Articles by

Chris Barr

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    Sometimes it is hard to find the poetry in technology. Though most people use technology as part of their daily life, the coldness of machines makes it easy to overlook the richness of human culture that flows through their circuits. Yet culture can move quickly, aided by our devices, whether it’s a virtual museum tour, a live-streamed concert or crowdsourced poetry. And we’re only at the beginning of this curve. Technology offers a myriad of opportunities for art, expanding how it challenges us, triggers reflection, awakens empathy and connects us to our communities. Innovations have the potential to provide arts organizations with new ways to connect with audiences and create deeply engaging experiences that inform and delight.But how do we ensure that arts organizations, and artists themselves, take advantage of these opportunities, instead of lagging behind their audiences in the adoption of technology? Today, Knight Foundation is opening a call for ideas focused on this issue. It centers around a question:How might cultural institutions use technology to connect people to the arts?
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    In March Knight Foundation, along with partners the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation, launched an open call for ideas around the question: How might we improve the flow of accurate information? As part of a larger initiative centered on trust in journalism, we were seeking projects that could be quickly built and to test ideas that respond to the challenges affecting the health of our news ecosystem and ultimately our democracy. Today, timed with the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Phoenix, we are announcing support for 20 projects aimed at combating the spread of misinformation online and increasing trust in journalism. The winning projects will receive a share of $1 million through the Knight Prototype Fund, a program focused on iterative and human-centered approaches to solving difficult problems. Along with the larger application pool of over 800 ideas, the projects align with three broad themes.
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    When we launched the Prototype Fund in 2012 our goal was to help innovators push media, journalism and civic information projects forward by giving them an avenue to build fast, fail forward and learn quickly. The initiative recognized that the speed of innovation, coupled with the low-cost of experimentation opened an opportunity for innovators to test, iterate and change direction before building out a project. This type of nimble, early-stage risk investment was new for Knight Foundation and new for philanthropy. We are relaunching the fund this month, with some changes based on what we have learned over the last five years. Most notably, future calls for ideas will focus on specific topics, a move from broad experimentation to targeted issues in the fields where Knight Foundation works.
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    In 2011 Knight Foundation partnered with the Mozilla Foundation to create the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, as an effort to embed technologists within news organizations through a fellowship program. We sought to promote culture change and to help accelerate the needed transition to digital thinking.The project quickly took root, and in 2013 we followed up with an additional grant to help the program build in educational resources, conferences and convenings. Today, OpenNews centers around a growing community of journalism technologists and innovators who are on the frontlines of culture change as news organizations adapt to an increasingly digital world.OpenNews’ evolution, from bringing outside technologists to the journalism field, to a focus on strengthening a growing community of technologists and product developers within the news industry, has been, in part, informed by the experiences of the fellows over the years. Today, Knight Foundation is releasing a new report, prepared with Network Impact, that summaries much of what we’ve learned. The report shows that OpenNews’ events, educational resources and open source projects have contributed to the tech talent pipeline for news organizations and to a need to focus on newsroom culture change and adoption of best practices. This emphasis on developing and helping to sustain a thriving community of practice is at the heart of Knight Foundation’s new investment of $1.1 million in the next phase of OpenNews.
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    This post has been updated to reflect the Aug. 17, 2015 deadline for the Knight Prototype Fund. Nearly three years ago we started funding prototypes as a way to make small bets on exploratory work that promises to create new pathways for information that is essential for communities. We’ve focused on providing funding for broad experimentation at this early stage, designing a program that asks small teams to iteratively test their assumptions and share what they’ve learned. We now fund groups of prototype projects each quarter. In addition to $35,000, teams receive training in human-centered design and support from a data science team at Impact Lab to structure their learning objectives. At the end of six months, they meet to share what they’ve learned and the outcomes of their projects. The deadline for the next round of Prototype Fund grants is Aug. 17. Submitting an idea is easy; just answer five questions through our online form. This round of grants includes a diverse group of projects that explore novel uses of data, media and technology to inform people. Check out the 20 projects receiving support in this cohort below. Chris Barr is director of media innovation at Knight Foundation. Email him at [email protected] Apply for the Knight Prototype Fund at prototypefund.org.
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    Photo by Flickr urser r2hox. Each quarter, the Knight Prototype Fund supports small teams of media makers, technologists, designers and civic hackers to test new approaches to informing communities. In the last two years we have funded 130 projects through the program with broad experimentation in areas like tools for journalists, use of open data, support for the open Internet and new approaches to storytelling. Today we are happy to announce 10 projects that will join the 14 library prototypes announced in January as part of the Knight News Challenge. The Prototype Fund provides $35,000 in funding for a six-month sprint where teams are encouraged to better understand the unmet needs of their community and project participants through design research, rough prototyping and critical analysis. As part of their experience, grantees begin their journey with a workshop focused on accessible innovation methods. They present their progress on the initial prototype phase of their project at a demo day at the end of the six months.
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    In September we launched the 12th Knight News Challenge, on libraries, asking the question, “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” Today we’re announcing 22 winners of that challenge, awarding the recipients a share of $3 million for their ideas. Related Link "Knight News Challenge on Libraries awards $3 million for innovative ideas" - Press release, 01/30/2015 Building on previous experience working with libraries, this challenge has helped us learn a great deal about libraries and the challenges they face while serving the information needs of their communities. Several themes emerged among the winners, including focusing on digital rights and privacy; history and digital preservation; the maker movement; and open data. We look forward to learning more as the projects develop and to applying that knowledge to our work more broadly. Additionally, we have experienced firsthand the enthusiasm inside and outside of libraries for making them vibrant civic institutions in a digital age.
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    Last week 11 advisers helped us select a group of semifinalists for the Knight News Challenge: Libraries. Today, we are excited to announce that 41 projects have moved to the next stage of consideration. These semifinalists will have a week to fine tune their entries before we begin work with another set of advisers to choose the finalists. We received 680 submissions to the challenge, which is focused on the question: how might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities? Having the opportunity to look at a multitude of ideas from the library community is immensely valuable to our work. It gives us the chance to understand the shared energy among those working to innovate in the field and the shifting role of libraries in the digital age. Here are some of the themes that emerged as we reviewed the 680 entries: