philosophies, and do our part to expand funder participation in transparency and open data initiatives. We agree with the Foundation Center that we’re seeding richer data sets that can drive effective collaboration, strategic decision making, and a more engaged philanthropy sector.

With our partner Mission Minded we’ll publish Open hGrant source code to the public, enabling anyone to copy, modify and redistribute the source code without paying royalties or fees.

Let’s see what we make of it.


As Long As We’re At It, What If…

Over here at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund we’re porting over a website from Cold Fusion (the architecture, not the hypothetical nuclear reaction) to WordPress.  Our partners in crime are the folks at Mission Minded, the branding firm that works exclusively with nonprofits.  The planning talks were going smoothly when I suddenly had an idea:

What if…

at the moment we put in the effort to rewrite our searchable grants database that lived on our old site…

we wrote it so it the data was machine-readable by leading open data initiatives, such as hGrant?

You know…

Like a WordPress plugin.  As simple as Click. Activate.  Join the ranks of real-time, open data grants data publishers.

We talked about how how a tool like this, if kept simple, could give us an incredibly low bar for participation in what has heretofore been two difficult games in our shop:

  1. Building and maintaining a searchable grants database on our website. Depending on the web architecture, the source of data (might that be an intractable grants management system?) and the staffing, we spent a lot of time and money developing a web app that grantseekers and media could browse and learn from, and we spend a lot of time and money making sure that app continues to work as web technology, and the way we talk about our grants, changes. Keeping just two years of past grantmaking data out at involves a lot of effort.
  2. Making our grants data to larger initiatives that aggregate giving data to chart philanthropic impact.
    Even when we have searchable grants on the web, we know it’s not being presented in a way that can be easily used by others, for example, the Foundation Center’s Reporting Commitment.  Our taxonomies are different, our HTML syntax is different, we’re focusing on different data types… it’s discouraging enough that we haven’t joined that initiative, despite its potential.

Might work. A lot of devil in the details ahead.