Efforts to democratize evidence require investment. Most directly, foundations can make grants that align with the purposes, strategies, and methods associated with co-developing research and using research for publicly beneficial aims. These investments include support for specific innovations and approaches which encourage participation in creating research networks and promotion of data access and transparency.

Articles, tools and resources to help funders think about investments that strengthen democratizing evidence efforts are summarized here.

Investing in Innovations

Funders invest in innovations in evidence making when they invest in efforts to bring the knowledge and ways of knowing that sit in communities alongside the knowledge generated through traditional approaches to research and building evidence.

The following resources and examples present these essential strategies:

Participatory Action Research (PAR) Map: The Public Science Project summarizes the assumptions and practices of PAR, a framework for maximizing participation and inclusion.

Participatory Grantmaking: Participatory grantmaking mirrors many of the strategies of inclusive evidence building and is part of an overall movement in philanthropy toward inclusive decision making.

Using Implementation Science to Translate Foundation Strategy: This article explores essential functions that funders play to facilitate local actors to think and act differently and develop more effective and comprehensive projects and strategies. The article lays out three phases of these functions: exploration, initiating action, and co-learning.

Community-based Examples

Learning Together RFP (Children's Services Council of Broward - forthcoming): Broward County has invested deeply in building a participatory data culture in which practitioners, policy makers, and service recipients look at data together and talk with honesty about barriers and solutions to service challenges. The Children's Services Council has issued three RFPs to bring these diverse perspectives together in the arenas of child welfare, behavioral health and juvenile justice.

Police Data Initiative: An example of bringing a diverse range of stakeholders together to develop local, open data to encourage joint problem solving, innovation, enhanced understanding, and accountability between communities and the law enforcement agencies that serve them. More than 130 data sets have been curated to date.

Investing in Networks

Increasingly, organizations and municipalities are coming together to share data and best practices across networks. The following resources and examples provide inspiration and lessons from networks:

Can Networks Supercharge American Ingenuity?: This website serves as resource cataloguing the growing number of local practitioner networks that seek to get smarter by sharing information, data, successes and failures. Networks offer great promise and models for understanding challenges that are bigger than any one place can solve alone, and ways of sharing tools and resources for how to leverage evidence to solve complex problems.

Ten Questions to Ask Before Building a Network of Places: The lessons from networks are applicable to smaller-scale endeavors in which people and institutions are coming together to co-create and act on evidence. Such collaborations are particularly useful when: a) problems are bigger than one entity can solve alone; b) the work of the network can be aligned with local innovations already happening; and c) partners want to reduce the risk of innovation and inspire local actors to do more. Ten questions help focus and organize purposes and efforts.

Examples of Evidence Use in Networks

Epic Network: This network connects communities with the human capital of universities to improve the quality of life and social health of all.

Built for Zero: This rigorous national network engages committed communities to end veteran and chronic homelessness by supporting participating localities in developing real time data on homelessness, and align their findings with local housing resources and strategic planning to accelerate progress.

Encouraging Data Culture

Sustaining a Data Culture: Encouraging a data culture is an important part of ensuring that evidence is used. This article outlines what is needed to develop and sustain a data culture.

Data 101 Toolkit: This toolkit supports the development of data literacy skills for local government personnel and other partners so that they can use data confidently. This toolkit provides agendas, slides, and activities to data literacy trainers and can be shared with communities seeking to increase the number of stakeholders demonstrating competency and confidence in using data.

Promoting Data Access and Transparency

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Open Access Policy: The foundation articulates an open access policy about the information generated during the course of their investment activities in the form of research studies, data sets, evaluation results, investment results, and strategy-related analytics.

How Transparent is School Data When Parents Can't Find or Understand It?: While school data is more accessible than ever, this article raises critical questions about what it means for data to be transparent. Many parents seek information on schools, but experience educational, technological, and language barriers to accessing and understanding data, limiting ability to make informed decisions. To address this, grassroot parent networks provide models and tools for making use of public data systems.

Project Open Data: This federal resource houses information to help users understand open data, including open data principles and a glossary.

It is hard to bridge scientific inquiry if the voices of those we seek to benefit are not included in the conversation.

-Margarita Alegría, Disparities Research Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital

Network Investment: Research Networks as Investments in Democratizing Evidence

New York City's introduction of universal full-day prekindergarten (pre-K) presented the opportunity for researchers and policymakers to co-develop a research agenda around implementation. The Foundation for Child Development launched the New York City Early Childhood Research Network (the Research Network) to bring together city agency officials and researchers to focus on the role of early care and education (ECE) professionals in implementation of the City’s Pre-K for All initiative. Eight research studies provided multiple interdisciplinary perspectives of program scale up as issues unfolded. The New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute (PDI) at the City University of New York provided leadership and support to the Research Network, helping researchers and policymakers shape and nurture their collaboration. As interim and final study results became available, the researchers and city agency officials had opportunities to continue their dialogue and joint deliberation about the implications of the research on policy and practice in the City’s early childhood education system.

Initial investment from the Foundation garnered additional support from several funders that also valued the Research Network. As a result, over the last five years, the Research Network grew in membership and research scope, yielding key insights about the implementation of early education services for children from birth through kindergarten entry. Currently, 11 studies have been launched by researchers from public and private institutions across the metropolitan area to respond to local policymakers’ high priority questions. The Research Network partners continue to discuss implications of the research findings and co-develop actionable ideas for systems change to continuously improve the quality of the City’s early childhood education programs.

The collaborative process in the Research Network resulted in greater cooperation across sectors to coordinate research agendas and to develop greater capacity to utilize research for understanding program implementation. The NYC Early Childhood Research Network is a model for bringing researchers and policymakers together to provide useful and actionable information that can shape continuous quality improvement efforts as localities and states scale-up public preschool systems.

For more on the Network, visit its website. Learn more about PDI here.