The testable moment for media innovation

Above: Knight Prototype Fund participants gather at the LUMA Institute. Photo credit: Chris Barr.

Often good ideas just need the time and space to see if they work. That’s an opportunity 24 projects will get with new funding from the Knight Prototype Fund. They’re each receiving $35,000 to test new approaches to informing the public. In addition to nine projects discovered through our News Challenge: Health, this group includes projects developing new tools and approaches for journalism and civic data.

We’re also seeing more projects led by designers. Three design firms are receiving grants and individual designers are working with two of the projects. Today more designers seem willing to engage with civic projects and take action to solve problems in their own communities.

No matter who is involved, or what the focus, all of our Prototype Fund projects are faced with a testable moment. Sometimes this means that the project is at an early stage, but with any project there are critical assumptions that need to be tested in order to get over the next hurdle. When done with rigor and integrity, iterations of research, building and analysis can help a team gain confidence in an assumption that was accurate, make an important course correction or quickly pivot an idea based on new knowledge. 

The 24 projects being announced today started their experience as Knight grantees with an intensive two-day workshop on design thinking led by LUMA Institute. While we don’t expect all of our grantees to all become expert design practitioners, the workshop provides a reminder and methods to build projects in the service of real people.

This isn’t just the beginning for these projects, however. We’re also looking ahead to the next round of Prototype Fund grants. Applications for the next round are due by Jan. 31, and it’s a chance for us to discover even more media and information experiments.

Within our Journalism and Media Innovation strategy, Prototype Fund grants enter at the beginning of a pipeline that has the potential to help grow and scale projects through follow-on funding. We reassemble the grantees at the end of the six-month grant period to share what they have learned with us and the public. Through this model, we hope to have more opportunity to accelerate projects, learn through experimentation and make more informed funding decisions.

Artefact: Advancing civic engagement by creating a Web-based deliberation tool that uses design strategies to promote problem solving and drive consensus among a group of diverse strangers.

Argos: Making news content easy to digest by building a design-driven news platform that aggregates and analyzes news stories and creates concise news backgrounders, including insights and connections regarding specific stories.

Bocoup: Conducting a survey and creating a guide identifying patterns and best practices for mobile data visualization.

Brown Bag Software: Revealing the challenges and constraints of building mass transit by creating a simulation app that allows the public to build model transit and land-use programs to better understand basic design and operational constraints.

CCTV Center for Media & Democracy: Using the Burlington, Vt., public gigabit network, in collaboration with the Code for BTV Code for America Brigade, to make cloud computing resources available for community-driven software applications that range from live interactive video of public meetings to civic apps that solve pressing community issues.

Civic Ninjas: Creating an application to help the public identify and visualize meaningful local health data through an accessible, fun interface inspired by Sunlight Foundation’s Sitegeist.

Data Driven Detroit: Informing the public and addressing important community issues by developing an interactive tool that helps Detroit residents discover and use relevant data about their city.

Farmers Market Coalition: Providing farmers markets with a Web application to easily and effectively collect, store and report data about the health impacts of their markets.

Fathom: Making complex zoning data accessible and actionable for the public by creating a website that will visualize details of Boston’s new rezoning ordinance for urban farming.

Forest Giant and Urban Design Studio: Creating LouLoops, a mobile app that maps bike routes and collects data so that local officials can officially plan infrastructure projects.

Global Sensor Web: Helping scientists and citizens collaborate and better monitor their environment through an online platform for aggregating geo-tagged data sets from public data sources and the onboard sensors of mobile phones.

HabitatMap: Empowering youth to help measure air quality and collect data by developing the next version of Kids Making Sense, a complete measurement sensing system and curriculum.

Keepr: Creating an open source data-mining tool for journalists to track breaking news stories, so they can easily find quality news sources.

Moneca Core: Making it easier to capture community-generated news by creating an open source code library to capture multimedia content by citizen journalists in mobile apps.

!nstant: Building a mobile app designed to verify and provide context to breaking news on social media so that the public is given a more accurate and clear picture of news stories.

One Degree: Helping people find community resources by developing a Web app that allows users to discover, track and share their experiences about social services.

Restatement: Making legal information more accessible by producing a design-driven system for the creation and parsing of machine-readable legal text.

Sexual Health Innovations: Providing up-to-date STD data by building an API to allow easy sharing of aggregate STD test data among clinics, health departments and the Centers for Disease Control to inform communities and help organizations mobilize resources to those in need.

Silent Spring Institute & MIT Media Lab: Making data easier to understand by creating multi-sensory, immersive and aesthetic experiences of environmental health indicators (example: sharing chemical exposure data with a community through a human-sized interactive bar chart).

Smart Chicago Collaborative: Using Twitter to identify potential cases of food poisoning in Chicago and encouraging individuals to report incidents of food poisoning.

The Center for Rural Strategies: Testing an approach to generate data-driven, localized news stories that media and other organizations in rural U.S. counties can use to produce local stories.

University of Missouri: Developing a system to collect and report noise data to better track problems of noise pollution in Columbia, Mo., that will be informed by community hacking events and prototype tests.

Vizzuality: Building an open source tool that allows journalists and other users to quickly turn data, maps and other content into interactive stories for online publication.

Zago: Seeking to make newsrooms more efficient by building a mobile app that will allow secure data sharing between reporters and their newsrooms.

Learn more about the Prototype Fund or submit a proposal by the Jan. 31 deadline.

By Chris Barr, media innovation associate at Knight Foundation