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Building Fields for Policy Change

Building Fields for Policy Change

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Published by Lucy Bernholz
Philanthropic field building and public policy as inter-related strategies. Part of the MacArthur series on Field Building
Philanthropic field building and public policy as inter-related strategies. Part of the MacArthur series on Field Building

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Published by: Lucy Bernholz on Dec 11, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Lucy Bernholz and Tony Wang
Building Fields for Policy Change
This paper was published with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.Blueprint Research + Design, Inc. helps grantmaking foundations, individual and family donors, and philanthropicnetworks achieve their missions. We offer services in strategy and program design, organizational learning, andevaluation, and we think and write about the industry of philanthropy. Since 2004, Blueprint has provided the John D.and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with research, advice, and documentation of the Digital Media and LearningInitiative. That work includes the writing and distribution of five reports on field building, written for the public, as ameans of informing the field of philanthropy and as a way to strengthen the emerging field of Digital Media andLearning.The MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative aims to determine how digital media are changingthe way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to education and other socialinstitutions that must meet the needs of this and future generations. Through November 2009, the foundation hasawarded 106 grants for a total of $61.5 million to organizations and individuals in support of digital media and learn-ing. The grants have supported research, development of innovative technologies, and new learning environments foryouth — including a school based on game design principles.
research+ design for philanthropy
Blueprint Research + Design, Inc.
Philanthropic foundations exist as a function of public policy. They are regulated entities, overseenby elements of corporate, tax, and charity codes.Public policy guidelines, ranging from interna-tional laws to municipal codes, also shape theissues on which foundations work, such as educa-tion, health, the environment, human rights, or the media. Clearly, the power of public policy toguide philanthropic choices and directions, andeven to shape the tools that foundations use intheir work, is substantial.However, the public policy milieu in whichphilanthropy works and social goods areproduced is not simply background; it is itself apowerful tool for achieving change. Americanfoundations have engaged directly in shapingpublic policy — or working with intermediaries,institutions, and networks of organizations to doso — almost from the beginning. The Rockefeller Foundation’s work in providing public healthservices, training public health providers, and ulti-mately influencing individual states and thenation as a whole to address widespread diseasesbegan within a decade of its founding in 1913.
Examples of policymaking initiatives range acrossdisciplines from economic research to arts educa-tion, and from the international level to the local,state, and national level.
While the policymaking efforts of foundationsare well documented, the focus of this paper is ona key characteristic that this policy work shareswith themore recent philanthropic interest infield building. Field building and successful policychange both require thatfoundations act acrossentire ecosystems of change, where the workof grantees mutually rein-forces and strengthens theimpact of one another.
The decades of success ininfluencing policy domains holds useful lessonsfor the more emergent interest in field building asstrategy.Because field building and policymaking workso well to support each other, this paper’s specificfocus is the intersection of these two spheres of influence. It will detail the shared characteristics
Building Fields for Policy Change
From America’s neighborhoods to the capitals of the world, philanthropy is a major force in public policy,flexing its financial and intellectual muscles with those who determine the rules by which society lives.This expansive role for philanthropy naturally raises questions: How does philanthropy best engagepolicymakers? In what other ways does philanthropy influence policy? To whom is philanthropy account-able in this regard? How does public policy work fit within the larger philanthropic agenda?
Kathy Postel Kretman, Director, Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership, Georgetown University 
The power of public policy toguide philanthropic choices anddirections is substantial.

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