Journalism

Help launch FOIA Machine on Kickstarter

Last year Knight Foundation announced a prototype grant for a project called FOIA Machine to automate access to public records. It now exists as working prototype, but it isn’t quite ready for public release.

A week ago, FOIA Machine, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, announced a Kickstarter campaign to help finish development. In less than 48 hours, the fundraiser blasted past its goal of $17,500, with more than 1,000 people backing the project. Now, with 24 days to go before the Kickstarter campaign closes, Knight Foundation is prepared to increase its investment with a $10,000 grant tied to a stretch goal of 2,000 backers.

Why do we need FOIA Machine? FOIA refers to the federal Freedom of Information Act, which allows anyone to request records from the government. However, making a records request is often not easy. Different agencies and different levels of government can all have different rules, creating a confusing maze for anyone trying to access public information. Even professional journalists can have a difficult time making sense of it all.

FOIA Machine hopes to change that by “streamlining the complicated process of filing and tracking public record requests, putting all of the steps, rules, exceptions and best practices in one place and allowing users to track requests on dashboards, receive alerts, share request blueprints and get social support and expertise from the FOIA Machine community.”

The success of this Kickstarter campaign demonstrates that many people think that improving access to public information is an important project. This is the third in a series of Knight-backed Kickstarter projects. Journalism grantees Propublica and Public Labs both recently finished successful Kickstarters, and it’s a tool we’ll be encouraging other grantees to use. Crowdfunding is an effective way for grantees to create deeper engagement with their audiences and build community around promising projects.

By Chris Barr, media innovation associate at Knight Foundation.

FOIA Machine is a grant recipient of the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund. The fund helps innovators experiment and test core assumptions of early-stage ideas.