Articles by

John Bracken

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    In December, Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen announced our new Statement of Strategy, a view of what we do and the core beliefs that underpin our work. One of the most significant changes he described is the evolution of our Media Innovation program into Technology Innovation. The change in name is accompanied by a change in mission. I want to share our thinking in making this shift, and what that means for our work.We spent 2016 running through a set of exercises and conversations about where the world might be headed over the next decade. This scenario planning led us to two conclusions about the role of technology in our grant-making: 1) The rate of technological change we’ve experienced in recent years is only going to accelerate, and 2) All aspects of our work at Knight Foundation will be impacted by these changes.
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    Above photo by Tim on Flickr (cc)   Last month, we announced 14 winners of the second Knight News Challenge on Libraries at the American Library Association annual meeting. I want to share some of the issues Knight is wrestling with as we think about our work with libraries the rest of this year and into the future. At Knight our first grants to libraries were to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in 1964 and to Akron-Summit County Public Library in 1971. More recently, in 2012 we supported the launch of the Digital Public Library of America, as well as its 2015 expansion. Over last two years, we’ve focused on innovation in libraries— encouraging libraries to experiment with approaches for ensuring their relevance in a digital age. Since 2014, when we launched the Knight News Challenge on Strengthening the Internet, we’ve made $10.2 million in grants to more than 40 projects focused on libraries’ efforts to succeed in this new age. Our thinking about what comes next reflects conversations we’ve had over the last few weeks, including discussions with a group of News Challenge advisers, a June convening of past News Challenge winners, and the American Library Association annual meeting. At the latter we organized several panels, and talked with library presidents, librarians, funders, library students, associations and library friends. A common theme in the discussions was how libraries can best adjust to the opportunities and take on the challenges that come with informing and engaging Americans in a digital age. The technological disruption of recent years is likely to only accelerate in the future, requiring civic institutions to adjust if they want to remain central to American civic life. Reflecting on these talks at the American Libraries Association annual meeting, I was reminded of a John Maynard Keynes quote that I’ve heard John Seely Brown highlight: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping old ones.”  We think libraries are even more vital in this new civic information environment.  It is not sufficient for them to survive, they need to expand and thrive. This will require developing new muscles— but new ideas are not sufficient. We also need to escape the old ones. Over the next year we intend to focus less on uncovering new ideas and more on developing the capacity for libraries to be stronger and more resilient in a digital age. In the last two years, we’ve seen the ways in which limitations in skills, and physical space constrain the ability of libraries to adopt new approaches. These barriers were evident in the latest News Challenge, in which we spent just half of the $3 million we had prepared to spend. Going forward, here are some questions we’ll be asking. 1.    What can be done to foster collaboration across disciplines? Of all the civic sectors we work with, libraries are among the most siloed. We have heard from library leaders that they want more opportunities to work with, learn from and rub up against people from other fields. What might we learn from projects in other civic sectors such as Code for America, 18F, or the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, which focuses on bringing talent from outside of the government and journalism, respectively, that could benefit libraries? And how do we ensure that diversity is core to library innovation efforts?
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    Photo by Flickr user Jeremy Brooks. Today we are announcing a $250,000 grant to New America Foundation to support the launch of the TechCongress Congressional Innovation Fellowship. TechCongress brings technologists to Capitol Hill as fellows, where they can contribute their expertise and ideas to members of Congress. In this way, it aims to help to fill the technology knowledge gap in government and ensure better, more informed decision-making. The two fellows selected for the inaugural class are J.C. Cannon, the founder of Assertive Privacy, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting agency, and John Costello, a research analyst at Defense Group's Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. The grant to TechCongress is part of Knight Foundation’s participation in NetGain, a partnership of five foundations committed to leveraging the Internet more effectively to achieve philanthropic goals. Today the NetGain partners are announcing five grants for a total of $1.25 million, bringing the total commitment to more than $18 million. Knight Foundation’s participation in NetGain derives from our view that a free and accessible Internet is essential for an informed democracy. 
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    Today, Knight Foundation is announcing 17 winners of the Knight News Challenge on Data at a convening at Civic Hall in New York. Each of the winners will receive a share of $3.2 million to develop their project, which seeks to answer the question: How might we make data work for individuals and communities? As our world becomes increasingly data-rich, Knight Foundation hopes to identify and support innovators, entrepreneurs, institutions and journalists working to unlock useful information in ways that promote stronger and more knowledgeable communities. The winning projects cover a range of topics—from data literacy to transparency, crowdsourcing, privacy and data visualization. The common thread is that they are all seeking ways of using data to help people make better decisions that affect their lives. The challenge generated 1,065 applications, the largest amount of applications we have received for any themed News Challenge. The 17 winners are a mix of small nonprofit startups, collaborations and larger institutions. Eight of the winners will build out full versions of their projects and will receive awards ranging from $237,589 to $470,000. We will be supporting the other nine projects through the Knight Prototype Fund; these early-stage projects will receive $35,000 each to help them test assumptions and build demos over the next six months.    During this challenge, we collaborated with Data & Society Research Institute and Open Society Foundations. Data & Society also helped us review the entries, and we benefited from outside readers and reviewers, who helped us select the finalists and the winners, which we then recommended to the Knight Foundation Board of Trustees for approval.   We hope that you’ll join us in watching these projects develop in using data to inform and empower people to make decisions about their lives and communities. We will be sharing progress and lessons learned along the way on Knight Blog, and you can follow the conversation on Twitter via @knightfdn and #newschallenge.
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    Laura Weidman Powers' 2015 presentation "The New Capital is Social" on YouTube. Today we’re excited to announce $1.2 million in new support to CODE2040. A winner of the 2014 Knight News Challenge on strengthening the Internet, CODE2040 helps young technologists of color to succeed in the tech industry. By supporting this next phase of CODE2040’s development, Knight Foundation sees the potential for a more inclusive and democratized Internet.  At Knight we believe that innovation is more likely to occur when people with diverse perspectives and experiences come together, learn from one another and collaborate to solve some of the challenges facing individuals and communities. This grant will enable CODE2040 to expand its work and to help the organization build its own capacity. Not only is this grant intended to create pathways for emerging diverse technologists to benefit from the innovation economy, but also will help ensure that all Americans have an equitable opportunity to contribute to the technology and systems that drive our lives. By supporting CODE2040, we seek to further diversify the array of individuals and perspectives building the technology and information of tomorrow. As our primary information sharing method, the Internet shapes how we come to understand the world around us.
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    Photo credit: Aspen Institute blog. Along with several of our Knight Foundation colleagues, we’re at the American Library Association’s annual conference in San Francisco through Monday. If you’re at the conference, you can come find us in booth 3731 at Moscone Center (see this post from Nina Zenni about panels and demos involving Knight grantees). Knight Foundation’s support for libraries is longstanding. Since 1971, when we made our first library grant ($200,000 to the Council of Friends Groups of Akron-Summit County Public Library), we’ve made over 180 grants funding library projects across the country. The importance of libraries was a key finding of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy last decade. More recently, we’ve provided support for technology infrastructure for libraries in Knight communities and supported the launch of the Digital Public Library of America; today we announced further support to help the DPLA expand. Late last year, we focused the Knight News Challenge, our media innovation funding initiative, on libraries. We funded 22 projects, many of which will be at the ALA and sharing their work in our booth. We were taken with the passion and interest in the library community when we launched the News Challenge last September. When we brought together a group of advisers to help us review the ideas from the challenge, they urged us to do and learn more with libraries. During that meeting, we began to discuss the idea of conducting a second News Challenge on Libraries.
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    Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on Veterans Day 2014. Photo: IAVA on Flickr. Today Knight grantee Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) launched a new version of its The Wait We Carry website. The tool takes government data about veteran disability claims, wait times in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, and more,  and presents the information in a way that’s easy to see and use. The first version of the site debuted in 2013. Since then, the VA’s backlog for disability claims has fallen by more than 60 percent, according to IAVA. The new iteration of The Wait We Carry delves even deeper into the veteran experience with details on the health care challenges they face here at home. Support for IAVA is part of Knight’s strategy to support people and institutions that use new ways to ensure Americans receive quality  information that’s vital to how live their lives. In that way, it’s similar to the support  we announced earlier this month to Democracy Works.
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      Our latest Knight News Challenge closes at 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. The question is: “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” We’re seeking projects that build on the transformational power of libraries and use their ideas, principles and assets in innovative ways to help people learn about the world around them and engage in the places they live. We’ve committed $2.5 million to fund the best ideas that reimagine the role of libraries in the digital age, and we’ll announce the winners early next year. They will join a growing network of past projects that includes  DocumentCloud, MapBox, Safecast, Wikipedia and the New York and Chicago public libraries.
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    Photo by New Calgary Central Library on Flickr.  “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” That’s the question we’ll be asking you to help answer in the next Knight News Challenge. Related Link "News Challenge to explore role of libraries in the digital age" by John Bracken on Knight Blog As we mentioned last week, we’ll open the challenge Wednesday, Sept. 10. As part of the buildup, we’re asking you to talk to us about what inspires you about libraries, about what problems and opportunities you would like to see addressed through the News Challenge. For our part, we see three key assets of libraries that we hope to build upon: librarians, the highly trained human capital that specializes in finding and sharing information; the public trust and goodwill that libraries have built as trusted institutions; and libraries themselves, the physical assets where people can safely gather with their neighbors. The challenge will be open to anyone from anywhere, but our primary focus is on U.S.-based library projects.
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    Today we’re announcing 19 winners of the Knight News Challenge on strengthening the Internet with total awards of $3,466,000. We launched the challenge Feb. 27 with our partners Ford Foundation and Mozilla Foundation by asking the question: How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation? We saw several themes emerge in the 704 challenge entries; the nine winners of the major prizes each fit within one. The winners fall within one of three approaches to building a stronger Internet. • Access: Enabling more people to participate and create. • Transparency: Providing a better understanding of who is doing what online. • Safety: Building more effective tools for engaging with the Internet securely. Access. Several projects sought to provide broader or improved access to the Internet through training, providing hardware or developing new tools and other resources to allow more people to participate and create.