From research to reality

By Matt van Poortvliet 1 March 2012

When you publish research, it’s interesting (and occasionally unsettling) to look back a year on and ask what it has really achieved. Who has read the report? What impact has it had? Has anyone actually changed what they do as a result?

Often it can be very difficult to capture the impact of research or to attribute the change to what you did. So, it is always encouraging when there is something tangible to point to.

Last March, NPC published a report about knowledge sharing among funders. Our research found that funders were not sharing knowledge as well as they might and argued that there was a case for developing a specialist website to encourage a freer flow of ideas and information. In response to this, and despite some scepticism from funders, NPC, the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF), and the City Bridge Trust decided to run a six-month pilot website. The website,, was established in June 2011 with support from a group of foundations.

A year on from the research report, the website has over 300 members from 150 trusts and foundations, who are using the site to search for information, learn from peers, and share what they know. An evaluation of the site, published today, suggests that it has been a great success:

    • 88% of those surveyed say that the site has given them a better understanding of what others are doing, and two-thirds say that it has helped them to learn about an issue.
    • Nine in ten say that it is valuable resource that they would like to see continue, and that the website provides a ‘safe space’ for learning and sharing.
    • A third say that it has helped them to save time in their work, and acts as a valuable support network. One funder says that it is ‘the best thing since sliced bread’.

The knowledge-sharing website is a great example of action being taken as a result of research—getting the findings of a report off the shelf and bringing them to life. It will now continue in 2012, with plans to build membership and improve the site. Although the site is aimed at funders, the report and website evaluation have relevance to other organisations that are concerned with learning from peers and sharing what they know, and for infrastructure organisations in particular. At a time when infrastructure is most under threat, and struggling to prove its value, this may be a small piece of evidence that it is worth taking risks and supporting efforts to encourage learning and knowledge sharing throughout the sector.