New Knight Initiative Funds Ideas That Use Technology to Inspire Community Action

These days, as people use Facebook to support Haiti, end hunger, and stand behind other causes, social networks have become the place to make a statement.

Yet those clicks don’t necessarily turn into a movement to better communities. At least not yet.

With Knight Foundation’s focus on fostering informed and engaged communities, we started looking at ways to take that online energy a step further, and transform it into on-the-ground action.

The result is the Knight Technology for Engagement Initiative, which will initially invest $2.23 million in five projects that use the latest digital tools to help people connect for the greater good.

Take a look at what these first projects will do:

Craigslist Foundation ($750,000) will make it easy to find great ideas for community building. The foundation is creating an idea-sharing site, where institutions and individuals tell their community’s success stories and connect with people of like minds.

Jumo ($750,000), a nonprofit startup created by Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, will use a social network to connect people with the issues and organizations that interest them, with the goal of fostering lasting relationships. The site matches users with relevant organizations, then engages them through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or other applications to encourage contributions of time, skills or money. (Hughes talks about the project here.)

Code For America ($250,000) wants to transform city governments across the country by enlisting the nation’s most promising developers to apply Web 2.0 principles to civic problems. Based on the Teach for America model, members will create web applications to help make city governments more transparent, participatory and efficient. Knight Foundation’s funding will ensure the participation of Philadelphia, Pa. and Boulder, Colo., two Knight resident communities.

Community PlanIt ($250,000), a project out of Emerson College’s Engagement Game Lab, will revitalize the community planning process by developing an interactive game platform that lets stakeholders work’and play’together to solve problems. The grant will fund game development, in collaboration with four Knight communities.

And, finally, CEOS for Cities ($235,000) will test whether residents can help create solutions to local problems, filling a gap left by shrinking budgets. This project will connect developers and city officials to build a crowd-sourcing platform that invites citizens to work with government to identify problems and find answers. San Jose, Calif. and Grand Rapids, Mich., will test the idea.

Certainly, we live in an age of skepticism, with fewer folks trusting government and our society’s big institutions. At the same time, Americans ‘ especially the young Millenials ‘ are looking for new ways to make a difference.

Harnessing digital technology is one way to inspire neighbors to work together to solve their most entrenched problems. .

Knight Foundation is looking for more high-quality ideas that use technology to cultivate community engagement.

These first five grants that we’re announcing today are just the beginning. Learn more about the initiative, and how to submit an idea, by visiting Paula Ellis

Vice President for Strategic Initiatives

National Program Director