Knight Blog

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

Learning Lab gathers ideas on making the most of talent in our cities

April 22, 2014, 9:08 a.m., Posted by Carol Coletta


Photo credit: Flickr user Jai Kapoor.

What do you see when you think about what the workforce looks like in your city?

The traditional view has been people working full time Monday through Friday, from 9 to 5. But the reality is not that simple. Since 1970, the number of self-employed people as a share of total jobs has more than doubled. Today there is more than one self-employed person for every five wage and salaried workers. Some call these people “solo entrepreneurs.” They are still far from a majority of the workforce, but they are much more prevalent than most people think, and researchers predict the number will continue to grow.


"Get with the program: Developing an action plan for successful cities" by Carol Coletta on

This transition to self-employment creates new challenges for cities. Who is the target of a city’s economic development efforts if more than 20 percent of its workers are self-employed? What type of support do solo entrepreneurs need? How can public places and programming be used to make independent workers as productive as possible? 

There are no certain answers, but here at Knight Foundation we want to facilitate the conversation. We also want to understand for our own work what role cities can play. That’s why this week we’re holding a Civic Innovation Learning Lab on Harnessing Talent on Wednesday, April 23. It’s the second in a series of three labs that will culminate in a Civic Innovation in Action Studio in May where we will try to emerge with ideas for testing in cities. Last month we held a lab on advancing opportunity, and we plan to hold a lab on robust engagement on Thursday (check Knight Blog for details on that one later this week).

17 projects receive funding through Knight Prototype Fund

April 22, 2014, 9:06 a.m., Posted by Chris Barr


Photo credit: Chris Barr.

Sometimes you have a great idea, and you just need time, space and some capital to test it. Seventeen projects will get that chance as the latest recipients of Prototype Fund grants from Knight Foundation.  

The Prototype Fund is designed to give people with great concepts for media and information projects grants of $35,000 and six months to take their idea all the way to demo with a class of others facing a similar challenge. What can you learn in six months? Quite a bit.

Recently, grantees, friends and advisers gathered at Matter in San Francisco to watch presentations from Knight grantees completing their Prototype Fund grant experience. The event focused on highlighting learnings from projects started six months earlier.

In the case of this group, we learned how youth can learn about fair use to become little Jon Stewarts, how live video can engage radio audiences, and how sometimes, despite technological advances, parts of your community might prefer a paper map. The presenters talked about how they tested assumptions, addressed technical challenges and worked to understand user needs.

We fully expect some of the grantees will move on to further funding from Knight Foundation and other sources. Two of the projects from the recent class have already secured outside funding. Max Ogen’s DAT has received a grant from the Sloan Foundation and will become a project of the Open Data Institute, and 596 Acre’s Living Lots project has received an OpenGov grant from the Sunlight Foundation.

In all 17, projects presented at demo day: The Rashomon ProjectCurious CityHow Secure Am I?DocHiveWFMUCollabMatchTransom Online WorkshopsRadiotopiaVoteStreamKon*FabData DocsDATFOIA MachineLiving LotsOnBoard and Media Breaker.

New website will explore how our cities get to what’s next

April 20, 2014, 7:45 p.m., Posted by Steven Johnson


This fall author and media theorist Steven Johnson will debut a new series on PBS in association with the BBC called “How We Got to Now.” The series has been produced by Jane Root’s award-winning company, Nutopia, and is funded by the CPB/PBS Challenge Fund. As part of the launch, Knight Foundation is supporting the development of a complementary community and news site on how to make better cities, and partnering with Johnson on sharing his expertise through Knight’s national network of ideas. Photo credit: Nutopia. 

Shortly after the fall of Constantinople, a small community of glassmakers from Turkey sailed westward across the Mediterranean and eventually settled in Venice, where they began practicing their trade in the prosperous new city growing out of the marshes on the shores of the Adriatic Sea.

"$250,000 Grant to Finance Website Tied to PBS Seires" in the New York Times

"Innovation hub will foster great ideas for our cities" by Carol Coletta

Register here for "How can communities create places that foster great ideas?", a webinar with Steven Johnson on May 2 at Noon ET. ( 

Their skills at blowing glass quickly created a new luxury good for the merchants of the city to sell around the globe. But lucrative as it was, glassmaking was not without its liabilities. The melting point of silicon dioxide required furnaces burning at temperatures above 500 degrees, and Venice was a city built almost entirely out of wooden structures. And so in 1291, in an effort to both retain the skills of the glassmakers and protect public safety, the city government sent the glassmakers into exile once again, only this time their journey was a short one—a mile across the Venetian Lagoon to the island of Murano. 

Unwittingly, the Venetian doges had created an innovation hub: By concentrating the glassmakers on a single island the size of a small city neighborhood, they triggered a surge of creativity, giving birth to an environment that possessed what economists call “information spillover.” The density of Murano meant that new ideas were quick to flow through the entire population. They perfected a new kind of clear, durable glass that would turn out to be one of the most important materials of the next 800 years, used in spectacles, telescopes, microscopes, test tubes, and eventually cameras and projectors. The scientific revolution might have unfolded on a much slower timetable had the glassmakers of Murano not invented the crystal-clear glass that became their trademark.