Vacation 3.0: Crowdsourcing Solutions for Impact

Posted by: Brittany Imwalle

A few weeks ago, we celebrated my daughter’s ninth birthday. And it was almost a fiasco. We arrived at a local amusement park for a day of fun, only to find the parking lot empty and the park closing due to the threat of bad weather (not too unlike the Griswold family’s arrival at Walley World in the movie Vacation!). My husband and I experienced momentary panic as we surveyed the hopeful faces in the back seat who were all looking forward to a day of birthday fun, and we did what most modern-day parents would do: turned to our smartphones for help.  Within five minutes we had a new plan, and we finished the day with eight happy little girls, and—most importantly—one happy birthday girl who remarked, “That wasn’t the party we talked about, but it sure was fun!”, which was music to this mom’s heart. 

How did we turn a birthday party bust into a birthday party bonanza in such a short amount of time? One word: data. 

While easy access to data did not tell us what to do, it gave us the information we needed to understand our options and to make informed choices. For example, we used Yelp to find a listing of nearby restaurants, quickly filtering by those that would be “kid-friendly” and dismissing those that would not. While eating lunch, we searched a handful of “things to do” sites and, based on the information we found, we made a decision to visit a local indoor attraction. We then used Waze to find the fastest route to drive the party-goers from lunch to fun. While this all would have been possible 10 years ago, I found myself feeling ever-so-grateful to be charting plan B birthday party options using Yelp, OpenTable, and Waze rather than opening up the yellow pages and Zagat to search out a restaurant and relying on my trusty Rand McNally road atlas and the radio traffic report to provide the most direct routes from point A to point B.

I believe data can play a similar role in our work at the Foundation. By defining our questions and considering available data and information, we can be thoughtful and better informed in considering our options. But while the way we use data in our personal lives is often interactive, engaging, and at the cutting edge of technology, our philanthropy data sources still feel more like a traditional road map. 

To inform our work, we rely heavily on published data sets (some of our Foundation’s favorite go-to sources are: the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the open data portal available from Let’s Get Healthy California, and A Portrait of California), Foundation-funded evaluations and research (see: lessons from our Clinic Leadership Institute, the Strong Field Project evaluation, and Delivering On A Promise: Advances And Opportunities In Health Care For Low-Income Californians), and 1:1 work with organizations and individuals. 

While (at times) we do a good job of broadly and publically sharing the information and insights we glean, sharing in this way is akin to relying on Zagat ratings for restaurant reviews: we are sharing static information from a point in time that may not reflect changes that are occurring in real time.  

A solution like Yelp may not be appropriate for philanthropy, but what about Pinterest? It seems obvious that the field could benefit from sharing ideas and approaches that we are considering, or are proud of. There are precious few opportunities for collaborative data sharing, and the idea of looking to one another for inspiration and insight feels exciting. There are glimmers that say others also see the potential here (the Foundation Center recently launched an interactive mapping tool), but across the sector, open-source/crowd-sourced data and information has yet to gain a meaningful foothold. 

At the Foundation, we continue to think about how we share information and inspiration within our own staff, and we look forward to playing a role in the broader philanthropic conversation about this in the future. I, for one, am hopeful that we will find just as much joy and delight in using data and information for good as my nine-year old did on the day of her special birthday celebration.