Finding Resources to Support Civic Data Work

Engaging in local civic data initiatives will mean finding new resources, redirecting existing resources, and balancing this work among your other responsibilities.This section provides a starting point for locating funding for your civic data efforts by highlighting organizations that have supported known projects in this space. We also provide thoughts on making a case to your own organization about why activities in this area are relevant to library work and a valuable investment in time and, potentially, organizational funds.

Funding Sources

As a starting point for civic data work, build an understanding of the philanthropic organizations in your area and whether your library has an existing relationship with them. Talk to your internal colleagues who are engaged in development and grant writing to craft this picture. Local corporations may also sponsor community events or provide technology volunteers.Your local data intermediaries will be able to contribute to your understanding of the lay of the land as well.

In their June 2018 brief “Collaborating for 21st Century Solutions,” the Urban Institute provides a useful starting point for identifying philanthropic groups that have supported civic data initiatives and for developing strategies to diversify resources. They remind us that resources can be in a form other than a check and stress that managing “in-kind support for labor, space, data, or technology” will be key to civic data projects. The CivTech St. Louis, for example, has found support in the form of time from University of Missouri-St. Louis professors and students and radio air time for promotion.

Local funding is the most likely route to pursue when seeking resources and national foundations and agencies are indeed longer shots. While not an exhaustive list, the following funders have supported civic data initiatives in communities:

  • Rita Allen Foundation: Promoting civic engagement and literacy is an area of emphasis for the foundation: “Our investments include innovative approaches to strengthening civic engagement in the United States through new technology, information and tools for citizens. Supported projects are nonpartisan, encouraging an informed and vibrant democracy without promoting particular political parties or policies.” In 2016, for example, the Rita Allen Foundation awarded $200,000 to the Digital Democracy project at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, an online platform featuring a searchable database of transcribed state legislative committees hearings.

  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation: This civically-minded Foundation focuses on advancing children and creating equitable communities for them. In support of this mission, the Foundation has funded local civic information projects; for example, The Kellogg Foundation awarded the Santa Fe Community Foundation $250,000 to “[c]atalyze positive change for vulnerable children and families by increasing community access to data through SHARE New Mexico, an online data platform that connects information, ideas and people.”

  • Knight Foundation: The Knight Foundation’s commitment to “informed and engaged communities” if reflected in awards it has made to civic data initiatives, including library-focused projects. In 2016, for example, Temple University received a Knight grant to explore “ ways libraries can support preservation and long-term access to open civic data through community information portals such as OpenDataPhilly.”

  • Omidyar Network: The Omidyar Network is an international “philanthropic investment firm,” with support areas that include Governance and Civic Engagement work. The group “on the principles of openness and participation, favors solutions that leverage technology, and funds organizations and businesses that provide citizens with the information and tools they need to ensure their interests are represented and to hold their leaders to account.”

  • What Works Cities: Initiated by Bloomberg Philanthropies and supported by a collective of civic data experts, What Works Cities is “designed to accelerate cities’ use of data and evidence to improve people’s lives.” Cities can join What Works Cities to connect with a community of experts and peers and to access resources as they work toward improving their citizens’ access and use of civic data. Libraries should check with their local governments to see if there is a role for their organization in this initiative.

  • Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS): The funder for the Civic Switchboard project, the IMLS is the primary source of federal funding for libraries, archives, and museums. IMLS issues that align with civic data engagement include the National Digital Platform area and Community area. The Supporting Librarians in Adding Data Literacy Skills to Information Literacy Instruction is an example of a project focused on empowering users to make use of open data.

Making a Case for Resources

We've seen some successful angles for making a case for internal and external resources -- and have put some of these strategies to work ourselves!

  • Connect to the mission. Finding interconnections between your organizational mission and your civic data activities is an effective way to gain support from your upper management. You will also need to make the connections for foundation staff how your activity fits into their goals.Find thoughts on how the two intersect in our section "Building Libraries into Civic Data Partnerships."

  • Provide examples from other places. The case studies and resources in this guide can be used to demonstrate the potential payoff of civic data projects to library leadership and potential funders.

  • Don't go it alone. In our experience (and at the foundation of this project), civic data work can have greatest impact when it involves multiple partners in your ecosystem. Moreover, highlighting collaborations helps funders get excited about projects.

  • Leverage existing larger organizational initiatives. Making connections to other projects, even ones that don't have a specific civic data focus, can be a strategy to give your work and civic data partnerships an initial spark. If there is a wider grant/initiative taking place at your library, you might be able to carve out a small piece of it dedicated to civic data efforts. For example, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh holds The Labs Summer Skills Intensives, week long camps for teens dedicated to exploring a specific aspect of literacy. Data literacy programming fit into this initiative and a curriculum was developed to allow teens to explore open data through a zine camp.

  • Start small. A good way to start is a small, focused project that can then be pointed to as a successful example is to tap into local foundations geographic focus. In Pittsburgh, there are small local foundations that focus on specific regions in and around the city. We were able to find support for Pittsburgh’s Data 101 training and toolkit by targeting the trainings in specific neighborhoods served by the funder.

  • Track impact. Numbers talk! Use your local tracking system to record consultations, reference interviews, and outreach efforts related to data literacy and open data. Having this evidence can help others in your organization understand why civic data work is relevant to your audience and library mission.

  • Advocate for grant funded positions to become to permanent lines in your organization. Make a case for temporary resources to be turned into sustaining ones and use the reference and outreach data you record to do so. In Pittsburgh, we are very fortunate to have an open data and knowledge manager as a full time position at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. This is a new position and it was made permanent after it was initially funded through a local grant awarded to the public library.

  • Sometimes you have to self-initiate when you don't have the backing of a funder or express resources from your organization. As many of us know, sometimes in order to get things off the ground or make the case that a particular type of project is worthwhile, you may have to forge ahead and start a small project with excited partners. You can invite library leadership or potential funders to the event to begin to build relationships It will also provide an example of a successful partnership when making the case for more funding.