Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The heroism of data entry

Data science. Data visualization. Big data. Medium data.

What about data entry? Clara Miller, President of the F.B. Heron Foundation warned in her cover email that her annual president's letter was going to be about " and why we are changing operationally, with some pretty nerdy stories as a result." That's a fair warning - and I have plenty of things to read so I could have moved on to something else, but I clicked through to see what "nerdy stories" a foundation president would actually share with the public.


Even I was unprepared for the heroism of data entry. Or, as Miller puts it: "It’s the heroism of entering 7,700 separate positions into a database so we can track social and financial gains in real time in our equity portfolio." None of the cool data tricks listed in the first line of this blog are possible without clean, coherent, well-entered data. Even ambient data depends on behind-the-scenes structuring built into the algorithms (another topic altogether) in order to work. The hard work of making data useful is not usually fodder for a Foundation President's annual letter.

Yep, that's pretty nerdy. But Miller doesn't stop there.  She goes on to shout from the (proverbial) rooftops about audits. And tracking systems. And the Foundation's purchase of a Bloomberg terminal. (It's their first. How many other foundations - if any - have Bloomberg terminals? Of those that do, how many are not in the investment department? Jiminy - does Bloomberg Philanthropies even have Bloomberg Terminals for their program staff?)*

The letter goes on to note that the Foundation is hosting fellows from organizations it wants to work with (NFF and Kresge) and launched a weekly newsletter that I (and apparently others) actually read.

Finally...wait for it...the Foundation stopped requiring grant recipients to write/format/stick-camels through-needles-for/send grant reports specific to the foundation - yes, you read that correctly - no more Heron-only grant reports.

I don't know folks. Between this letter from Clara Miller, the Hewlett Foundation's transparency blog, and the new website Inside Philanthropy - foundations might actually be...listening.

That's almost as heroic as entering 7,700 data points into a database.

*Uh oh, will "Bloomberg terminals purchased" might become a new annual metric for foundations that claim interest in impact investing...

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