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Ford Foundation's Un-Survey Invites Inquiring Minds

April 30, 2014

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the center's Glasspockets effort. This post originally apeared on the Transparency Talk blog.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301a511634173970c-800wiEveryone who has ever raised funds from foundations quickly learns that grantmaking professionals excel at asking questions — lots of them. From the submission of the letter of inquiry, to the completion of an online grants application form, to the face-to-face meeting with a funder, a grantseeker is confronted by a seemingly endless series of questions.In a refreshing change of pace, the Ford Foundation's new Un-Survey puts you in the interviewer's chair and invites you to ask the questions you'd like to see the foundation answer. In addition to posing a question, you can also view all the questions that have already been asked, and then vote on the submitted questions to let the foundation know which ones are of most interest.

The goal of the Un-Survey is to help inform the foundation's Web redesign process — and, the foundation hopes, to unearth suggestions through the process that a traditional survey might have missed. The thinking behind the Un-Survey is that questions asked in traditional surveys have built-in assumptions that are shaped by the thinking of the survey writers themselves. The folks at Ford are hoping the Un-Survey will eliminate those assumptions and not lead audiences in a particular direction framed by the foundation. It will be interesting to see if the Un-Survey lives up to expectations, but at this early stage it seems like a great example of a foundation trying to expand audience participation, transparency, and accountability.

In preparation for the Un-Survey launch, Ford invited thought leaders in the field to get the process started, resulting in questions from Lucy Bernholz, Ben Hecht, Jillian York and others. In my view, however, the really important thing about the Un-Survey is that it's not just for thought leaders or a select few. We are all being invited to be the foundation's thought partners. What do you want to see on the Ford Foundation's redesigned site? Go ahead and ask. Maybe we'll end up with an Un-Grant Application process!

— Janet Camarena

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