Knight Blog

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

Learning Lab gathers ideas on promoting community engagement

April 23, 2014, 12:13 p.m., Posted by Carol Coletta


Photo credit: Marvin Shaouni.

Our mission at Knight Foundation is to help people become informed and fully engaged in the lives of their communities so that democracy will thrive. 

But what does it mean to be fully engaged? Does it mean helping a neighbor?  Wearing the colors of your favorite local sports team? Attending a neighborhood festival or local arts event?  Volunteering for and donating to good causes? Staying current on local issues? Expressing your point of view on social media or in a letter to the editor? Voting in local elections?

It could mean all of that and more.

But for argument’s sake, we can likely agree that sure signs of full engagement in a community would include knowing that a majority of community members who are eligible to be citizens are citizens; who are eligible to vote are registered; cast a ballot in local elections and feel informed about their choices; and feel responsibility for the civic commons and express that in a practical way.

Unfortunately, we know that few communities attain this level of engagement. One sign is most telling: While voter turnout in presidential elections rose to 57.5 percent in the 2012 election, the typical turnout for recent mayoral elections in large U.S. cities is a mere 25.8 percent.  And the future doesn’t look particularly promising, with market research showing that today there is very little overlap between those who always vote in local elections and young, college-educated citizens.

What can be done to nudge behavior to encourage engagement?  Rather than the exception, how can robust acts of citizenship become the default behavior?

Tech Cocktail debuts speaker series in Miami with Open English CEO

April 23, 2014, 8:52 a.m., Posted by Camila Souza on Vimeo.

Camila Souza is the writer and community manager in Miami for Tech Cocktail, a national media and events organization that covers entrepreneurs. Knight Foundation invested $150,000 to bring Tech Cocktail to South Florida.

Tech Cocktail will launch its popular speaker series in Miami with a local businessman who heads a growing online English school that serves U.S. and Latin American markets.

Andrés Moreno, co-founder and CEO of Open English, kicks off Tech Cocktail sessions May 1 at Venture Hive in downtown Miami. Frank Gruber, CEO and co-founder of Tech Cocktail, will lead the conversation, which will tap into Moreno’s experience as an entrepreneur. Moreno raised more than $120 million in venture capital to drive the expansion of Open English.

“Our goal with these types of events is to help nurture this growing tech community,”  Gruber said, “by creating opportunities for experienced entrepreneurs to share lessons learned while unlocking stories we can share online with both our local and national audience.”

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).