Learning through making: 16 projects receive support to test ideas through Knight Prototype Fund

Photo: Analyzing geodata. Credit: (cc) Kris Krüg on Flickr.

Often, when evaluating ideas for our Prototype Fund we ask ourselves and our reviewers to consider, “What might we learn from this project?” That simple question combined with an eagerness to accelerate new solutions to information challenges energizes us to embrace experimentation as a pathway to learning. Related Link

The Prototype Fund offers small teams with an early-stage idea the opportunity to build key components of their project to test a critical hypothesis. While six months and a $35,000 grant might not always be enough to finish version one of a project, it can go a long way towards validating an assumption, developing a minimum viable product or identifying a need to revise  an approach.

A learning-through-making approach, like that of the Prototype Fund, requires reflection. Our grantees are encouraged to make analysis an important part of an iterative process during a rapid six-month project window. All of the making, testing and analysis leads to a demo day where grantees share the roadblocks, discoveries and opportunities they encountered along the way.

We are developing ways to to efficiently share what our Prototype Fund grantees learn with the wider community, but in the meantime grantees are sharing it on their own. Here is a handful of blog posts by recent grantees completing their Prototype Fund experience:

Projects that move through the Prototype Fund often benefit from additional credibility, better storytelling and increased momentum as they move on to the next stages of their project. That could mean going directly to their audience, as FOIA Machine did with a successful Kickstarter raise. It could mean grant funding from another source, like Max Ogden’s Dat project, which received $260,000 in funding from the Sloan Foundation. Or it could mean going through an accelerator or incubator, like One Degree did as one of the first nonprofits to go through Y Combinator. Or it could lead to securing important partnerships, as the Farmer’s Market Coalition did when it secured funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to partner with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study their data-centric approach that was prototyped with Market Metrics.

Today, we are announcing 16 more ideas that will be tested under the Prototype Fund. It is a group of promising projects that touch on a variety of issues, from helping people with chronic diseases have more of an impact on public policy to improving the way reporters communicate with their audiences. Meanwhile, if you have an idea, I encourage you to apply for the next round of funding. We’re accepting applications for the current cycle through Aug. 1. It’s a journey of discovery with the potential to change the way information affects each of us. I encourage you to apply, or to follow along on Knight Blog as others share their experiences.

Chris Barr is a media innovation associate at Knight Foundation.

Prototype Fund Ideas

DIY StoryCorps by StoryCorps (Project lead: Dean Haddock): Advancing the mission of StoryCorps, a national program that records, preserves and shares people’s stories, by developing a mobile app that allows anyone to create do-it-yourself interviews.

Do Public Good Button by Public Good Software (Project lead: Dan Ratner): Developing a tool that allows people to take action on important issues through news articles; for example, someone reading an article about drunk driving could click a button and connect with related charities and advocacy groups.

Engagement tools by Grist (Project lead: Chip Geller): Allowing newsrooms to better measure audience engagement, beyond clicks and page views, by creating an open-source WordPress plugin that will measure “attention minutes” to determine how long users are interacting with content.

Facto_Bot (Project lead: Will Knight): Helping correct misinformation on Twitter by developing software that identifies stories that have been modified, and alerts people who tweeted or retweeted links to these stories that content has changed.

FilmSync App by University of North Carolina (Project lead: Steven King):  Creating an app that will connect people who are watching a news story or documentary on television with related content through a second screen app on their smartphones.

Global I-Hub ICIJ (Project lead: Mar Cabra): Making collaboration on cross-border investigative stories easier by providing a secure, easy-to-use platform for reporters to communicate through Facebook-like status updates, threaded communications on specific topics, individual messaging and file sharing.

Market Atlas (Project lead: Jon Gosier): Scaling a data provider network that allows citizens to collect and share microeconomic data from countries in Africa that lack financial infrastructure; providing reliable, consistent financial data should encourage greater investment in the area.

OpenStreetMap Plugin for Open Data Kit by Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (Project lead: Kate Chapman): Allowing easier collection of open geographic data, even in places with connectivity issues, by combining Open Data Kit’s data collection with OpenStreetMap’s data community.

PatientsAssemble by PatientsLikeMe (Project lead: Chris Fidyk): Helping people with chronic illnesses interact with policymakers through open-source collaborative tools that will allow users to provide feedback and shape issues that are important to them.

Pilot for School by The Virginian-Pilot (Project lead: Shawn Day): Building a targeted digital system that will allow Virginia teachers to search newspaper content and use it to complement class curriculums; content will align with Virginia’s Standards of Learning and help students apply academic concepts to what’s happening in their community.

Public Database of Massachusetts Court Records by MassINC (Project lead: Steve Koczela): Allowing journalists and the public to better monitor court cases through an online filing and database system for Massachusetts court records.

Public Record (Advanced Emergency Radio Scanner and Repository) (Project lead: Tal Achituv): Creating a tool that will allow journalists to better track current events and investigate past events; with the tool newsrooms can record interactions on police/emergency radios, set alerts and listen to archived content.  

QC Tools by Bay Area Video Coalition (Project lead: Carol Varney): Allowing media organizations, journalists and others to easily preserve analog video through an open-source video digitization app that is inexpensive and easy to use.

Talkbox by New York Public Radio (Project lead: Caitlin Thompson): Involving the community in news stories by repurposing phone booths in specific neighborhoods that will provide residents with a direct, two-way line to the New York Public Radio newsroom; a “Talkbox” can help with engaging new audiences or to get information in a neighborhood where a reporting project is taking place.

The Last Graph (Project Lead: Ben Connors): Helping journalists engage with audiences by allowing readers to interact with the final paragraph of a story through a database of “actions” that lead to reader involvement on an issue; for example, the last graph of an article on air pollution could include an action that encourages readers to sign a pledge to use public transit more.

Veritza (Project lead: Djordje Padejski): Helping reporters more easily find story leads from public records through a web platform that allows users to create alerts on information in these records; the platform will do this by scraping and aggregating data and analyzing it for patterns and anomalies.

Above: FilmSync, a Prototype Fund project.