How to get your idea funded by the Knight News Challenge

Susan Mernit was in Vancouver on Monday for a Knight News Challenge meetup. Around 40 people were there to hear how to get a slice of the millions the Knight Foundation is investing in innovative projects from around the world.

Susan explained that the Knight News Challenge is looking for four things in a proposal:

  • It has to be innovative. But this can also be dependent on the geographic location of a project. What is innovative in Canada will be different to what is innovative in Uganda.
  • It has to be open source, scalable and replicable. Knight is looking for tools that can be developed and used by others.
  • It has to serve the public interest. The projects should aim to help create a more active and informed citizenship. This could be through providing a place for democractic discourse.
  • It has to serve a specific geographic community. What this means is that a project need to have a local testbed, much like Knight News Challenge winner Everyblock started off in Chicago and has now expanded to other US cities.

She also gave more details about the sorts of ideas that were likely to be well received. While Knight does not have a specific social justice focus, it is looking for projects that support democracy. It is also interested in ideas that make take data and information that is invisible and make it visible to the public, enabling a public discourse.

In a way, the Knight Foundation is trying to restore the role that US local newspapers had in serving a  community by  providing a place for people to find out what was happening in their area.

The way Knight has judged the applications has evolved since the project two years ago. Susan explained that the initial raft of proposals will be screened by a committee, whose ages ranged from 23 to 60, and are drawn from the world of online news, technology and non-profit.

This committee will chose projects and ask for more detailed submissions. In 2007, 400 ideas got to this stage out of 3,000 applications. These will then be judged by a final committee, among them Craig Newmark of Craigslist. In 2007, there were 67 finalists and 17 projects were funded.

Susan also explained that applicants should express why they are the person to do a project. ‘Sell yourself as much as your idea,” she advised. This could mean that you have the technical skills to turn an idea into a reality, or that you have a passion for the idea.

If you are in Vancouver and want to collaborate on an idea, there is a space online to share ideas and get feedback.  Richard Eriksson created the page, and asked in his blog post on the KNC08 meeting:

What’s missing in the digital sphere of Vancouver that would enhance the discussions citizens are having about the city and the region? Do we need an EveryBlock for Vancouver, or has that been done for other cities? Maybe we can do something a little different?

Time to get thinking. The deadline for the initial application is November 1.

(Photo: Copyright 2008 Tris Hussey)