Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ford Foundation eLibrary

The Ford Foundation has put hundreds of its reports - internal and external - on its website for free. Check out

The search function lets you read online or download a pdf of the reports. Each entry has a brief notation that explains what the document is and for what purpose it was produced.

I've had several conversations with foundation executives over the years about the opportunity present in 'opening up their file cabinets' to the rest of the world. My argument for doing so generally runs as follows:
  1. You've paid for this research; let others use it - you'll leverage more dollars for your investment.
  2. The organizations and causes you are researching need to know what you are learning about them and others.
  3. If the research is any good, others will use it. If its not any good, it will be ignored. Don't you want to know if the research you're paying for is any good, and be in a position to improve it?
  4. Foundation-funded research is a much a part of the 'public good' as are their grants. Information on it (and the research itself) should be as public as grants lists. (My tongue-in-cheek calls for the Freedom of Foundation Information Act almost always made the executive sit down and catch his/her breath).
My favorite response - which I heard repeatedly from a senior executive at Ford - was "Yes, we have a lot of stuff in the files. What makes you think any of it is any good?" He was never convinced by point #3 above.

So, my hat is off to Ford. Other foundations that have opened their file cabinets in useful ways include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation , Charles Stewart Mott, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation. I'm sure there are lots of smaller foundations that have useful information to share - and it may very well be packaged more appropriately for other foundations and individual donors. If you know of other such resources, please send me the link.

There is a long way to go to make this kind of information really useful - like synthesis of it, short excerpts, critical reviews, user rankings, better searches - and so on and son on - but at least the cabinet is finally open. If I knew how to 'mash up' the resource, I'd link it to a 'user recommendation, comment page, wiki, who's reading what structure' and let the world at it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Foundation Center has been maintaining an online catalog of foundation-sponsored research. It depends on the foundations making the material available online, but it does provide cataloging that helps to provide access across foundations. See the PubHub at: