Foundation wants a better way of combing through isolated data on nonprofits

Sure, plenty of websites maintain free data on public health, nonprofits and startups focused on health and governments’ health initiatives. The thing is, they don’t combine easily to show the bigger picture. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is offering a $100,000 grant to solve the problem, which it calls a matter of data interoperability.
One scholar has likened the data interoperability predicament to a bunch of Legos, Lincoln Logs and Erector sets — lots of building materials, but they don’t come together seamlessly. Kids should be able to bring all those toys together in one magnificent sculpture that sticks together elegantly without Krazy Glue or duct tape, just as different kinds of users should be able to evaluate data from different sites without having to normalize it all. A potential donor considering an investment in, say, a health nonprofit shouldn’t have to spend lots of time digging and bringing information together from Guidestar, Glasspockets and local and state government sites in order to check a nonprofit’s goals and progress and compare against other nonprofits.
The resulting product could draw on natural language processing, APIs for grabbing data and compelling visualizations with maps and other Tufte-approved images. The deadline for submissions is May 7.
Just as companies and federal agencies find themselves awash in big data and in need of clarity as more data sets become available for analysis, the nonprofit space needs its own way to make sense of it all. The result of the challenge — a common place to check out interdisciplinary data — could be introduced to other areas with big public data repositories, too.