Articles by

Chris Barr

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    In September we launched the 12th Knight News Challenge, on libraries, asking the question, “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” Today we’re announcing 22 winners of that challenge, awarding the recipients a share of $3 million for their ideas. Related Link "Knight News Challenge on Libraries awards $3 million for innovative ideas" - Press release, 01/30/2015 Building on previous experience working with libraries, this challenge has helped us learn a great deal about libraries and the challenges they face while serving the information needs of their communities. Several themes emerged among the winners, including focusing on digital rights and privacy; history and digital preservation; the maker movement; and open data. We look forward to learning more as the projects develop and to applying that knowledge to our work more broadly. Additionally, we have experienced firsthand the enthusiasm inside and outside of libraries for making them vibrant civic institutions in a digital age.
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    Last week 11 advisers helped us select a group of semifinalists for the Knight News Challenge: Libraries. Today, we are excited to announce that 41 projects have moved to the next stage of consideration. These semifinalists will have a week to fine tune their entries before we begin work with another set of advisers to choose the finalists. We received 680 submissions to the challenge, which is focused on the question: how might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities? Having the opportunity to look at a multitude of ideas from the library community is immensely valuable to our work. It gives us the chance to understand the shared energy among those working to innovate in the field and the shifting role of libraries in the digital age. Here are some of the themes that emerged as we reviewed the 680 entries:
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      Knight News Challenge: Libraries is now closed.  We received more than 675 submissions, including some offline; we’re still counting, so the final number may change. Thanks to everyone who entered. Here’s what happens next: From now until Oct. 21, we’ll be in the “feedback” phase where we review the submissions. We invite everyone to join us in looking through the ideas, asking questions and giving feedback. We read every application we get, but we’ve also asked nine people to join us as (paid) readers; they’ll go through every application and help us select the semifinalists. You can identify them on the newschallenge.org site by the “reader” tags on their profile photos.
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    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. 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.
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    Photo credit: Chris Barr. Sometimes you have a great idea, and you just need time, space and some capital to test it. Seventeen projects will get that chance as the latest recipients of Prototype Fund grants from Knight Foundation.   The Prototype Fund is designed to give people with great concepts for media and information projects grants of $35,000 and six months to take their idea all the way to demo with a class of others facing a similar challenge. What can you learn in six months? Quite a bit. Recently, grantees, friends and advisers gathered at Matter in San Francisco to watch presentations from Knight grantees completing their Prototype Fund grant experience. The event focused on highlighting learnings from projects started six months earlier. In the case of this group, we learned how youth can learn about fair use to become little Jon Stewarts, how live video can engage radio audiences, and how sometimes, despite technological advances, parts of your community might prefer a paper map. The presenters talked about how they tested assumptions, addressed technical challenges and worked to understand user needs. We fully expect some of the grantees will move on to further funding from Knight Foundation and other sources. Two of the projects from the recent class have already secured outside funding. Max Ogen’s DAT has received a grant from the Sloan Foundation and will become a project of the Open Data Institute, and 596 Acre’s Living Lots project has received an OpenGov grant from the Sunlight Foundation. In all 17, projects presented at demo day: The Rashomon Project, Curious City, How Secure Am I?, DocHive, WFMU, CollabMatch, Transom Online Workshops, Radiotopia, VoteStream, Kon*Fab, Data Docs, DAT, FOIA Machine, Living Lots, OnBoard and Media Breaker.
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    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.
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    “Our object is not to know the answers before we do the work. It’s to know them after we do it.” — Bruce Mau Every day my colleagues and I have the unique privilege of working with people developing new technology and approaches for media and information. Through our Prototype Fund and other programs we focus not only on finding good ideas but also on identifying curious people who are invested in understanding the needs of their audience or community. Last month, we hosted a two-and-a-half day human-centered design and planning workshop for new Prototype Fund grantees. This event, at the Pittsburgh-based LUMA Institute, was designed to give participants hands-on experience of design methods that put people at the center of innovation. The feedback I’ve received already indicates that the workshop may have a lasting impact on the grantees. “We’re already making unexpected discoveries; this rapid prototyping really works,” one participant wrote in an email. Another said, “I learned quite a bit, including some principles for use in the rest of my career.” Those are the types of experiences we sought to create. From fly-on-the-wall observation to paper prototyping, the techniques gained through the workshop give grantees flexible, low-friction ways of interacting with and understanding the perspective of stakeholders connected to their individual projects. Ideation and storytelling techniques aid the development and presentation of new ideas. When done right, the methods can lead us to the spot where the design consultancy IDEO says innovation happens: the intersection of desirability, feasibility and viability.
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    Above: Employable? is an early prototype for the Making it in America project by DataToys. This week team members from 10 media and information projects are traveling to Pittsburgh to kick off their projects with a crash course in human-centered design. As part of the Knight Prototype Fund grant program, these workshops, facilitated by LUMA Institute, set the tone for six months of experimentation, rapid iteration and design thinking. It’s the first time we’ve brought the teams together for these sessions, where they will be building towards a demo of their projects. As the pace of innovation keeps increasing, we believe this process will help adapt their projects to the new reality.  These type of events also allow us to create closer relationships with grantees and build peer networks as the teams tackle challenging problems. Our Prototype Fund, which supports small projects with grants of $35,000, is designed to help teams and individuals test core assumptions in their early-stage ideas. We don’t ask them to focus on the outcomes; we ask that they test their concepts by concentrating on what features will eventually resonate with possible audiences.   In the process asking interesting questions becomes as valuable as making interesting things.  
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    Knight News Challenge OI Engine: How the Platform Works from Knight Foundation on Vimeo. We’re now accepting submissions for Knight News Challenge: Health. During the next two weeks, ending at 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 17, we invite anyone and everyone to submit a project with an answer to the question, “How can we harness data and information for the health of communities?” RELATED LINKS  "40 ideas advance in News Challenge: Health" "What's next in Knight News Challenge: Health" by Chris Sopher "Bring your best ideas; deadline nears for News Challenge: Health" by Chris Sopher "Knight News Challenge on Health opens for entries" "Knight News Challenge: Health opens with inspiration phase, additional prizes from collaborators" by Raina Kumra and John Bracken "Announcing key collaborators and details of Knight News Challenge: Health" by John Bracken and Chris Barr "Join us to brainstorm ideas around News Challenge: Health" and There's still time to brainstorm around News Challenge: Heath" by Chris Sopher "Data: Why we care" by Esther Dyson "Data provides a focus for community action" by Bryan Sivak "News Challenge: Make APIs not apps, health CEO says" by Lucky Gunasekara "How data-driven solutions can transform health" by Lexie Komisar "Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announces new prize for News Challenge: Health" by Paul Tarini "California HealthCare Foundation: The data stops here" by Andy Krackov "Data essential to promoting healthy habits" by Nirav R. Shah "Media company harnesses health data for stories that connect with communities" by David Kansas "Pizza tracker versus patient tracker" by M. Bridget Duffy More than 100 community needs, success stories, data sources and more were submitted over the past two weeks during the inspiration phase of the News Challenge. These community-curated resources help us all think about where we are now and where we might go in addressing health and information needs. If you are working on your New Challenge submission, we encourage you to revisit these resources and have them challenge your thinking. If you haven’t developed an idea yet, the inspirations can give your brainstorming a kickstart or offer models to implement in your own community. Whether or not you submitted an inspiration, we hope you’ll participate in the News Challenge by submitting an idea for funding or leaving feedback on someone else’s. Again, the deadline to apply is 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, Sept. 17. However, the earlier you submit your idea, the more time you will have for others to find it, critique it, share it and help you improve it. Here are some tips for constructing your application. We have invited 10 individuals to help us read entries, improve ideas and make connections. They will be identified on the site by a “reader” badge and will be sharing their insight and expertise. Please be friendly with them in the comments. Once the submissions phase closes, our panel of external advisers will help select our finalists, who will be invited to submit more information. Winners will be announced in January. If you proposed an idea during the inspirations phase that you would like to submit as an entry, please contact me, Chris Barr, to have its status changed so that it can be considered for the contest. If for some reason you’d prefer not to share your idea openly, you can submit your entry  by emailing [email protected] Knight has committed $2 million to the challenge. In addition, two collaborators, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the California HealthCare Foundation, have each pledged $100,000 for companion awards. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will award prizes of $50,000, $30,000 and $20,000 for the top three projects that “best combine public health data and health care data to improve the health of communities.” California HealthCare Foundation will award $100,000 to one or more projects focused on helping county and city officials use health data for policymaking.
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    Last year Knight Foundation announced a prototype grant for a project called FOIA Machine to automate access to public records. It now exists as working prototype, but it isn’t quite ready for public release. Last year Knight Foundation announced a prototype grant for a project called FOIA Machine to automate access to public records. It now exists as working prototype, but it isn’t quite ready for public release. A week ago, FOIA Machine, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, announced a Kickstarter campaign to help finish development. In less than 48 hours, the fundraiser blasted past its goal of $17,500, with more than 1,000 people backing the project. Now, with 24 days to go before the Kickstarter campaign closes, Knight Foundation is prepared to increase its investment with a $10,000 grant tied to a stretch goal of 2,000 backers. Why do we need FOIA Machine? FOIA refers to the federal Freedom of Information Act, which allows anyone to request records from the government. However, making a records request is often not easy. Different agencies and different levels of government can all have different rules, creating a confusing maze for anyone trying to access public information. Even professional journalists can have a difficult time making sense of it all.
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    Photo credit: Flickr user Bartek Kuzia. The future of public media is driven by the relentless creativity of talented individuals committed to storytelling in the digital age; it also hangs on their ability to experiment. The disruption of news journalism continues to happen every day. Stories may be here to stay, but how they are made, discovered and distributed is constantly evolving to keep pace with new information needs and innovation. That’s why we are happy to announce five prototype grants dedicated to public media innovation and driven by public media innovators. Creativity and innovation can come in many forms and from within organizations of all kinds. Today, one of the most important jobs of effective leadership, especially within news media organizations, is to surface internal creativity and provide time and modest resources to understand if and how new ideas connect with audiences. With our Prototype Fund, Knight Foundation seeks to enable intrapreneurs, enterprising individuals within established organizations, to focus on the R&D that will open new pathways for storytellers and the media industry. The prototypes, announced today at the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference, are specialized tools especially relevant to journalists. Each of them also leverages specific expertise within their organizations for new digital projects. They include: