The Basic Registry of Identified Global Entities (BRIDGE) is a new collaborative project that aims to revolutionize information sharing, in order to better understand the flows of philanthropic dollars and enhance transparency and effectiveness in the global social sector. BRIDGE is a system that assigns non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other entities in the social sector with a unique identifier, a “numerical fingerprint” for nonprofits.
“A unique identifier clears a major and persistent hurdle by connecting information with a person, organization, or object. … In the social sector, we … [haven’t had] this basic building block of the information ecosystem. Before we can easily share social impact, financial performance, or eligibility information about organizations, we have to firmly be able to tell one organization from another,” explains John Hecklinger, chief program officer, GlobalGiving.
The Basic Registry of Identified Global Entities (BRIDGE) has recently crossed an important milestone — the first BRIDGE IDs have been issued. The new BRIDGE IDs are the culmination of year-long joint efforts of the core team member organizations (CTMs) — TechSoup Global, GuideStar, GlobalGiving, and Foundation Center — in conjunction with our contracted software development firm, Future Processing.
Over the course of the development process, we have worked collectively to develop a lean but highly functional system comprised of a simple web-based user interface, a set of flexible backend API functions, and most critically, a robust data-matching and deduplication algorithm finely tuned and tested to work specifically with large sets of international organization data.
With all of this in place, we began a series of progressively larger and more complex test loads of millions of records, the end result of which is the issuance of the first permanent BRIDGE IDs to date. This is a critical proof of concept and a very important step on the path towards the public release of the system and all of the enhanced sector-wide efficiencies, insights, and cool new data innovations we believe it will enable.
BRIDGE aims to revolutionize information sharing, in order to better understand the flows of philanthropic dollars and enhance transparency and effectiveness in the global social sector.
There have been many interesting challenges along the way. Seemingly simple questions, such as how to precisely define the term “organization” in a manner that will be useful globally, have spurred spirited internal debates that have yielded interesting new insights.
One of the most valuable and arguably interesting activities (to data nerds like us) has been the development of custom deduplication rules suited specifically to our nonprofit organization datasets. Our matching algorithm does a fantastic job of normalizing data and detecting similarities in text fields via “fuzzy matching.” It can automatically accommodate typos, abbreviations, missing or extra white space, and even acronyms.
“The solution we have collaboratively developed is truly simple. Thanks to this, limitless possibilities for expansion are available. The system is open to new rules to handle nonprofits from all around the globe,” explains Kamil Sowa, Future Processing.
But we found this success actually worked against us in some cases, such as with the many instances of supporting organizations that share a physical address, legal identifier, URL, phone number, and most of their name (for example, XYZ Aquarium versus Friends of the XYZ Aquarium). In response to these types of records, we have been building a set of additional custom rules to detect and handle them properly.
We are grateful to have received renewed support in 2014 from the project’s original funders: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. They have been joined by a generous grant from the folks at Google.org. We are now confident that we have enough funding to finish the technical development of the system and maintain and enhance it incrementally in the near term.
Of course, long-term financial self-sustainability is vital to the success of the endeavor. To that end, we are investing some of our funding into the development of a deep business model analysis project, the results of which should be available in a couple months.
We are now entering a new phase of the project in which each of the CTMs will begin integrating the BRIDGE IDs into their existing business processes. External CTM systems will soon be dynamically integrated via the BRIDGE APIs, and procedures for maintaining and updating the data in the BRIDGE system are underway.
Bilateral agreements between CTMs to leverage BRIDGE to enhance existing datasets and products (and potentially create new ones) are currently in the works. The first public uses of the BRIDGE IDs by the CTMs are on target for around March of 2015.
The larger questions about when and how the registry and its data will be rolled out for direct use by the larger nonprofit community are currently under discussion — but the question is more “when” than “if.” Once the four core organizations have lived with the registry for a while, continue to make improvements, and make sure the system’s functionality is solid as a rock, we’ll start sharing specific plans for opening the APIs to external users and systems.
Once the initial BRIDGE registry is in place, NGOs, institutional funders, aid transparency organizations, and other NGO service providers will be able to access BRIDGE to enable a more effective flow of information and support more effective philanthropy.