Scanning the landscape: finding the best targets for your funds

When you plan your grants program - or if you're reconsidering the direction of an existing program - scanning the field helps you to identify where your grants could be the most helpful, influential or innovative. This summary of the Grantcraft paper Scanning the Landscape 2.0 will help you to decide whether scanning is for you. If you decide it is, make sure you read the paper in full.

What is landscape scanning?

Scanning is an information-gathering process: seeing what is there, what isn't there, and what further action might be needed. From a grantmaker's perspective, this means seeing who else is funding what, what isn't being funded, and where there are funding gaps. It can involve one-on-one conversations, surveys, using consultants, running focus groups, convening groups of stakeholders, or keeping tabs on responses to social media posts - or any combination of those things.

Scanning can help you to:

  • see more broadly
  • listen and respond to the communities in which you work
  • inform others about what you learn, thereby helping to build a field
  • find the "white space", the niche where you can make a contribution
  • stimulate your learning.

Why scan?

A scan can help you to find a strategic direction. It can help you to hear key stakeholders. It can help you to understand emerging issues. And it can help you to find out about the work that others are doing, what their interests are; perhaps help you to build relationships and sharpen your own strategy development. How would we approach a scan?

Grantcraft notes that the questions you pose and the way you pose them can determine the answers you get, so you need to frame your questions with care:

  • Make questions as broad or tightly focused as you want the answers to be.
  • Invite respondents to step into your shoes and help you think through your funding priorities.
  • Ask and probe, but frame questions neutrally and let the respondents do most of the talking.
  • Share what you're learning and refine your questions as needed.

And take care to gather diverse points of view:

  • Call on people from different disciplines, places and levels of involvement.
  • Seek out contrary points of view.
  • Find people whose expertise is different from yours.
  • Ask your contacts to connect you with their other contacts.
  • Listen to people who are close to the problem.
  • If you're convening a group, look for people who are collaborative and open-minded.

Scanning continuously

Regular scanning can help you to maintain perspective. Try these techniques:

  • Routinely ask grantees (or other stakeholders) a small number of open-ended questions.
  • Compile key news stories and reports of things happening in your field.
  • Follow a select few blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook connections.
  • Hold informal cross-sector discussions about emerging issues.
  • Invite experts to talk to you about emerging or important issues that you are already involved in or are about to explore.

Sharing your results

When you share what you learn with those who contributed to your scan and other interested parties, you contribute to a body of knowledge. Options and outcomes include:

  • reporting to the field.
  • building a case within your foundation for something you want to pursue.
  • brokering new coalitions.
  • establishing networks.
  • meeting ongoing information needs (perhaps with a blog or email newsletter).
  • briefing other funders.
  • setting a baseline for future action.

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