Getting the word out

By Matt van Poortvliet 9 March 2011

You’ve done your painstaking research and written your report—a heavy thing about the size and weight of telephone directory. You’re exhausted. Then someone in the communications department comes up to you and says something about ‘dissemination’. It’s enough to make you splutter: ‘What, you mean I actually have to make sure people read this thing?’

Of course, I exaggerate and simplify. I’m sure that this almost never happens. But during my recent research, a charitable funder did indeed confess to something similar. A programme was funded, a report was written and dutifully mailed out. Unfortunately, it was all a bit last-minute and the funder was privately sceptical about whether anyone read it or if it had any impact (despite costing £12 per copy to produce). Dissemination is too often an afterthought or a formality, tacked on at the end of projects.

In the current environment, knowledge-sharing probably does not feature highly among most people’s priorities. But making the most of your knowledge is vital, especially when financial resources are stretched. Charitable funders know a great deal about the areas they fund, about supporting charities, and about how to fund effectively. By sharing what they know, they can ensure that the best approaches are adopted, efforts are not duplicated and mistakes are not repeated.

As our new report Foundations for knowledge shows, there is a mood for change and there are many good examples of what funders are doing in the UK and abroad. As I have argued here and here, we could all be doing more to share mistakes and to make knowledge-sharing a ‘demand-focused discipline’.

Supported by City Bridge Trust and other funders, the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) and NPC are running a simple pilot website to share knowledge between funders. It will contain funder-specific search tools, a Q&A space, and a forum for topical issues. We are convening a group of funders to be part of this pilot—whether contributing resources, ideas or signing up to use the website.