CLASSIE is a landmark Australian initiative that enables systematic classification of social sector initiatives and entities - an Australian social change dictionary.
Using a well-respected and recently revised taxonomy as the spine of the system, and drawing on a well of knowledge contributed by a voluntary team of more than 50 Australian subject matter experts, Our Community (through our Innovation Lab) has led the project to create a taxonomy suitable for all Australian not-for-profit organisations, grantmakers, and social sector initiatives.
Despite a natural tendency among social sector organisations towards collegiality and collective action, most initiatives have up to now remained siloed - lessons hidden, or not widely shared. This has to change.
We want to get government grantmakers, philanthropists, not-for-profit organisations, businesses, social investors, donors - anyone who's contributing money to create change - to start speaking the same language. It's the first crucial step in the march towards evidence-based practice and accelerated outcomes.
The development of CLASSIE builds upon Our Community's 15 years of work with grantmakers and not-for-profits, and our extensive investigations of domestic and international innovations in government and philanthropic grantmaking.
CLASSIE is currently being rolled out across Our Community platforms including GiveNow, GoodJobs, the Funding Centre's EasyGrants Database, the Institute of Community Directors Australia's Board Matching Service, and our grants management platform, SmartyGrants.
All of these services involve collecting information from social-change organisations about who they are and what they do. Joining them up provides an unprecedented opportunity for the tens of thousands of not-for-profit organisations and grantmakers who are working to create positive social change. With the implementation of CLASSIE, and the cooperation of our partners, Our Community is spearheading the generation of data-backed evidence and powerful insights that have never been available before.
This is the most exciting time in history for policy-makers, grantmakers and change-makers. New tools provide us with opportunities for streamlining, acceleration, and smarter, more evidence-driven practice.
Big data provides opportunities for big impact. Application of a common data schema - a taxonomy - is an essential first step. By providing a better picture of where and to whom money is flowing, and to what use it is being put, CLASSIE will ultimately enable changes that will strengthen our nation's fabric.
Now is the time to act. We have the technological tools we need, and with hundreds of grantmakers of all sizes and types across Australia (and internationally) using SmartyGrants, and tens of thousands of not-for-profits using our other websites and services, we have the tools that can pull it all together.
CLASSIE will underpin efforts to join the dots from platform to platform, organisation to organisation, outcome to outcome.
In 2014 we linked up with the United States-based Foundation Center and chose its Philanthropy Classification System (PCS) as the base for our own taxonomy. Re-released by the Foundation Center under a Creative Commons licence in July 2015, the PCS represented the most relevant, most up to date and most internationally focused taxonomy available.
As soon as the revised version of the PCS was released, we swung into action, identifying more than 50 local subject matter experts and farming relevant sections out to them to review. We assessed their feedback and adapted the PCS accordingly. Some areas of the PCS were tweaked, others completely redrawn as CLASSIE began to take shape.
We took a minimum-possible-change approach to ensure that we remained as true as possible to the PCS, an approach designed to ensure that our schema was practical and relevant for Australian organisations while also leaving open the possibility of streamlined international data sharing.
In April 2016, we released CLASSIE 1.0 and started integrating relevant parts into various Our Community websites and platforms. More feedback followed, resulting in Version 1.1, which was released in August 2016. A big milestone was reached in November 2016, with the release of CLASSIE 2.0 and the move to incorporate parts of CLASSIE into SmartyGrants, Our Community's grants management platform. This move made the Subject and Beneficiaries sections of CLASSIE available to hundreds of grantmakers and, through them, many thousands of not-for-profit organisations.
CLASSIE is very much a work in progress. We plan quarterly then six-monthly updates in the initial stages of the rollout.
This project is being driven by Our Community, a 15-year-old Australian social enterprise and accredited B Corporation that provides information, infrastructure, connections and tools that enable government and other change agents to build stronger communities.
Our partners in that work are grantmakers (local, state and federal government, corporate, community and philanthropic), not-for-profit organisations, donors, enlightened businesses, and other community builders.
In developing CLASSIE we have been hugely assisted by the Foundation Center, which provided access to its open-source PCS, and advice and assistance as we worked to adapt the PCS to the Australian context.
We are also indebted to our subject matter experts, more than 50 practitioners drawn from the real world of grantmaking and community, environmental and economic development, who helped us review the taxonomy and suggested changes that would make it relevant, useful and instantly applicable for Australian organisations. A dedicated team of Our Community staff and contractors worked to coordinate that massive undertaking.
Internally, the CLASSIE project is overseen by the Our Community Group Managing Director, Denis Moriarty, and led by Kathy Richardson, who undertook a two-month study tour of the United States in 2014 as part of an Eisenhower Fellowship (Innovation). Kathy's tailor-made program saw her take part in 55 one-on-one meetings across 11 cities with not-for-profit, grantmaking, outcomes, classification and data specialists, providing a unique birdseye view over what's coming over the horizon, and a clear path towards change.
On Kathy's return from the United States, Our Community employed its first data scientist, Joost van der Linden, to assist in the rollout of the program. Sarah Barker was appointed as Group Director, Data Intelligence, in November 2016, while Jessica Rutherford and Lars Jensen lead the SmartyGrants technology team that is taking the taxonomy from spreadsheet to dashboard. Meanwhile, Cathy Truong is guiding the GiveNow team's transition into the data era. Many others are contributing to the rollout - this is a true all-of-company undertaking. Information about the full Our Community team is available here.
As a first step, CLASSIE was applied to Our Community's Funding Centre and GoodJobs databases. A major milestone was realised when the Subject and Beneficiaries sections of CLASSIE were made available to the 370+ federal, state and local government, philanthropic, corporate and community grantmakers who use the SmartyGrants platform in mid-November, 2016.
The rapid, widespread and cross-sector take-up of SmartyGrants (it's the most-used system in Australia, with an increasing international presence as well) provides an unprecedented opportunity for data collection, analytics and sharing of practices and insights within grantmaking affinity groups and beyond.
In SmartyGrants, CLASSIE is delivered through a series of standard questions that come "pre-loaded" with standard responses derived from the relevant section of the taxonomy. Our Community's other platforms have CLASSIE baked in to database fields.
Our Community is in the process of establishing a reference group comprising representatives of not-for-profits, government agencies, and philanthropic and corporate convenors and funders to help guide the shift into the data era. Click here for more information or to express an interest in joining the group.
While no one will be forced to use the system, we think there are strong arguments for everyone to do so:
For grantmakers using the SmartyGrants software, we'll be providing some additional powerful incentives to start using CLASSIE:
Other reasons to use CLASSIE:
The first three sections of CLASSIE - encompassing the classification of Organisations, Subjects and Beneficiaries - represent important first steps in this project, but we have a lot more in store.
The next phase will involve adding further classifications. We can't make promise about timing or priority order, but the additional areas currently in our sights include:
Relevant aspects of the schema will be applied to other platforms as opportunities present themselves.
CLASSIE is the first important step in a data revolution that is going to have huge implications for the tens of thousands of grantmakers, not-for-profits and businesses we work with.
As soon as we're able, we want to add outputs and outcomes classifications to CLASSIE - that's when we'll see truly useful insights emerge, providing the underlying conditions required for a massive collective acceleration of positive change.
This is without doubt the most exciting aspect of this project. But it's also the toughest nut to crack. Our international investigations reveal that no one has got there yet, though many are trying.
If you have any pointers about large-scale outcomes classification initiatives or tools that we should know about, please do let us know - our contact details are shown below.
The sections of CLASSIE that are currently available describe:
As we release more sections we will provide details of each here.
Click here to download a PDF summary of changes made to CLASSIE since its release up to CLASSIE version 2.0.
If you want to stay in touch with how we're progressing, please join our CLASSIE mailing list (click the button below), or feel free to get in touch by emailing Kathy Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org.