Ford Foundation’s Un-Survey invites inquiring minds

This article originally appeared on Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, on 28 April 2014. The original article can be found here.

camarena_200By Janet Camarena

Everyone who has ever raised funds from foundations quickly learns that grantmaking professionals excel at asking questions—lots of them. From the submission of the letter of inquiry to the completion of an online grants application form, to the face-to-face meeting with a funder, a grantseeker can face a seemingly endless series of questions. In a refreshing change of pace, the Ford Foundation’s new Un-Survey puts its users in the interviewer’s chair, and invites its community to publicly ask the questions they wish the foundation would use its web site to answer. In addition to posing a query, one can also view all of the questions that have already been asked, and then vote on the submitted questions to let the foundation know which ones are of most interest to its audience.

The goal of the Un-Survey is to help inform the Ford Foundation’s web redesign process, and hopefully to unearth suggestions through this process that a traditional survey might have missed.  The thinking behind this is that in a traditional survey model, the questions asked have built-in assumptions and are shaped by the thinking of the survey writers themselves, and that the Un-Survey will serve to eliminate those assumptions and avoid leading its audience in a particular direction framed by the foundation. It will be interesting to see if the Un-Survey lives up to this expectation, but at this early stage it seems a great example of an effort to expand participation, transparency, and accountability since anyone can ask a question, vote on those questions already asked, and help inform the direction of not just the web design, but ultimately of answers and knowledge to be shared.

In preparation for the Un-Survey Launch, Ford invited some well-known inquiring minds to get the inquiry started, and as a result some questions have already been submitted from Lucy BernholzBen Hecht and Jillian York and others. But in my view, the really important thing about the Un-Survey is that it is not only for thought leaders or a select few.  We are all being invited to be thought partners of the Ford Foundation. What kind of transparency do you want to see on the Ford Foundation’s redesigned site? Go ahead and ask. Maybe we will discover the path to an Un-Grant Application in the process!

Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center’s San Francisco office and leads the Center’s Glasspockets effort.

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