Unsurprisingly, the Foundation Center rather liked my review of their new Philanthropy In/Sight mapping tool. I just got this comment from them:
Thanks so much for your comments on our new mapping tool, Philanthropy In/Sight. We are thrilled that you like it! And we’re hoping that the rest of the field agrees. We encourage your readers to take the guided tour at philanthropyinsight.org.
We’d also like to extend a special three-day free trial offer to Tactical Philanthropy readers! Just e-mail me at email@example.com and I’ll respond with an activation code that will get you set up to test drive Philanthropy In/Sight. Our regular free trial is only 24 hours, so to take advantage of this extended period, please contact me!
Meanwhile, I want to add that we are especially interested in getting feedback on the application. We’re hoping to add new features, data sets, and more to Philanthropy In/Sight over the next few months so any suggestions on how to improve it would be very valuable to us. Thanks again!
The Foundation Center
Via Twitter, @btazzi suggested to me that he wished Philanthropy In/Sight had ways to distinguish between the geographic location of a grantee’s offices and the area it served. Without this distinction, the mapping tool reveals where foundations are providing funding rather than where they are achieving impact. This seems to me to be a difficult, but doable, challenge for Philanthropy In/Sight to overcome in later versions. How else might they improve the tool?
Thanks for pointing us to this new tool. Foundation Search, a competing service, has had a grant mapping tool up for a couple of years or more, but that one isn’t nearly as well rendered as this one.
I’m going to try to sign up and test it out, after reading your review and going through the online demo. At first look, the tool seems to have a number of critical flaws, and I’ll be interested to see whether a deeper look confirms them. I am not unbiased on all this, either, as you know (more below).
For one thing, there is the issue mentioned by your reader, @btazzi. He is right on when he mentions that a critical flaw is the inability to see the actual reach of a grant, the area served. A grantee’s location and the grant amount is way too blunt a tool to make useful judgments.
Two other important issues I’ll be looking for are:
(1) does the tool let users see the assets, not just needs, can it also show other assets in a region – other nonprofits active in a given field (other than the grant recipients of a particular funder), and public assets like schools, libraries, fire stations and the like; and
(2) how rich is the demographic data – can you search for concentrations of people with Type II diabetes, for example.
Without that kind of context, a grant mapping tool won’t be very helpful to both planners and donors looking to make good giving decisions, though it may well be useful to people seeking grants.
HealthyCity.org, a tool I’ve written about in the past (http://www.ssireview.org/opinion/entry/maps_for_driving_change/), has solved some of these issues by working closely with grantmakers and their grantees to map the area served by a grant, down to street or census block boundaries, as well as providing a broader set of community assets and over 100 demographic fields. (Full disclosure: I am one of the co-founders of HealthyCity.org and am a member of its governing partnership).
I’ll try to send a link to a concrete example in a follow up comment.
Going forward, the future isn’t just maps, of course, but data visualization tools more broadly – how can users convert what’s shown on a map to charts and graphs, or use the same data to plot, for example, the 10 most impacted communities in a region and who their elected representatives are, as well as show change over time.
Healthy City is launching a new version 4.0 in January, 2010 that will cover all of California. We’d be happy to do a webinar for you.
Sorry I’ve been so slow to respond. Had some heavy travel recently.
I think the demographic data is pretty rich. you can search for some specific diseases as you suggest.
While I think Philanthropy In/Sight can get much better, I think it is very useful right now. Healthy City looks neat, but I like that Philanthropy In/Sight is focused more broadly (with the trade off being that niche mapping technology can offer deeper info).
Speaking of data visualization, these are probably the best example of how powerful the technology can be.