Innovations in Open Grantmaking

Of its $4.1 trillion fiscal year 2016 budget, the U.S. federal government and its grantmaking agencies will give out billions of dollars in the form of grants to states, localities, and individuals, supporting a dizzying array of activities, from scientific research and economic development to arts, culture, and education.

Grantmaking, in short, plays a vital role in helping our government, our researchers, and our communities confront 21st-century challenges. Despite grantmaking's importance, we have a decidedly 20th-century system in place for deciding how we make these billions of dollars of crucial public investments. To make the most of limited funding—and help build confidence in the ability of public investments to make a positive difference—it is essential for our government agencies to try more innovative approaches to designing, awarding, and measuring their grantmaking activities.

Innovations in Open Grantmaking seeks to provide inspiration and early proof of concept regarding innovative practices at every stage of the grantmaking process. The examples and lessons included can act as suggested guidelines for future research and experimentation around more openly and effectively providing access to public money.

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What's in the Paper?

  • Introduction to Open and Effective Grantmaking: What it is, why it matters
  • Innovations Pre-Granting: Ideation challenges, improving the quality of applications through matchmaking, and prioritizing bottom-up participation
  • Innovations in Granting: Open peer review and participatory judging, evidence-based grantmaking, expert networking, and open alternatives to grants
  • Innovations Post-Granting: Opening data about grants, grantors, and grantees, standardizing reporting, and opening access to
    grant-funded work product
  • Conclusion and Reflection

This paper seeks to provide inspiration and early proof of concept regarding innovative practices at every stage of the grantmaking process. Certainly, not every innovation is appropriate for every agency or every grant. But all grantmaking agencies could benefit by taking a long, hard look at their existing procedures and determining how best to modernize and improve them. This publication will provide practitioners throughout government a menu of options to learn from — and some important issues to consider — as they decide how to do so.

This paper is part of GrantCraft's Leadership Series. GrantCraft publishes papers written by leaders in the field of philanthropy to spark ideas, stimulate discussion, and suggest possibilities. While you read, push yourself to learn from, but also critically reflect on, this text. What do you agree with? What other perspectives do you see? What questions does it raise for you? At the end of the paper, you'll find additional questions that you can use to spark conversation with colleagues and others, which you can also discuss further with an online community on As you’re reading, think about what examples you have that can contribute to ongoing learning. E-mail and info@thegovlab to share your perspective.
An earlier version of this publication was shared on Medium earlier this year, which includes links and commentsfrom other readers, and can be found at