Financial Transparency Tool

Only accessible to those with valid MIT certificates

MIT By the Numbers*

GitHub Repository


When MIT decided not to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies, I was curious what financial motivations might be at play. One factor was likely the risk of losing some research relationships, primarily through sponsored research. Sponsored research is when an organization (company, foundation, or government organization) funds a Principle Investigator (PI), a position that’s often occupied by a professor, to research a topic of common interest between the PI and that organization.

I wondered how much money might be at stake: 1% of total sponsored research, 10%? MIT’s Office of the Vice President for Finance publishes the data needed to answer this question in the annual “Report of Sponsored Research Activity (aka the Brown Book)”. As I started working on the project (and still am), I realized that my analysis could be generalized to look at sponsored research funding across all industries. And, by adding gender, position, and department data, I could create metrics similar to those used to describe income inequality and the gender pay gap.

While I was making my discoveries, I wanted to allow anyone in the MIT community to explore this data without requiring programming knowledge. This led me to the idea of interactive data visualizations. This allows users to go on a website (using their MIT certificates for authentication) and select what parameters they care about, see the macro-level relationships, and drill down to individual projects / organizations / people.

* Three friends taking an interactive data visualization class used the idea for their group project. They ran with the idea and made the narrative, visualizations, and website. I advised and helped to label sponsor organizations. There’s still more work to do, but it’s a great start. I’m hoping that people at other schools and similar organizations will use this tool with their own data to promote institutional financial transparency.