Articles by

Susan Mernit

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    The following blog post, written by Susan Mernit, details the launch of a Knight Community Information Challenge winner. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service, Coconino National Forest. Through July 1 we are accepting applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge, which provides matching funding to community and place-based foundations supporting news and information projects.  It's live! After eight months of planning and development, e928.org, Northern Arizona’s Free Mobile Service for Local Emergency News and Information, is live on the web and about to start sharing data with citizens. Funded in part by grants from the Knight Community Information Challenge, the Flagstaff Community Foundation, and the Arizona Community Foundation, e928 Emergency News Source shares information with subscribers related to fires, including news, video, audio reports, social media links, mapping and graphics. Built to provide mobile alerts to smart phones, the service is the result of a partnership between the Flagstaff Community Foundation, KNAU Arizona Public Radio, and the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper and has several government data entities involved as well. "Northern Arizona has experienced more and more more frequent and catastrophic mega fires that grow larger every year, " says Keith Gemora, e928's project manager,  "We needed an efficient way to pool information to give the public real-time wildfire information, including fire lines and evacuation routes, especially when they're not at their computers." What makes the service especially promising, however, are the additional relationships--and data feeds--from county,  state and government entities.  e928.org has relationships with local, state and federal agencies, including the Coconino County Office of Emergency Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Weather Service, and the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department that add real value to the project. "Basically, we've got all sorts of feeds and alerts going into the system," says Gemora, who has managed the project since Knight Foundation first funded the project in 2012. "If there's an incident going on everyone who is subscribed receives automated email alerts on their phones." For e928.org, forging relationships with local and national partners was essential.  As Gemora describes it, although the media partners provide important, researched information, the National Weather Service, the US Forest Service and Coconino County provide important updates and data streams that are essential.  Currently, for example, the best way to track a fire in Northern Arizona is to log onto inciweb, a national site maintained by The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) a coalition made up of members from the USDA Forest Service and four Department of the Interior agencies: Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Fish and Wildlife Service; plus state forestry agencies through the National Association of State Foresters.
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    The following is cross-posted from the Knight Digital Media Center's blog. Above: a Floodlight series by EdNews Colorado examines the effort to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. What can a data-driven local foundation with a strong social justice mission do to empower the many non-profit and community organizations they work with to have an easy way to tell their stories and present information?  If you're Terry Minger, President and CEO of The Piton Foundation in Denver, Colo. and Matt Barry, Piton's former director of technology, the answer is pretty visionary. Build a platform that makes it easy for your constituent organizations to use templated tools to create and publish their stories in a variety of formats, including such as story-telling through photos, data, or explanations.  To make their vision happen, Migner and Barry teamed up with The Denver Foundation and applied to theKnight Community Information Challenge for funds to plan, build and launch this tool; and now, roughly a year later, Floodlight (originally named Citizen Atlas), is live on the web for everyone to use. "It's been an intricate process of working with constituents to understand what they need, engage them in the design process and then build tools that can execute," says Jordan Wirfs-Brock, Data Curator at The Piton Foundation, who has been one of the key team members guiding the development of the Floodlight tool set.  "We've got the tools live now and we're rolling them out to local organizations via community storytelling workshops and what we call storyraisings." For Matt Barry, Piton's former Director of Data and Information Initiatives (who recently joined another local nonprofit), Floodlight and the related (and not quite live) Data Engline project are part of a vision Piton has been advancing since 2005. In his work at Piton, Barry focused on creating data visualization capability to support community and school level data, and using information to present and even help alleviate problems with poor communities and education reform. "We read a paper called "Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data"  that was written by  Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer of Stanford and published in 2010. The ideas in that paper about type of stories that were effective in communication different types of information suggested we could build tools that would make choosing and using these formats much easier that it had been previously," says Barry.  Once Piton received a Knight Community Information Challenge grant in in 2011, the Piton team was ready to kick the project off.
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    Gloria's restaurant in Gert Town, 2007 photo by http://nova-in-nola.blogspot.com. The City of New Orleans Inspector General is probing a local nonprofit organization following a series of investigative articles published by The Lens, a Knight Community Information Challenge grant winner. According to The Lens, the financial documentation for the Gert Town Revival Initiative is quite incomplete — and too much of the $404,000 it received to revitalize the area may have gone to the salary of organization's president—and to rent on the building that houses both her home and officers for the organization. The Inspector General's office says it’s now in the process of obtaining documents from the city to determine whether GRI committed any wrongdoing in how it spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars —and The Lens was the trigger for both greater oversight by the city and the new investigation. City officials first announced they were scheduling a monitoring visit of the organization after The Lens published its original story, with a follow-up story days later. The Knight Community Information Challenge encourages community foundations to fund news and information projects that inform and engage communities. The Lens is funded through the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
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    By Susan Mernit In the hardscrabble city of Akron, staffers at the Akron Community Foundation are putting the finishing touches on of The Akronist, a citizen media web site that will  give local citizens both the tools and a platform to make their voices heard. Back in 2009, Akron Community Foundation VP Donae Eckert applied for a Knight Community Information Challenge. The ask? Matching funding for a project whose goal was to provide residents in Akron and the Northeast Ohio region with a training academy and a citizen-journalism website where residents could publish, read and comment on locally produced features on critical issues and share news and information about what was happening in their city. Fast-forward to spring 2011, and the Akron Community Foundation’s dream is becoming a reality. The Akronist, the ACF’s new citizen journalist web site, officially launches soon. The media academy has trained more than 200 people and is...
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    The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has only emphasized the intense need for strong public policy planning for our most populated regions of the US. Back in 2009, The Silicon Valley Community Foundation applied to The Knight Community Information Challenge for support to help answer the questions of what the San Francisco Bay area should and could look like by 2035, when there could be 1.2 million new jobs and 900,000 new households. The question the SVFoundation team wanted to answer was would it be possible to build an online planning tool that could be a focal point to help both regional planned and the informed public explore and answer regional planning and land use questions such as: Where will all of these people live? Where will the new housing be built? How will people get around? Will the air we breathe and the water we drink be clean? Will we still be able to enjoy extensive and accessible open spaces? With the support of a $302,000 grant from Knight, the SV Foundation, in partnership with Greenbelt Alliance, TransFormCA and others, created a new tool--YouChoose Bay Area--that takes the questions of the Envision Bay Area project and turns them into an interactive online visualization tools. Working within a clear and easy to use interface, the website allows users to make choices that show them the impact of different policy choose and how they dictate future growth in the region. Participants get an understanding of...
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    Did you know that, in California, more than one in three people are Latino,? And that Los Angeles county and surrounding areas have one of the largest number of young Latinos under 35 in the state?  Nevertheless, when  data collection for the 2010 Census began last March,  organizers at national non-profit Voto Latino recognized that it was going to take more that just a couple of public service announcements to make sure young Latinos understood the importance of participating in the census and they were prepared with a cool campaign to get the word out. During Census-taking season, Voto Latino ran a  mobile-cell phone focused, event and music driven campaign called Be Counted, Represent! Take the ‘Census Pledge.’  Via a web site, a mobile/text campaign  called Text2Represent SMS , a set of star-driven video PSAs, some cool live events and incentives that included free music downloads, iTunes cards and t-shirts, Voto Latino--with support from  the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Community Information Challenge  in partnership with  The  California Community Foundation (CCF)  launched a viral marketing and education program whose goal was to have 70% of the young Latinos targeted actually participate in contributing data to the Census. According to   Virginia Mosqueda, CCF program director,  young people working with Voto Latino--many from community partners such as MALDEF, the Mexican American Defense and Educational Fund--went door to door in their neighborhoods to get the word out, giving presentations to educate community members of the benefits of participating in the census. At the same time, Voto Latino launched a sophisticated viral campaign, using music and media to reach young Latinos. Working with movie and television stars including Rosario Dawson, Luis Guzman, Demi Lovato (Disney’s Camp Rock franchise), Ana Ortiz (“Ugly Betty”), Wilmer Valderrama (“That Seventies Show”), and Jorge Garcia (“Lost”) Voto Latino launched a series of viral videos on being counted in the census, along with a mobile/web   census-challenge game that targeted  Latino youth to take an online pledge to be counted and gave them an opportunity to become virtual 2010 Census recruiters by tapping others in their social networks to do the same. So, how did it go? Pretty well.  According to Mosqueda, The campaign led to a  73% participation in the 2010 census by the target audience in the county, compared to 70% in 2000--and thousands of young Latinos in the LA County became more aware, and more civically engaged.
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    "The American barn raising tradition arose out of necessity. Neighbors came together to help neighbors build an essential element of family and community life because constructing such a large building required many hands. No one can do it alone. " These are the opening words of the brand, spanking new About page of ACTion Alexandria, a new civic engagement and community-focused web site launched, after more than a year of work and planning, by ACT Alexandria, a vibrant--and active--community foundation in Alexandria, Virginia that has played a strong role in disbursing funds, planning for the future, and growing civic leadership in Alexandria, VA. Launched in phases over the past year (the blog went live in September 2010), ACTion Alexandria was the brainchild of ACT Executive Director John Porter , Program Director Brandi Yee, and a working group of local community members who saw the need for a site that would connect people to causes in an action-oriented way at the same time it supported discussion and debate.
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    For those who are building, launching and operating community-focused web sites, measuring community engagement is critical. But getting started with web analytics tools can be daunting, especially with a small team. During the past month, Knight Community Information Challenge grantees have been meeting in a small community of practice on the topic of Community Engagement, discussing questions that include how to authentically measure engagement, how to evaluate how effective your social media strategies are, and how to measure impact of your program both online and in the real world. The grantees involved with our circle are looking for ways to easily measure engagement, but are unsure what to do. One of the tactics we have been discussing, which is easy to put into practice, is to work with Google Analytics.  It is straightforward to add Google Analytics to a web site or blog with just a small bit of java-script added to the template. These data sets can be significant as measures to help view the success of efforts to increase engagement and set quarter-by-quarter milestones. The metrics we have been discussing as the ones to look at  closely to measure engagement are the referral sources in the traffic section.