Civic spirit and common themes emerge from 4,500-plus Knight Cities Challenge entries

Communities / Article

Photo: The Swings, a first-year Knight Cities Challenge winner.

For more than a week readers have been taking a first look at the more than 4,500 applications that we received for the Knight Cities Challenge this year. We chose the readers from among Knight community leaders and local and national experts in talent, opportunity and engagement, three factors we believe are vital to the success of cities.

The reviewers are reading through the applications and making recommendations on which ideas deserve more exploration as finalists. They are looking for unique, new and innovative projects that can teach us something about making impact in the 26 Knight communities. We value their opinions, expertise and community knowledge; their input is invaluable in helping us make very difficult decisions.

Some broad themes are beginning to emerge in this year’s application pool:

· Great ideas: Conversations with reviewers, and my own scan of 800 or so applications, has made it clear that there are some fantastic ideas in the Knight cities. Even though there are applications that don’t fit into the criteria of the challenge, bad ideas are rare.

· Passionate people: It’s hard to get much across in just 300 words; that’s part of the challenge. One of the things that does come through, however, is the passion of civic innovators to make a difference in their communities. The Knight communities are teeming with passionate, excited civic innovators.

· Variety: We received a broad range of applications, with many different approaches to accelerating talent, opportunity and engagement. We’re particularly excited to see applications of all sizes from many communities.

These are wonderful attributes to see, and they make our job that much harder. Thank you again for the great ideas you submitted for your city. We value your work, even if you’re not selected as a finalist in the challenge.

Even though we gave readers the task of reading more than 450 applications each, they have a voracious appetite for good ideas and are progressing rapidly. We will select finalists before the end of 2015, and inform them in early 2016. Finalists will have the month of January to complete their final applications.

Those projects selected as finalists will need to expand on their initial proposal and answer a couple of new questions. We’ll need a full project description, a detailed budget, a timeline, an evaluation of the risks to success and a description of how they’ll measure progress and tell their story.

If you have a question about your application in the meantime feel free to send an email to [email protected]. We look forward to sharing the list of finalists in early 2016.

George Abbott is special assistant to the vice president for community and national initiatives and interim program director for St. Paul at Knight Foundation. He can be reached via email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @garthurabbott.