17 ideas win Knight News Challenge on Data

Today, Knight Foundation is announcing 17 winners of the Knight News Challenge on Data at a convening at Civic Hall in New York. Each of the winners will receive a share of $3.2 million to develop their project, which seeks to answer the question: How might we make data work for individuals and communities?

As our world becomes increasingly data-rich, Knight Foundation hopes to identify and support innovators, entrepreneurs, institutions and journalists working to unlock useful information in ways that promote stronger and more knowledgeable communities. The winning projects cover a range of topics—from data literacy to transparency, crowdsourcing, privacy and data visualization. The common thread is that they are all seeking ways of using data to help people make better decisions that affect their lives.

The challenge generated 1,065 applications, the largest amount of applications we have received for any themed News Challenge. The 17 winners are a mix of small nonprofit startups, collaborations and larger institutions. Eight of the winners will build out full versions of their projects and will receive awards ranging from $237,589 to $470,000. We will be supporting the other nine projects through the Knight Prototype Fund; these early-stage projects will receive $35,000 each to help them test assumptions and build demos over the next six months.   

During this challenge, we collaborated with Data & Society Research Institute and Open Society Foundations. Data & Society also helped us review the entries, and we benefited from outside readers and reviewers, who helped us select the finalists and the winners, which we then recommended to the Knight Foundation Board of Trustees for approval.  

We hope that you’ll join us in watching these projects develop in using data to inform and empower people to make decisions about their lives and communities. We will be sharing progress and lessons learned along the way on Knight Blog, and you can follow the conversation on Twitter via @knightfdn and #newschallenge.

Nina Zenni is a media innovation associate at Knight Foundation. John Bracken is vice president of media innovation. Email them at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow Bracken on Twitter @jsb.

The winning projects include:

All the Places Personal Data Goes by Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University ($440,000 | Project lead: Latanya Sweeney | Cambridge, Mass.): Making it easier to find out how your personal data is being shared between companies by creating a crowdsourced resource that documents and visualizes these data sharing arrangements.

Citizens Police Data Project by The Experimental Station in partnership with The Invisible Institute ($400,000 | Project leads: Harry Backlund, Alison Flowers, Darryl Holliday, Chaclyn Hunt, Jamie Kalven, Rajiv Sinclair, WuDi Wu | Chicago): Building an online toolkit for reporting, tracking and analyzing allegations of police misconduct and their investigations in Chicago that will serve as a national model for transparency.

Data Equity for Main Street by California State Library, Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records, and State of Washington Technology Solutions ($470,000 | Project leads: Anne Neville, Daphne DeLeon and Will Saunders | California, Nevada and Washington): Promoting data literacy by training librarians and community members how to find, use and give advice on the power of open data.

Documents Empowerment Project by mRelief ($250,000 | Project lead: Rose Afriyie and Genevieve Nielsen | Chicago): Helping low-income Americans prove their eligibility for public benefit programs by scaling a benefit program document database and discovery platform.

Law, Order and Algorithms: Making Sense of 100 Million Highway Patrol Stops by Stanford University ($310,000 | Project Leads: Sam Corbett-Davies, Sharad Goel, Vignesh Ramachandran, Ravi Shroff, Camelia Simoiu | Stanford, Calif.): Increasing transparency and accountability in law enforcement by compiling, analyzing and releasing a data set of more than 100 million highway patrol stops throughout the country.

PublicBits: Breaking Down Open Data Silos by U.S. Open Data ($420,000 | Project lead: Karissa McKelvey | Oakland, Calif.): Developing a search engine that makes it easier for users to find and collect data from multiple sources and receive notifications when the data is out of date.

Security Force Monitor by The Human Rights Institute at Columbia University ($237,589 | Project lead: Tony Wilson | New York): Informing and advancing journalism, human rights and other public interest work by compiling and structuring public data on police, military and other security forces.

Weighing the Wisdom of the Crowd by Orb Media ($450,000 | Project leads: Heather Krause and Neal Rothleder | Washington, D.C.): Enabling anyone to survey the crowd and share reliable, credible results through the use of easy-to-use online tools that allow users to create more scientifically sound surveys.

The nine Knight Prototype Fund winners receiving $35,000 each include:

Charlotte ZipBus by Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) (Project lead: Robert Cerrato; @CATSRideTransit | Charlotte, N.C.): Using real-time data via a mobile platform to transform an existing call-based transit service into an enhanced service that allows customers to schedule transit to meet their personal needs.

Civic Infrastructure for Workers by (Project leads: Michelle Miller and Jess Kutch; @teamcoworker, @jesskutch, @michelleimiller | Washington, D.C.): Enabling workers to improve their jobs by creating tools that allow them to connect, as well as provide, share and acquire data about work issues and conditions.

Could Your Data Discriminate? by Data & Society Research Institute (Project leads: Sorelle Friedler; Wilneida Negron; @kdphd, @WilneidaNegron | New York): Helping people identify and fix hidden biases in their data and learn about data discrimination through a website that will allow people to test data for bias and experiment with public data to determine what may result in such bias.

Democratizing Data through Visual Search Results by city of Raleigh (Project lead: Adam Martin; @RaleighGov | Raleigh, N.C.): Making it easier to access and use public data through an open source project that will present data in a more visual and relevant manner through search results. For example, a search for “budget” on would yield intuitive, attractive graphs and charts.

FOIA Mapper (Project lead: Max Galka; @galka_max | New York): Making it easier for people to find public data and make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by creating an open source “FOIA map,” including a catalog of government information systems, descriptions of the records they contain, and documentation of the language needed to request them.

Excellence In, Excellence Out – Data Quality Uplift for Government (Project lead: Stephanie Singer; @sfsinger | Portland, Ore.): Helping to improve the quality of government data by creating tools for quality assessment, a scorecard to motivate leaders to invest in data quality and a quality improvement protocol for governments.

Legislation Tracker: Beyond the Bills by NJ Spotlight (Project leads: Colleen O’Dea and Lee Keough; @njspotlight, @colleenodea, @leekeough | Trenton, N.J.): Bringing more accountability and transparency to state lawmaking by creating a tracking tool for all major bills passed in New Jersey that would provide information on whether the law was enforced and milestones were met.

SeaGlass: Bringing Transparency to Cellphone Surveillance by University of Washington (Project leads: Peter Ney, Ian Smith, Tadayoshi Kohno; @peter_ney1, @sesotek, @yoshi_kohno | Seattle): Helping communities maintain their privacy by building a community-driven, open data service to detect cellphone surveillance and produce high-quality cellular network data for research.

Quantified Self Data Experience: Understanding Your Data and the World it Creates by University of Colorado, Boulder (Project lead: Michael Skirpan; @mwskirpan, @CUBoulder, @FastForwardLabs | Boulder, Colo.): Informing people about digital privacy, data sharing and the future of our data-driven society using performance, interactive art, digital education, data toolkits and public discussions.

The Knight News Challenge on Data was the second round of the Knight News Challenge launched in 2015. In July Knight announced 22 winners of the Knight News Challenge on Elections, which sought ideas to better inform voters before, during and after elections.

The Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Since 2007 Knight Foundation has provided more than $47 million in funding to 190 projects through the News Challenge. In addition to funding, winners receive support from Knight’s network of influential peers and advisers to help advance their ideas.

Past News Challenge winners have created innovative solutions aimed at building more informed communities and a stronger democracy. They include: DocumentCloud, which analyzes and annotates public documents, turning them into data; Tools for OpenStreetMap, which makes it easier to contribute to the editable map of the world; and CODE2040, which creates programs that increase the representation of blacks and Latinos in the innovation economy.

For more, visit and follow #newschallenge on Twitter.

Full project descriptions for winners receiving investments of $237,589 to $470,000:

Winner: All the Places Personal Data Goes (Cambridge, Mass.) Award: $440,000 Organization: Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University Project lead: Latanya Sweeney Twitter: @thedatamap, @latanyasweeney

People share details of their lives widely – whether they are buying an app or providing information to their doctor – often trusting companies and others with intimate facts. But where does that data end up? In many cases, once an organization acquires this information, it can legally share it with others without clear notice – whether the information be medical history, or a name and GPS location. This project aims to create a crowdsourced resource that documents how data is being shared by companies and organizations. Through a game-like portal, members of the public will become “data detectives,” earning points for locating and reporting evidence of data sharing arrangements. The result will be a detailed database of personal data sharing arrangements that can be visualized, and help the public spot potential risks, benefits and opportunities.

Winner: Citizens Police Data Project (Chicago) Award: $400,000 Organization: The Experimental Station in partnership with The Invisible Institute Project leads: Harry Backlund, Alison Flowers, Darryl Holliday, Chaclyn Hunt, Jamie Kalven, Rajiv Sinclair, and WuDi Wu. Twitter: @invinst

Two years ago, after a decade of litigation and advocacy, the Invisible Institute won a significant legal victory in Illinois requiring that all recorded allegations of police abuse be made public. The Citizens Police Data Project will create a toolkit to make it easier for the public to engage with this data through: an easier complaint filing process; quick lookups of complaint history per officer; and interactive analyses of allegations and investigations across geography and other meaningful dimensions of life in the city such as geography, race and gender demographics.

Winner: Data Equity for Main Street (California, Nevada, Washington) Award: $470,000 Organization: California State Library, Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records, and State of Washington Technology Solutions Project leads: Anne Neville, Daphne DeLeon and Will Saunders Twitter: @anneneville @wabroadband @CAstatelibrary

Most libraries offer digital literacy training that helps community members find information online and better understand it. To further promote digital equity, this project seeks to ensure that libraries can help communities take advantage of the growing amount of open data. Data Equity for Main Street will use the skills and knowledge of library professionals and civic technologists in California, Nevada and Washington to create two types of open educational resources: a train-the-trainer approach that prepares librarians to help patrons find open data resources, and a second that provides class training materials and lesson plans so that libraries can teach patrons what open data is, and how to find, use it and give feedback on its quality and relevance.

Winner: Documents Empowerment Project (Chicago) Award: $250,000 Organization: mRelief Project lead: Rose Afriyie and Genevieve Nielsen Twitter: @mrelief_form

For the millions of Americans living in poverty, accessing public benefits is inextricably linked to providing documentation that proves they qualify to receive this support. With help from a Knight Prototype Fund grant, mRelief built and piloted a platform in Chicago to make it easier for families to determine their eligibility for state programs in Illinois. It also allows program providers to create an eligibility template for their services. With new funding, mRelief will scale its tool to multiple cities. The tool will also expand its text messaging service, which allows people to check their benefit eligibility via text. It will expand to include a database of required documents for benefit programs, text messaging reminders for required resources for beneficiaries, and an SMS discovery platform to help people search for the documents they need.

Winner: Law, Order and Algorithms: Making Sense of 100 Million High Patrol Stops (Stanford, Calif.) Award: $310,000 Organization: Stanford University Project leads: Sam Corbett-Davies, Sharad Goel, Vignesh Ramachandran, Ravi Shroff, Camelia Simoiu. Twitter: @Stanford and @5harad

Traffic stops are one of the primary ways in which the public interacts with law enforcement, yet there is little easily accessible information on this practice. The lack of data has made it difficult to rigorously investigate public concerns of racial profiling in such interactions. To help individuals, communities and journalists understand police practices, this project will collect, release and analyze more than 100 million highway patrol stops conducted over the last several years across the United States. It will produce one of the most comprehensive data sets of police interactions with the public. Project leaders will work with journalism organizations to analyze the data and publish stories based on their findings.

Winner: PublicBits: Breaking Down Open Data Silos (Oakland, Calif.) Award: $420,000 Organization: U.S. Open Data Project lead: Karissa McKelvey Twitter: @opendata, @dat_project, @captainkmac

Finding open data on a topic can be time-consuming, requiring searches across many siloed websites. PublicBits seeks to solve that problem by building a search engine that will allow users to search for information across many data portals with a single query. In addition, a desktop application will connect to the search engine, keeping track of the data source automatically and notifying the user when the data is out of date.

Winner: Security Force Monitor (New York) Award: $237,589 Organization: The Human Rights Institute at Columbia University Project lead: Tony Wilson Twitter: @SecForceMonitor Around the world, publicly available data on the police, military and other security forces is unstructured and scattered across numerous sources. This makes it difficult for journalists, human rights researchers, advocates and others to hold security forces accountable and pinpoint the source of abuses. The lack of information also undermines anti-corruption efforts, budget transparency and other public interest work. The Security Force Monitor is addressing this problem by compiling unstructured data from government sources, the media and civil society groups. The monitor structures and assigns confidence scores to this data and uses it to create an online platform with: organizational charts of the police, military and other security forces; maps of their location and jurisdictions; profiles on commanders and units; and maps and records of documented human rights abuses committed by security forces as reported by civil society organizations, the United Nations and other sources. Currently in beta, the monitor includes several years of data for Egypt, Mexico and Nigeria, and will expand to include several additional countries in its first year. All countries covered by the monitor will be kept up to date.

Winner: Weighing the Wisdom of the Crowd (Washington, D.C.) Award: $450,000 Organization: Orb Media Project leads: Heather Krause and Neal Rothleder Twitter: @OrbTweet, @njr7, @datassist Information is a critical, powerful factor in public discourse and decision-making. Good, reliable information that collects public opinions (aka crowdsourced data) is expensive, and out of reach of many individuals and organizations. While social and online tools make it easier to create surveys to gauge public opinion, they don’t consider critical features needed to meaningfully analyze and draw valid conclusions (such as demographic and socioeconomic bias). Most people don’t have the knowledge or expertise to understand and correct for these factors when they generate a survey or questionnaire. This project will create software tools and online services to help survey-makers frame sampling questions, embed them into existing survey and Q&A platforms, statistically adjust the collected results and help visualize the answers – allowing everyone to poll the crowd and share reliable results.