Key Insights from Our Grantee Advisors on Open Licensing

As we expected – this group unlocked a wealth of key insights for us.

Our third stakeholder session with multiple grantee organizations was the most highly anticipated session we have held to date.

We spent two hours with several representatives of organizations that Vancouver Foundation has funded in the past, and matched their contributions with input from our survey sent to a broader group of recent grantees. We provided our grantee advisors with minimal advance material to explore (besides our original post titled: Open Policies Unlock Our Full Potential) in order to uncover key concerns that grantees might hold about open licensing and to tap into any uncertainties about how this new policy will affect the application and approval process.

Not only did we want to uncover the ‘unknown questions’ we will need to answer for a much larger audience, we were curious to explore how grantees perceive our intentions, and how they relate to our objectives in removing barriers to accessing, sharing and building upon the socially innovative ideas our funding supports.

We also wanted to encourage large scale thinking, and generate fresh ideas and opportunities from our discussion with BC’s best innovators.

What did we explore? A little of everything!

We followed a similar process to our other stakeholder sessions, where we asked questions about content, and about what risks and opportunities might be attached to those items. Our grantees were highly engaged, and often took opportunities to question assumptions, offer ideas and raise concerns throughout the content discussion.

We were asked a wide variety of questions – some of which, in the spirit of being ‘open,’ we must admit we do not yet have definitive answers for. Some questions exposed new issues to consider, and some questions defined some of the ‘pain points’ some organizations might be feeling over the idea of open licensing.

One of the first major questions Grantees wanted to explore was ‘What is the full scope of the open licensing policy?’ Would organizations be required to share intellectual property materials from within their organizations, or be required to share materials they had developed to support organizational activities? Grantees highlighted that these materials, some of which are created at great cost, or carry key strategic insights and operational activities, could affect their ability to fulfill their charitable mission if openly distributed among their peers.

While Vancouver Foundation has not finalized our entire policy, we were happy to report back to Grantees that our open licensing policy will only apply to products funded through our Field of Interest grant making program starting in 2017.

Furthermore, Vancouver Foundation recognizes and understands that there may be cases in which an open policy may negatively impact a grantee’s ability to successfully complete, sustain, or expand their project for a wide variety of reasons. Vancouver Foundation will be developing a clear set of conditions upon which we can evaluate those risks during the application process, and potentially grant exclusions where necessary. As mentioned above, this work is yet ahead of us, and nothing has been conclusively decided at this time.

“We invested all our resources on building this – we lose that if we just give it away”

We were also asked if exposing elements of the project application process would be a part of our Policy. If so, would it potentially impact the quality of applications overall? What if applications all begin to look the same as grantees begin to retool their submissions to look more like previously successful applications, by copying directly from previously successful applications?

“I know what I want to see, I’m just not sure others will want to share”

From another perspective, our advisors wondered if this policy could create a massive reduction in duplication of projects and resource development – each citing multiple opportunities revealed through random conversations with their peers on how “If we had only known before we started that X project had already been done by Y organization!” There was significant support for how Donors and Grantees both would appreciate knowing their funding was not used to replicate other projects.

“Imagine how much more productive we could be if we just shared what we’ve already done!”

Previous applicants also voiced concern that overall, the bar may be perceived to have been raised even higher for those seeking funding, noting that grantees are already adapting to Vancouver Foundation’s shift towards greater emphasis on social innovation. Would adding this policy to the mix by January place a strain on applicants to ‘re-learn how to work with Vancouver Foundation?’

Grantees identified that because sources of funding available to support projects in BC is limited, our policy might create barriers for smaller organizations who may not have the capacity or skill set to license their work.

“Intellectual property is our social enterprise potential”

Grantees also identified that they will need resources and support from Vancouver Foundation in order to learn how to identify and adapt these ‘products’ of our funding in order to comply with the requirement.

It is clear that to successfully implement our open licensing policy, Vancouver Foundation will need to work harder to clarify our expectations, to design effective and easy to understand application processes, to create comprehensive and clear resources to support these changes, and to offer materials that inform applicants about their rights and options when working with us.

After multiple stakeholder sessions, we’ve heard that our open licensing policy is received well generally, and that there is hunger for more detail about how the policy will be implemented and how grantee applications will be impacted.

“We would love it if a great idea just starts happening, locally, nationally and beyond”

It was a rewarding discussion, as grantees shared with us their concerns, but also their optimism that our policy could influence many outstanding issues that funders and grantees both face.

What’s Next?

We have one more stakeholder consultation session planned, involving other funders of BC innovation. We will explain our progress and intentions, and explore willingness to offer their endorsement and support.

We have some very clear takeaways to discuss during the next phase of our policy development which begins to focus more on our internal processes like grant assessment and evaluation, integration with our grant management workflows, and resource development for staff and grantees both.

Explore the Grantee Advisory Notes captured from our discussion.

Rebeccah Mullen joined Vancouver Foundation via Mozilla Foundation and has a passion for all things ‘open’. She will be blogging on behalf of Vancouver Foundation as project lead for 2017’s Open Licensing Policy Implementation.

Trina Isakson is an independent strategist, researcher, and facilitator with a focus on the future of the nonprofit sector, and a convener for nonprofit sector leaders in BC interested in open data. She will be leading project strategy and planning, as well as facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions.


This adaptation of “What did our Advisory Committee members have to say about Open Licensing?” by Rebeccah Mullen on behalf of Vancouver Foundation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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