Four foundations join new lab to help close local news and information gaps

MIAMI – Aug. 16, 2017 – Four community foundations will join a new design lab to help them find ways to ensure their communities are informed about issues important to them, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today.

The Knight Community Information Lab will take the foundations through an 18-month human-centered design process that will help them get to the heart of the information gaps in their community, prototype ideas and develop long-term solutions with the input of local residents.

The foundations – large and small, rural and urban – include the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, the Community Foundation Boulder County and Lancaster County Community Foundation.

“Since the very beginning of the digital disruption, communities have been inundated with news and information. But these days, it’s actually harder to find the accurate, contextual, local news and information that is essential to everyday democracy,” said Lilly Weinberg, director of Knight Foundation’s community foundations program. “Funders have a role to play in finding these gaps and working with residents to discover ways to fill them.”  

Starting this fall, the four foundations will attend workshops together that follow the four steps of human-centered design: inspiration, which involves in-depth community research and testing assumptions; interpreting that research; working with the audience to design solutions; and testing the idea with peers. Knight funding of $65,000 will cover travel and staff time to devote to the lab, in addition to prototyping ideas.

The lab initiative has its roots in the Knight Community Information Challenge, which launched in 2008 as the disruptions of the digital age began to dramatically affect communities and newsrooms. The challenge offered matching grants to encourage funders to take a leadership role in meeting local information needs, providing $22 million to 88 foundations across the country.

The lab builds on that approach, and creates a new way of funding for Knight Foundation. Instead of supporting a specific news and information project, Knight is helping foundations take a few steps back to discover and design an approach that is right for their community.

Each foundation has identified topic areas it expects to explore in the lab:

  • Baltimore Community Foundation: The foundation promotes the success of Baltimore’s young people by supporting effective public schools and equipping neighborhoods with the resources they need. To effect positive change, the foundation seeks to address racial inequity, and ensure that all of the city’s diverse communities have access to the information they need to contribute to civic dialogue and shape their city.
  • Cleveland Foundation: The world’s first community foundation, the Cleveland Foundation will use human-centered design strategies to expand its impact in Greater Cleveland, by bridging information gaps in economic development, neighborhood revitalization, education reform, and/or health and human services.
  • Community Foundation Boulder County: The foundation works to advance equity and access to opportunity for all people, and is committed to standing with Boulder County’s most marginalized and vulnerable residents. In the lab, the foundation is going to partner with people left out of the county’s economic success, particularly Hispanics and other people who make up 25 percent of the population, so they can gain the skills and knowledge they need to promote social change.
  • Lancaster County Community Foundation: With a focus on thoughtful risk-taking and engaging the community in problem solving, the foundation has launched several initiatives – from a successful giving day to a business plan competition that raised funds for social enterprises. Next, the foundation wants to ensure there is a space for civic dialogue and broad and inclusive information exchange as part of the process of finding solutions to local challenges.

Knight Foundation recently tested this concept with four other foundations, which went through a similar process, with great success. With insights from the lab, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has been able to help small non and for-profit media outlets in New Jersey find new revenue models, for example. Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation is helping to form a regional media collaborative to investigative the lack of affordable housing in the area. Each of these foundations are continuing their work in meeting local information needs.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit


Marika Lynch, communications consultant, Knight Foundation, [email protected], 305-908-2677