Sexy, No. Vital, Yes: A Million Bucks to Join Up Global Development Data

Data, data, data. You hear a lot about data if you're a regular reader of Inside Philanthropy. That's because foundations and individual donors alike are obsessed with data as never before, and grants for data keep coming: grants to collect new data, to study "big data," and to make data more open and widely shared. 

Today, we look at a grant by the Omidyar Network of the latter variety, one aimed at breaking down "information silos" and joining up data on global development in new ways. 

The call has been growing in recent years for the international development community to develop standards in data collection in order to produce better and more shareable information. The Omidyar Network recently answered that call with a $1 million grant for the Joined Up Data initiative.

Data standards is not exactly the sexiest topic, but such standards are super-important, and this is "especially true for those datasets that matter most to people’s lives, such as health, education, agriculture, and water," writes Omidyar executive Laura Bacon. She continues: "Compatible data standards that enable data being ‘joined up’ would enable more efficacious logging and use of immunization records, controlling the spread of infectious disease, helping educators prioritize spending based on the greatest needs, and identifying the beneficial owners of companies to help ensure transparent and legal business transactions."

Bacon points out that while lots of energy has gone into creating new open datasets, that's only half the battle. In fact, she says, the "biggest return on investment is potentially from the inter-linkages among datasets."

Wonks: Just admit it, talk like that gives you goose bumps, right? 

Joined Up Data is a project of Development Initiatives and Publish What You Fund. The $1 million grant from the Omidyar Network will support its Data Standards project which aims to “change the way in which the standards that govern development data are designed and how they can be aligned to bring data together from multiple data standards.” The overall goal of the project is to tear down information silos in order to advance greater interoperability and better inform global development decision making. 

The Joined Up Data grant comes out of the Omidyar Network’s Governance and Citizen Engagement initiative, which seeks to build and strengthen relationships between governments and their citizens. The work Joined Up is conducting falls a bit out the scope of this particular initiative, as it isn’t necessarily focusing on transparency and accountability in government. However, Omidyar’s work in this area is very much keyed in to the role of information in society. 

There's a lot going on with the Omidyar Network these days; it's a sprawling global operation that makes both traditional grants and impact investments to advance its goal of "advancing social good at the pace and scale the world needs today." 

There was a time when Omidyar's blend of grantmaking and investments made it an odd (at times, controversial) duck in the philanthropy world. Now, though, a wide range of funders is coming around to this approach.