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Increasing Interoperability of Social Good Data (Round 11)


In Partnership with Liquidnet for Good


In the fall of 2012, IBM reported that 90% of the world’s data was created in the previous two years.  We are now able to decode the human genome in just under one week, where it took 10 years to do so originally. We are awash in data and computing power, and while most industries are racing to take advantage of this resource and capability, many in the social sector are not yet able to do so easily.

Imagine a world where it would be simple to:

  • Enable nonprofits/social enterprises to track their performance and manage their programs as adaptive and learning organizations, not just to meet compliance or reporting requirements;
  • Look up a nonprofit or social enterprise to find information combining feedback from those who have received the service, expert opinion, outcome data, and funder perspectives all in one place to inform decisions about investing time or money;
  • Empower community members to find the resources available to them to strengthen their community and improve their lives;
  • Visualize nonprofits, social enterprises, and funders in a particular geography on a map and match them to local needs, quickly identifying gaps in need, services, and funding;
  • Identify the best evidence-based intervention strategies for a given topic and share best practices among practitioners in the field;
  • Find sources of local, state, and national public and private funding by issue area or geography to help make informed decisions about scaling programs and services;
  • Identify the greatest underserved needs in a topic area or geography to make smarter investment decisions;
  • Analyze nonprofit organizations and social enterprises by both financial and programmatic performance.

There are many efforts underway to help us reach that future. We want to accelerate existing work and catalyze new solutions. Better use and flow of data and information can inform our understanding of the strengths and needs in our communities.  More importantly, it can help us decide the best ways to meet those needs and determine which organizations are best equipped to make an impact.


One of the biggest barriers to the use and application of data is the lack of interoperability, particularly in the social sector. New data sets – "data islands" – are being collected and often opened to the public every day that are relevant to the work of social good. These include information from governments, multi-lateral institutions, nonprofits, individual organizations, funders, corporate data, geospatial data, and more.

But for the average donor, impact investor, nonprofit/social enterprise leader, or social entrepreneur with a good idea, it is very hard to identify, connect, and use these isolated data sets.  On top of this, many organizations manage data with multiple systems, often due to various requirements from government agencies and private funders. The lack of interoperability between systems leads to wasted time, frustration, and lack of value creation.  Even those who are motivated to use data end up spending more time and effort on gathering, combining, and analyzing data, and less time on applying it to ongoing learning, performance improvement, and smarter decision-making.  It is the combining, linking, and connecting of different “data islands” that turns data into knowledge – knowledge that can ultimately help create positive change in our world. Interoperability is the key to making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.


The goal of this challenge is to solicit new and innovative approaches to increase the interoperability of data that can be used for social good. We are looking for approaches that deal with both the technological and policy barriers to achieving interoperability, and encourage projects that embrace the complexity of these issues. We seek solutions that span issue areas (e.g. education, health, etc.) and/or geographies to the widest extent possible. Solutions that would be useful for those working in both the impact investing/social enterprise space, as well as the philanthropic/nonprofit worlds are acceptable. We will consider submissions that are focused on a single issue area or geography if the solution as presented could be used or adapted for other causes or places. In these cases, it will be important for applications to describe how the solution could be applied to a different issue or location.

Because the emphasis of this challenge is on interoperability, we encourage submissions from partnerships and collaborations, particularly those that create interdisciplinary teams or groups.  For example, technical and development/design capabilities combined with subject area expertise provide a good basis for collaboration.  We also encourage organizations that wish to make individual data sets linked or interoperable to apply, particularly those whose data is now closed and where part of the objective is to open the data up for broader use. An ideal proposal of this type would describe how the approach can be applicable or adaptable for other data sets. Proposals can be for proof of concepts, pilots, prototypes, or full solutions.

Where applicable, proposals can include components like data access policies, the creation and extension of classification systems or taxonomies, and other solutions to address the more nontechnical obstacles to interoperability.

What We Are Looking For:

Through this challenge, we’re looking for game-changing ideas we might never imagine on our own and that could revolutionize the field. In particular, we are looking for ideas that might provide new and innovative ways to address the following: 

  • Improving the availability and use of program impact data by bringing together data from multiple organizations operating in the same field and geographical area;
  • Enabling combinations of data through application programming interface (APIs), taxonomy crosswalks, classification systems, middleware, natural language processing, and/or data sharing agreements;
  • Reducing inefficiency for users entering similar information into multiple systems through common web forms, profiles, apps, interfaces, etc.;
  • Creating new value for users trying to pull data from multiple sources;
  • Providing new ways to access and understand more than one data set, for example, through new data visualizations, including mashing up government and other data;
  • Identifying needs and barriers by experimenting with increased interoperability of multiple data sets;
  • Providing ways for people to access information that isn't normally accessible (for using natural language processing to pull and process stories from numerous sources) and combing that information with open data sets.

A few examples of what we will not consider for funding:

  • New platforms for online giving;
  • Projects exclusively focused on opening up, contributing to, analyzing, accessing or visualizing only a single data set;
  • Solutions that are not scalable or applicable to more than one issue area or geography;
  • Basic research without a clear objective to solve interoperability problems;
  • Initiatives solely focused on behavioral change/education (e.g. training programs, scholarships, education programs);
  • Projects earmarking foundation funds for lobbying activity (e.g., attempts to influence legislation or legislative action) or efforts to influence political campaigns for public office.

Successful Proposals Will Include: 

  • Identification of specific data sets to be used;
  • Clear, compelling explanation of how the solution increases interoperability;
  • Use case;
  • Description of partnership or collaboration, where applicable;
  • Overview of how solution can be scaled and/or adapted, if it is not already cross-sector in nature;
  • Explanation of why the organization or group submitting the proposal has the capacity to achieve success;
  • A general approach to ongoing sustainability of the effort.

About Our Partnership: 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with Liquidnet For Good, the corporate impact program of the progressive financial firm Liquidnet.

For more background or ideas, including links to potential open data sets for use, please see http://www.marketsforgood.org/challenge/ or follow #MFGchallenge on Twitter.

Great ideas come from everywhere.

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