Sharing is key to funders making better use of evidence, says discussion paper

The paper, by the Alliance for Useful Evidence, is based on interviews with funders from eight major trusts and foundations

Funders could make better use of the evidence they get by sharing it more effectively, according to a new discussion paper.

The document, Secret of Success: how funders use and share evidence in practice, has been published today by the Alliance for Useful Evidence, which is a network of more than 1,000 people from government, universities, charities, business and local authorities. It is funded by the ideas charity Nesta, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Big Lottery Fund.

The paper shares insights from interviews with funders from eight major trusts and foundations, carried out in March and April, about how they use and share evidence.

Among the key findings is that funding organisations could make better use of the evidence they hold by sharing it more widely. While funders regularly share evidence with each other, they are not always as active in providing information to practitioners and policy-makers, it says.

The report says that, although funders use a wide range of sources to inform their strategic reviews and funding programmes, they place significant emphasis on staff expertise to assess individual funding bids.

Sarah Mistry, head of research and learning at the BLF, told researchers that funders must be conscious of the needs of small charities.

"Wherever we end up on the evidence, we must ensure that funders don’t stifle the passion and innovation of people who come together to do kind and humane things to help each other and improve society," she said. "Any move towards more evidence-based funding must not put a straitjacket on this."

Talking about the quality of evidence it receives, Tim Wilson, principal grants officer at the City Bridge Trust, told researchers that applicants found it difficult to provide the right sort of evidence. "Those with fundraising capacity tend to provide good quality information," he said. "Those that are smaller often struggle to provide even basic output data."

Wilson that with one application he got around this by speaking to other funders that were already supporting the applicant organisation, which shed more light on "what might have looked like poor evidence at first glance".

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