Evidence-based philanthropy means that donations are made to programs and projects based on the evidence of their effectiveness. It is commonly used by large scale donors to evaluate where their funds will be beat utilized, and by policymakers and politicians to evaluate what type of programs should be implemented on both national and state level. What evidence really matters? This is a question that is hard to answer.

Observation Philanthropy?

Evidence literally means, ‘observation’, so the success of an evidence-based program could be observed by the people who implement a program at a grass root level. It could also be the observed results of randomized controlled studies that either verify or negate the success and therefore the chance of funding for programs. There are three types of evidence that can be assessed when deciding about which programs are effective:

  1.  Field Experience: This is the ‘hands-on’, practical knowledge and experience of program leaders and the people who are involved in the implementation of programs. They have the most evidence of ‘how’ to implement programs to ensure the highest levels of success.
  2. Research/Scientific Evidence: This type of evidence includes the results of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) as well as data analysis and statistics to provide evidence to show cause and effect.
  3. Informed Opinion: This is usually the opinion of stakeholders and policymakers who can provide context for scientific evidence and field experience.Each evidentiary area needs to be taken in context.

For example, an RCT may definitively prove that using a bed net helps in the prevention of malaria, but it may be the caseworker ‘on-the-ground’ that is able to show that people are using the provided bed nets for fishing nets. In this case, the evidence needs to be evaluated carefully before making any decision about the success or failure or a program. All the information and observations gathered must be examined in context and simultaneously when reporting on the relative benefits or not.

Evidence Based Philanthropy Finding Reliable Data – Bloomberg Philanthropies

Many philanthropists will only donate to evidence-based programs, but many are now taking policymakers and governmental organizations to task about their lack of initiative in understanding what works and what doesn’t. Mike Bloomberg was particularly scathing of the lack of understanding by politicians of what is happening on-the-ground. In the Blomberg Philanthropies annual report, he noted than many policymakers and politicians are bogged down by a mass of data and refuse to recognize reliable data through the quagmire. Bloomberg also announced a $42 million investment in the ‘What Works Cities’ program which is the USA’s most extensive effort yet to enhance and build on city data to help evaluate and define challenges and opportunities in key areas such as homelessness, health and educations.

This work builds on the 2017 Bloomberg Philanthropies launch of the $200 million Bloomberg American Cities Initiative which gives city councils and mayors the tools to better evaluate programs based on holistic reliable data. In 2017, Bloomberg Philanthropies invested over $702 million in 480 cities in over 120 countries around the world.