Articles by Elizabeth Miller Tilis

  • Article

    Engaging citizens with government, civic life

    July 22, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller Tilis

    Above: Knight News Challenge: Election winners. Photo credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Annette Strauss Institute. 

    Technology plays a growing and crucial role in engaging citizens with government, Catherine Bracy, director of community organizing at Code for America, told a gathering in Austin, Texas, Wednesday morning. And yet public engagement remains inherently broken; voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest it has been in decades.

    Bracy shared her insights during one of several lightning talks at “Breaking Through,” a one-day conference at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communication. Held in concert with the announcement of the winners of the Knight News Challenge on Elections, the conference sought to explore ways to move citizens from being bystanders to active participants in the democratic process. A series of panel discussions, keynote speakers and speed caucuses identified ways to increase civic engagement before, during and after elections.

    Bracy suggested that we may be expecting technology to fix the wrong part of the problem. “We’re spending a lot of time building tools that allow citizens to speak, but we’re spending too little time on building tools to help citizens be heard by institutions.” The danger is that we’re ignoring the end user of civic technology. That end user is government, she said.

    She added that it’s desirable to have a myriad of tools and apps for citizens to interact with their governments, but we also need to fundamentally influence the way government delivers services and engages with the public. Those who seek to engage citizens in civic life need to answer important questions, such as, how are local governments receiving citizen feedback? Furthermore, how are they letting citizens know that they’ve been heard--or are they ignoring them?  

  • Article

    Tips and insights on applying for the Knight Cities Challenge

    October 7, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller Tilis

    Tips and insights on applying for the Knight Cities Challenge

    The Knight Cities Challenge will award $5 million for the best ideas to make the 26 Knight communities more successful. Applications are open through noon ET, Tuesday, Oct. 27. Apply at

    Knight Foundation’s Vice President of Community and National Initiatives Carol Coletta took to the popular social media platform Reddit this past Friday to answer questions about the Knight Cities Challenge.

    Kicking off the chat, Coletta told participants that the challenge is seeking the best ideas that support civic innovators who help attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of civic engagement in one or more of the 26 Knight communities.

    “We want projects that teach us something important,” she said, opening the floor to comments, questions and feedback about the challenge.

    Below is a lightly edited summary of the some of the most popular questions and Coletta’s answers. 

    Question: When you talk about getting ideas from people you wouldn’t normally hear from, what specifically are you doing to solicit ideas from people in marginalized communities normally not involved in governance?

  • Article

    Local entrepreneurs share lessons from Portland, Ore.

    May 5, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller Tilis

    Exploring the Tiny House Hotel. Photo by Elizabeth Miller Tilis.

    Restaurant owner Philip Stanton jokes that running his Mississippi Pizza Pub in Northeast Portland is more stressful than his former job as a nurse practitioner in an emergency room.

    And yet it is Stanton’s clear passion for his neighborhood and a desire to learn from his community that keeps him going. “You may have an idea of what you want to do as a local entrepreneur, but actually it’s not really your choice,” Stanton explains. “The street and the community will tell you what it wants; it’s simply your job to listen.”

    That message was echoed by nearly a dozen small businesses owners, restaurant entrepreneurs and economic developers who addressed participants on the first day of a Knight Foundation-funded Portland study tour.

  • Article

    Alberto Ibargüen on disruption, innovation in media

    August 25, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller Tilis

    Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen recently joined an episode of “The Open Mind” to share his thoughts on disruption and innovation in the constantly shifting media landscape.

    “I think that this is an unbelievably exciting time for people in the business of providing reliable and consistently reliable news to a democracy,” he told host Alexander Heffner.

    Above, Ibargüen offers insights into the culture surrounding contemporary journalism, ideas on financial sustainability and recent chilling effects on freedom of expression.

  • Article

    Last call to apply for the $5 million Knight Cities Challenge

    October 22, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller Tilis

    Last call to apply for the $5 million Knight Cities Challenge

    The Knight Cities Challenge will award $5 million for the best ideas to make the 26 Knight communities more successful. Apply at

    With less than five days left to apply for the Knight Cities Challenge, we know many of you are hard at work putting the final touches on your application!

    Even if you haven’t started yet, the process is simple enough (there are just three primary questions, which each require just 100 words or less) that there is still enough time to get your idea in before the noon ET deadline on Tuesday, Oct. 27. But you may want to hurry.

    Knight Foundation staff have been in dozens of communities across the country to hear from innovators through a series of in-person events over the past several weeks. We’ve been impressed with how communities are responding to the challenge and can’t wait to read through your ideas. If you came out to a community information session or an event, we thank you.

  • Article

    Knight study tour explores walkable, bikeable Portland, Ore.

    April 30, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller Tilis

    Knight study tour explores walkable, bikeable Portland, Ore.

    Photo (above) by Flickr user Christopher Michael.

    At Knight Foundation, we know that the dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland. But it’s not the only thing; a robust and thriving public life has become one of the city’s key trademarks.

    That’s no accident, says Carol Coletta, Knight’s vice president for community and national initiatives. In fact, the emphasis on making public life more compelling was “part of a conscious decision by city leadership to turn its formerly opaque government into something completely different.”

    An upcoming study tour of Portland, May 4-5, organized by 8-80s Cities and funded by Knight, will give city and economic development leaders and entrepreneurs from Akron, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Macon, Ga.; San Jose, Calif.; Columbus, Ga.; and Wichita, Kan., the opportunity to learn how the city developed a strong sense of public life. Several members of Knight’s Community and National Initiatives Program also plan to join the tour, including Carol Coletta, Benjamin de la Peña, George Abbot, Daniel Harris, Beverly Blake, Katy Locker, Susan Patterson and Kyle Kutuchief.

  • Article

    Feature on Knight traces foundation’s evolution from journalism to its role in innovation today

    July 15, 2015 by Elizabeth Miller Tilis

    Feature on Knight traces foundation’s evolution from journalism to its role in innovation today

    Photo credit: Michael D. Bolden

    The following article - which provides an overview of Knight Foundation’s history and its strategic grantmaking and details many of its existing grantees and partners - is an excerpt from Private Wealth magazine. The article “Beyond the Fourth Estate” can be read in its entirely online for free.

    “I think in order to understand what we do and how we do it you have to go back to the beginning. You have to go back to the intent of the donors. We are first and foremost a private foundation that was started with a small handful of dollars from [Knight Newspapers], but primarily all of our wealth comes from Clara Knight, Jack Knight and Jim Knight. In fact, the company, Knight Ridder Inc., never put in a dime. It was all private wealth. ...They ran it, obviously, in the cities and towns where they ran newspapers for decades.”

    —Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation

    Knight Ridder is perhaps best known for its stock and trade in newspapers. It was once the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., with properties from coast to coast, including such prestigious publications as the San Jose Mercury News, the Miami Herald and the Detroit Free Press.

    The Knight Foundation, a $2.4 billion non-profit institution in Miami, has offered prized journalism fellowship programs, university chairs and grants for 65 years.