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Blind Spots No More: Introducing Transparency Trends

May 13, 2016

There are some lessons you learn that you never forget. "Mirror, signal, blind spot" is one of those lessons for me, dating all the way back to driver's ed when I was equal parts excited and horrified that someone was handing me the keys to a moving vehicle. I still recall the teacher emphasizing how important it is when changing lanes to first check the mirror for what is behind you; signal to let others know you are entering/exiting a lane; and then to check your blind spot, assuming there is someone invisible to you that only looking over your shoulder and out the window will reveal.

So, is our new Glasspockets' Transparency Trends a mirror, a signal, or a viewer for revealing the blind spots a foundation may be creating? It actually serves all these purposes. Transparency Trends, created with support from the Barr Foundation, aggregates the data we have collected from all foundations that have taken and publicly shared their "Who Has Glass Pockets?" self-assessment transparency profiles and allows the user to interact and display the data in a variety of ways.

The default view displays data about all 77 participating foundations, and users can perform a number of helpful transparency benchmarking activities with the tool, including:

  • Learn which transparency elements are most and least commonly shared online;
  • Access lists of which participating foundations share each transparency indicator;
  • Access statistics about the sharing frequency of each transparency element;
  • Compare a specific foundation to a select peer group by region/asset/foundation type; and
  • Download a customized report detailing suggested improvements for a particular foundation.
Some interesting facts quickly reveal both strengths and blind spots:
Searchable GrantsPerformance Assessment
 
  • Nearly two-thirds of participating foundations provide searchable grants via their websites;
  • 87 percent of participating foundations provide key staff biographies;
  • Fewer than half of participating foundations post a Code of Conduct online;
  • Despite all the talk about impact, only 22 percent of participating foundations share foundation performance assessments via their websites; and
  • Only 31 percent of participating foundations use their websites to collect grantee feedback.

The more I explore Transparency Trends, the more excited I became about the "Mirror, signal, blind spot" rule of the road as a metaphor for the importance of philanthropic transparency. After all, when you're handed the keys to a foundation, it's great if someone also hands you some institutional memory so you can have a view of the road traveled to that point and what has been learned to date, which allows so you to actually get somewhere rather than drive in circles.

And since there are others who are traveling a similar path, the notion of signaling to the world what direction you are going resonates as well, since you might get there faster (and more efficiently) via a pooled or shared ride approach -- or by at least sharing your road maps and shortcuts.

And finally, are you and the others on the road actually creating blind spots that prevent those around you from knowing you exist and building on your shared efforts? From Transparency Trends, you can see that fewer than half of participating foundations have a Knowledge Center that shares the lessons they are learning, and only 12 percent have open licensing policies that make it clear how to build on the knowledge the foundations fund and produce.

Knowledge Center Open Licensing
 

As fun as it is to explore the data on the pinwheel display, don't miss the opportunity to download a customized report. Since the reports are particularly helpful as a mechanism to surface both the transparency blind spots and strengths a particular foundation might have, Transparency Trends is accessible to any foundation, whether or not they have previously participated in Glasspockets.

So, if you have not submitted a profile to Glasspockets, you can still explore and extract helpful information from the tool by completing a short questionnaire about your existing transparency practices. Responses to the questionnaire will not be shared without your permission, but by filling it out you will be able to see how your foundation compares to others in our database.

Report-screenshot-750

Our hope is these reports will serve to encourage greater foundation transparency by quickly surfacing data that identifies areas in which a foundation lags its peers with respect to specific transparency indicators. And for those foundations that have already participated, you get a shortcut to your customized report, since you can skip the questionnaire and go directly to a report that reveals your strengths, weaknesses, and areas where you may inadvertently be creating blind spots.

And speaking of blind spots, I have been thankful for the "Mirror, signal, blind spot" mantra all the times it has literally saved my life. I can recall several occasions when I've ritually check the blind spot, convinced myself it was empty, and, only because I did the over-the-shoulder check, avoided a collision. I'm reminded of this particular lesson at the launch of Transparency Trends because perhaps philanthropy needs a way to do the over-the-shoulder check as well. By visualizing both philanthropy's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to greater openness, we can collectively work toward a future with fewer blind spots, more awareness of those around us, and a clear view of what we have learned from the road traveled to date.

Headshot_janet_camarenaExplore Transparency Trends and let me know what you think.

Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center. This post originally appeared on Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, one of the many components of the center's Glasspockets initiative.

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