Transparency Lessons the Social Innovation Fund Should Learn from the Investing in Innovation Fund

Yesterday’s the U.S. Department of Education’s announced the selection of “49 school districts, nonprofit education organizations and institutions of higher education” as Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) finalists. Selected out of pool of nearly 1,700 applicants, the finalists have until September 8 to secure match commitments for up to 20% in order to receive actual funding. While also releasing the names of the finalists, the Department of Education also released a treasure-trove of information in an amazing step in transparency.

The Department of Education’s approach to transparency contrasts sharply with the Corporation for National and Community Service’s approach to the Social Innovation Fund (SIF). The calls for transparency have been out for some time (both Sean Stannard-Stockton and I wrote about this in April – here, here, and here.) and were significantly heightened by the Nonprofit Quarterly this week. The information released by the Department of Education yesterday highlights the different transparency approaches applied by the two federal agencies.

The Department of Education’s i3 announcement included a detailed list (PDF) of the highest-rated i3 applicants that provides details about the type of funding requested, how much money was requested, the proposal score, match status, and links to the specific proposal abstracts. It also included a brief data summary (PDF) of the highest-rated applicants. Probably the most significant information released by the Department of Education, though, were all of the reviewers’ comments and scores for the 49 finalists and the proposal narratives for the four Scale-up applicants (Teach for America, the KIPP Foundation, Success for All Foundation, and Ohio State University). The link on the i3 website provides individual links to each applicant’s review as well as links to proposals grouped by focus area. To complete its transparency effort, the Department of Education willpost a list of all i3 peer reviewers after awards are finalized. It has already posted details on the review and selection processes.

In contrast, the Corporation has provided only an overview of the eleven intermediaries selected that gives some description of their proposals. Details about the SIF review process, the reviewers, the other 58 proposal submitted, and the full proposals submitted by the selected intermediaries remain unavailable to the public.

The Corporation has argued that it doesn’t have right to release more details about the selected intermediaries’ proposal or the other SIF applicants. Yet, the significant difference between the Department of Education and the Corporation’s approaches to transparency raises a question about why the Corporation cannot provide the same level of information. Nor does it explain why the Corporation has been silent about the ongoing calls for transparency and unable to fully anticipate the public’s interest. My hope is that, at a minimum, the Corporation will provide a better explanation for holding back the SIF information. Ideally, the SIF will learn from i3 and adopt the same transparent approach.

 

AUGUST 9 UPDATE

The Corporation released a statement outlining how it will respond to the transparency requests. To make sense of the response, I made a simple comparison with how the Department of Education's transparency for i3. As seen in by the table below, there is still a significant difference in approaches.

 

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