Announcing the winners of Knight News Challenge: Open Gov

On Feb. 19 we launched the ninth Knight News Challenge on Open Gov, with the question “How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?”  We selected open government as a theme because we sensed an opportunity to accelerate this nascent field and to help it develop solutions that serve defined needs.

Today, we are excited to announce the eight winners of the Knight News Challenge.

  • Civic InsightProviding up-to-date information on vacant properties so that communities can more easily find ways to make tangible improvements to local spaces.
  • GitMachines: Supporting government innovation by creating pre-configured tools that developers in government agencies can use to easily build new technology.
  • OpenCounter: Making it easier for residents to register and create new businesses by  building open source software that governments can use to simplify the process.
  • Open Gov for the Rest of Us: Providing residents in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago with the tools to access and demand better data around issues important to them – from housing to education.
  • Launching a public policy simulator that helps people visualize the impact that public policies like health care reform and school budget changes might have on local economies and communities.
  • OyezMaking state and appellate court documents freely available and useful to journalists, scholars and the public, by providing straightforward summaries of decisions, free audio recordings and more;
  • Plan in a BoxMaking it easier to discover information about local planning projects, by creating a tool that governments and contractors can use to easily create websites with updates that allows public input into the process.
  • Procure.ioMaking government contract bidding more transparent by simplifying the way smaller companies bid on government contracts.

While open government has accomplished a great deal, we sensed a need to build and test more projects focused on making open government more relevant to our communities—moving beyond aspirational thinking to tangible impact for the people and places around us. These eight winners fit that goal.

Each team had already begun its idea before the contest started (one is more than 20 years old), and each proposes a solution to a specific, observed need against which they can measure progress. We’re supporting these projects with several funding tools, including program-related investments, the Knight Enterprise Fund and grants.

How did we get here? Knight has been involved in open government for a while now. In addition to co-founding Sunlight Week, we’ve invested in a range of projects related to building more transparency between governments and citizens, including Sunlight Foundation, NYU GovLab and Code for America. We see each of these investments as essential to getting communities the information they need and improving the work of journalists and other content creators. News Challenge on Open Gov was then a logical forward step to advance the field and learn about what might come next.

In April we selected 40 of the 860 entrants for a deeper review by a group of journalists, investors and public officials in Miami. Out of that review and subsequent in-person interviews, we recommended to our trustees eight winning projects. They approved a total of more than $3 million. (With these awards, we have funded 105 News Challenge winners with more than $35 million since 2007.)

This year, for the first time, we did a roadshow in cities around the country to promote the contest. When we set out, our aim was to get input and encourage people to apply. We found incredible value in what we learned from the civic innovators, public officials, journalists and citizens who came to the events, in cities ranging from San Francisco and New York to Macon, Ga., and Lexington, Ky. We’ll include a similar tour in the next News Challenge.

The News Challenge gives us access to ideas and people beyond the winners of the contest. In addition to the eight winners, we’re also funding six prototypes discovered through the News Challenge.

  • Data Docs: A javascript library to add live data and visualizations to web video.
  • Open Source Election Results Reporting Service: Building software to provide API access to near real-time election data.
  • Civic Data Standards Study: Researching the state of government and civic data standards efforts.
  • Get Outside – A Toolkit for Sharing Parks Data and Maps: Software and templates to make it easier for parks departments to map their services and events.
  • OnBoard: By opening data about membership of local boards, committees and commissions, this website will provide pathways to diversify participation.
  • Dat: A set of tools to store, synchronize, manipulate and collaborate on data in a decentralized fashion, like GitHub for civic data.

The News Challenge wouldn’t be possible without the involvement of many people outside Knight Foundation. I want to thank all who contributed ideas and comments to the site especially the eight people (Chase Davis, Hannah Eaves, Elise Hu, Erin Kissane, Jessica Lord, Daniel O’Neil, Dan Schultz and Kio Stark) who served as readers and helped us curate conversations on the site, the 18 who came to Miami on April 15-16 to help us review the final 40 entries, and to Seamus Kraft, Daniel O’Neil, Aron Pilhofer, Laura Ramos, Juliana Rotich, Peter Spear and Tom Steinberg for taking the time to participate with us in final round interviews.

By John Bracken, director of journalism/media innovation at Knight Foundation, and Chris Sopher, journalism program association at Knight Foundation. 

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