Test first, then scale – four prototype ideas for media innovation

In June, we announced the creation of the Knight Prototype Fund to support the building and testing of new ideas in media and public information. This initiative allows small teams to create minimum versions of projects, test major assumptions and understand user behavior before making decisions about full-scale development.

We believe this rapid and nimble approach to innovation will help us and our grantees move at “Internet speed” to solve complex problems in a changing information ecosystem.

Since then we have developed grants to groups working on diverse problem sets. Today at the Mozilla Festival, we are happy to announce four of these projects:

FOIA Machine, Djordje Padejski, Center for Investigative Journalism 

FOIA Machine will aid journalists and private citizens in accessing millions of important governmental documents around the world that are covered by freedom of information laws (which exist in more than 90 countries). FOIA Machine will help people navigate FOI laws by automating submissions, creating requests in the proper format, making documents publicly available on the web and using the web to rally support when governments are not responsive.

GroundTruth is a communications platform designed to help journalists, researchers and community organizers establish engagement with people who have valuable expertise via text messages and mobile phones.  It will give producers the tools to build panels of sources, send out simple surveys, visualize resulting data and followup with sources for interviews and other needs. 

Kon*Fab, Katy Newton & Sean Connelly

Most newsreaders are built on predictive behavior algorithms that can lead to an uninspiring repetitious flow of the news.  The mission of Kon*Fab is to explore news and information through a more serendipitous discovery. Kon*Fab will improve user experience by linking news with the real-time activities of individuals inhabiting physical locations. This alternate model for presenting the news will provide users the opportunity to stumble across new people with new interests potentially improving local engagement around news and community. 

Too much data can overwhelm and challenge the human resources at a government agency, limiting their ability to act timely on disaster risk reduction and in engagement with their local community. The Data Severity Index will increase the efficiency of government action by prioritizing disaster risk reduction data and allowing for more intelligent filtering. Building on an existing reporting system, Open Locast, the platform will be field-tested in two cities, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where youth are reporting local issues.   

The Prototype Fund, which has a rolling application, is just one way Knight’s journalism and media innovation team supports informed and engaged communities. The fund supports small, fast-turnaround projects priced at $50,000 or less.

Another vehicle for funding is the Knight News Challenge, which accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. The first round of the challenge in 2013 will focus on tools for open goverment. Knight’s Vice President/Journalism and Media Innovation Michael Manness recently outlined the foundation’s evolving strategy at the Online News Associaton’s annual conference.

By Chris Barr, media innovation associate at Knight Foundation.

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