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Supports and Drivers for KM Practice in Foundations

Produced by Steve Nathans-Kelly

At KMWorld Connect 2021, Nicolette Lodico, Ford Foundation director, global information and KM, discussed strategies for supporting and managing archives, digitizing records, and more in philanthropic organizations of different sizes.

Lodico shared key supports and drivers for the KM work at Ford Foundation as well as information about the growing use of archival hubs, like the Rockefeller archive center that houses the collections of several philanthropic organizations. "This may be something that's very new to you, but most foundations don't have the capacity to staff and manage their own archives and have found that outsourcing their archives to an external center is not only more efficient, but it makes it easier for external researchers to access collections and evaluate the impact of our work over time." At the Ford Foundation, for example, Lodico said, one of the grantees is the Rockefeller archive center, and the Ford Foundation has made grants to it to take custody of its archives and make them available to researchers all over the world, which amplifies the the collections and makes them available to many more than the Ford Foundation itself can possibly do.

Lodico also touched on the topic of "born digital" which, she said, is familiar to everybody.
"But, like everyone, everywhere, foundations have to figure out how to store and process terabytes' worth of digital records. And this is something that the Ford Foundation is very much involved in right now. We have access now to robust and affordable technology solutions, most significant of which is the maturing of robust grants management systems and cloud storage, which has enabled philanthropic organizations to safely and affordably store their growing collections of of content."

In addition, Lodico reflected on the the emergent culture of open data and open knowledge. "The idea that information and its access should be standardized and made freely available has been an aspiration for philanthropy for many years, and you can imagine, the challenges around standardizing when you can consider thousands of organizations and their collections."

For example philanthropy-serving organizations, like Candid (formerly the Foundation Center), have been gathering and normalizing data from foundations and crosswalking their vocabularies for years, mostly manually—particularly up until about 20 years ago, said Lodico.

But, supported by maturing grant systems that facilitate data transfer to hubs, it is becoming easier for foundations to participate in sectorwide data-sharing endeavors.

Foundations also have an obligation to contribute responsibly to the public discourse, and the Ford Foundation does this by maintaining an accurate historical record of its work. "And this is especially important at a time when digital communications and social media platforms can be used to amplify information that's inaccurate or without proper context or simply untrue."

And then lastly, said Lodico, the word "transparency" is commonly used in philanthropy. "And in recent years, foundations have made very public commitments to being fully transparent about their work. Why? I think it's because there's a strong belief that transparency leads to more effective grant making collaboration and eventually social change."

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