According to the New York Times, the Social Innovation Fund has agreed to release the ratings of its review panels, a move that will very likely help observers understand why some groups about which there were questions, proceeded through the process to become grantees despite the fact that they received the lowest ratings from some panels. We believe this is a major step towards restoring attention to the substance, rather than to the process, of the SIF’s work.
The Nonprofit Quarterly has been credited with having raised questions regarding the transparency of the grants process at the Social Innovation Fund. We did so after hearing concerns from a number of reviewers that the process seemed to be seriously flawed, given that at least one or the organizations that received a major grant award had been deemed inadequate by the majority of reviewers on one of panels. That organization was also one that had close ties to senior staff at the Fund, raising questions about conflicts of interest, as well.
While we were not the only critics of an apparent lack of openness at the SIF, we did pursue the issue with the Corporation for National and Community Service and, directly and respectfully, asked Paul Carttar, the director of the fund, for all names and documents related to the process, including the names of reviewers and all applicants, as well as applications, and collective ratings sheets. (Our hope was that we would not have to file a Freedom of Information Act request.) The first response from CNCS, written about here by the Chronicle of Philanthropy was to release a detailed description of the process [PDF] and to promise a release of winning applications which we then suggested was insufficient.
The Times now reports that, “The criticism has led the fund to decide to publish redacted versions of the winning applications in the coming weeks, together with the ratings they were given by various panels and how those compare with applications that did not win.” (emphasis ours)
In response, Marta Urquilla, senior adviser to the fund, told the Times “We fully embrace open government and the trend toward greater transparency . . . We just want to make sure we do it in a deliberative and responsive way.”
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One grantee, New Profit Inc.—a nonprofit where Paul Carttar, the executive director of SIF used to work—released its application to the fund on its website last night. New Profit received a $5 million grant from the fund.
While we would have been happier to see the full list of applicants and reviewers, The Nonprofit Quarterlyis pleased that the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service has agreed to share this level of information about its grants review process and that this will put outstanding questions about the quality of the process, as well as conflicts of interest, to rest. If the release of information does not put to rest our questions we will resume exploration of this issue. We expect and hope, however, that it is sufficient.
We look forward to seeing the rest of the documents and are proud to have contributed to the request for additional openness at the SIF. NPQbelieves deeply in research-based practice among nonprofits, and we anticipate learning from the implementation of the work of grantees in an open atmosphere.