Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

News Challenge on open gov launches Feb. 12

Jan. 30, 2013, 11:50 a.m., Posted by John Bracken

Photo credit: Flickr user Ed Schipul

The Knight News Challenge on open government will run from Feb. 12 to March 18. It’s an opportunity to win part of the $5 million we’ll use this year to support innovative projects.

We expect the News Challenge to generate proposals to improve the way citizens and governments interact. Projects could help parents evaluate schools, make weather data more usable, identify best routes from one town to another, or identify pork in the federal budget.

Just as we do with “news,” we’re defining “open government” broadly. Wikipedia says it “holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight.” The OpenGov Foundation says it’s about “making it easier for people to access and use as much government information as possible.” In their book Open Government, Daniel Lathrop and Laurel Ruma describe it even more broadly as “transparency, collaboration and participation.”

One of our goals for the News Challenge is to involve more people in the use of technology to solve community problems. “Dozens of developers looking at each other in conference rooms over pizza is never going to lead to making lives better... without the active involvement of real residents expressing real needs and advocating for software that makes sense to them,” wrote Daniel O’Neil of the Smart Chicago Collaborative recently. We hope to help extend the spirit of open gov beyond those conference rooms, and to catalyze partnerships between hackers, civic innovators, governments, journalists and others. As a social investor, we feel the time is right to help advance the field.

We are looking for more than just applicants for this challenge; we’re looking for participants. The challenge will open on Feb. 12 with an “inspiration” phase where anyone - journalists, state and local officials, citizens, community foundations, schools, others - can share problems they’d like to see solved and success stories they’d like to see accelerated. We hope they’ll continue to participate with their comments as applicants start submitting project entries on Feb. 19. We’ll announce the winners in June.

With this News Challenge, we’re building on a number of existing and past Knight Foundation investments in the field — leaders like Sunlight Foundation, Code for America, Open Knowledge Foundation; information and data projects like TurboVote, EveryBlock, The State Decoded, Poderopedia; and projects working to make it easier for citizens to engage with government, like Recovers.org, Textizen and Local Data. And projects built on open data are among the most popular at leading news organizations like the Texas Tribune and ProPublica.

Catherine Bracy (who worked with us on the News Challenge in 2011) recently described why she’s decided to work on open gov at Code for America:

“...government is us. We get out of it what we put in and, as citizens, we don’t have the luxury of being able to write government off. The only way for us to make it better is to engage with it. Technologists have so much potential to fix what’s broken about democracy and it’s vitally important that we do.”

We’ll have more details when we launch on Feb. 12 and will also hold open office hours at 1:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 7. Stay tuned to @knightfdn and #newschallenge for more details.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, leave them here in the comment field, or hit me up at bracken@knightfoundation.org.

By John Bracken, director/journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.

Note: This blog post has been edited to spell Daniel Lothrop's name correctly.