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Making Sense of Data and Information in the Social Sector

Making Sense of Data and Information in the Social Sector

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New compendium of blog posts from Markets For Good captures discussion and debate around how to strengthen the “information infrastructure” of the social sector: “Selected Readings: Making Sense of Data and Information in the Social Sector.” Going forward, you can access this publication, in downloadable e-book format, directly from our homepage. (See the top right section entitled Markets For Good Publications) We’ve been fortunate to partner with the Stanford Social Innovation Review as our collaborative media sponsor for this book. You can read this post – and SSIR reader comments – on their blog here: SSIR.

Over the past several years, a set of organizations—including online giving platforms, nonprofit information providers, evaluators, philanthropic advisors, and volunteer connection platforms—has convened periodically to discuss how to improve the global philanthropic ecosystem. Called Markets for Good, this collective has included GuideStar, Charity Navigator, GlobalGiving, Kiva, VolunteerMatch, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and many others.

In 2012, a team of collaborators saw an opportunity to develop a complementary online forum so that a broad range of organizations could access and participate in discussion about how to strengthen the social sector “information infrastructure”—the sector’s system for generating, sharing, and acting on data and information. In October of that year, Jeff Raikes, the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched this site,, at the Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference.

Over the past 15 months, the site—supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the progressive financial firm Liquidnet—has hosted a conversation that connects, aligns, and accelerates both long-standing and nascent efforts to strengthen the information infrastructure. We’ve had terrific guest contributors, thoughtful comments, and welcome challenges to the central question of how to best upgrade this infrastructure. A diverse range of people have contributed to the site, including nonprofit leaders, technologists, foundations, academics, evaluators, intermediaries, entrepreneurs, and business people—and the conversation has been better for it.

To capture some of this discussion and debate, we developed Markets for Good Selected Readings: Making Sense of Data and Information in the Social Sector, which features a collection of posts from this blog.

We open the publication with an introduction by Jeff Raikes, which highlights the “continuing wave of efforts that will push our sector to achieve even greater impact.” Following Jeff’s letter, the Markets for Good Collaboration Team recaps the first 15 months of the campaign, and how it expects Markets for Good to evolve going forward. . We wanted to share this team’s view on’s progress, complementary offline efforts, and the way forward.

We then present 17 posts, chosen for their popularity with readers, topic diversity, and thought leadership. The posts and complementary authors’ updates provide a range of perspectives on the most critical data-related challenges facing the social sector and how we can address these challenges. Posts debate new and recurring hurdles such as capacity and capital constraints; how we can incorporate qualitative data, including stories and beneficiary insights, into data-driven decision processes; and big-, medium-, and small-data management.

You can access the e-book directly from our homepage. (See top right section entitled Markets For Good Publications). We invite you to read and download as we look forward to your perspectives on how the information infrastructure has strengthened in the past year and where opportunities exist to do more—so that foundations and nonprofits of all sizes have the information and knowledge that they need to do the best work possible. Share your comments on this compendium and to join the Markets for Good discussion in the coming months on our blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Vimeo, and Storify.