Articles by Chris Barr

  • Article

    Grantmaking gone lean - meet 8 new Knight-funded prototypes

    March 7, 2013 by Chris Barr

    Grantmaking gone lean - meet 8 new Knight-funded prototypes

    Photo credit: Flickr user Samuel Mann

    In a 2011 essay, MIT’s Joichi Ito championed the idea that the architecture of the Internet and free software have slashed the cost of innovation so much, that it’s cheaper to try something than to “sit around and try to figure out whether to try something.” In this spirit, last summer we launched the Knight Prototype Fund, which helps journalists, technologists and tinkerers take that first step, bringing media innovation projects from idea to demo. This is our attempt at grantmaking gone lean. Following a mantra of fail fast, fail forward, the fund offers small teams six months and up to $50,000 in funding to build and test core assumptions needed to prove - - the viability of a tool, technology or approach. We want to test more ideas, find out what works and help scale projects that show promise.

    As part of the initiative, we encourage teams to embrace human-centered design, rapid & lo-fi prototyping and iterative development models to quickly pivot and connect solutions to uncovered needs. We want to learn and improve - before moving to the bigger, more expensive steps of building out a full project. And as we learn, we want to share with others working on similar problems.

    So what are we experimenting with? Today, we are excited to announce eight new projects receiving grants from the Prototype Fund:

    • Associated Press: Seeking to make newsrooms more efficient by creating a tool that enables journalists to easily combine data for their stories with geographically related data sets, a task that currently represents a significant technical hurdle for many reporters on deadline.


  • Article

    Test first, then scale - four prototype ideas for media innovation

    November 10, 2012 by Chris Barr

    In June, we announced the creation of the Knight Prototype Fund to support the building and testing of new ideas in media and public information. This initiative allows small teams to create minimum versions of projects, test major assumptions and understand user behavior before making decisions about full-scale development.

    We believe this rapid and nimble approach to innovation will help us and our grantees move at "Internet speed" to solve complex problems in a changing information ecosystem.

    Since then we have developed grants to groups working on diverse problem sets. Today at the Mozilla Festival, we are happy to announce four of these projects:

    FOIA Machine, Djordje Padejski, Center for Investigative Journalism 

    FOIA Machine will aid journalists and private citizens in accessing millions of important governmental documents around the world that are covered by freedom of information laws (which exist in more than 90 countries). FOIA Machine will help people navigate FOI laws by automating submissions, creating requests in the proper format, making documents publicly available on the web and using the web to rally support when governments are not responsive.

    GroundTruth, Andrew Haeg, World Press Institute

    GroundTruth is a communications platform designed to help journalists, researchers and community organizers establish engagement with people who have valuable expertise via text messages and mobile phones.  It will give producers the tools to build panels of sources, send out simple surveys, visualize resulting data and followup with sources for interviews and other needs. 

    Kon*Fab, Katy Newton & Sean Connelly

    Most newsreaders are built on predictive behavior algorithms that can lead to an uninspiring repetitious flow of the news.  The mission of Kon*Fab is to explore news and information through a more serendipitous discovery. Kon*Fab will improve user experience by linking news with the real-time activities of individuals inhabiting physical locations. This alternate model for presenting the news will provide users the opportunity to stumble across new people with new interests potentially improving local engagement around news and community. 

  • Article

    News Challenge launches with an OpenIDEO twist

    February 12, 2013 by Chris Barr

    About Knight News Challenge: Open Gov from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

    Today, as we open the first Knight News Challenge of 2013 on Open Gov, we’re looking for answers to one central question:  “How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?”  We think that new tools and approaches are giving citizens to drive change, and we’ve crafted a News Challenge to help deliver on that potential.

    To get there, we are partnering with OpenIDEO, a division of the design and innovation firm IDEO, on a new platform we hope will  not only improve the challenge application process but also open the conversation to more people while pushing creative thinking. The first difference you'll notice is the introduction of contest stages -  the Inspiration phase starts today. We are looking for a range of people - innovators, community leaders, government officials - to share their ideas, hopes and needs for improving civic life.   We’ll be featuring these inspirations throughout the challenge to help spur more ideas. When that stage ends on Feb. 19, we’ll open the contest to submissions. (A full list and timeline of the stages follows.) In the end, we hope to find and fund ideas - big and small - that rethink the relationship between people and governments. Our definition for Open Gov is broad, and includes innovative ideas for anything from data transparency to citizen participation. We’re looking forward to this, and hope you’ll join us on this journey. Here’s the timeline for the Knight News Challenge on Open Gov.


  • Article

    Finding the wild, weird and the like-minded in #newschallenge inspirations

    February 27, 2013 by Chris Barr

    Finding the wild, weird and the like-minded in #newschallenge inspirations


    “I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking”

    ― Albert Einstein

    “Ideas come from everything”

    ― Alfred Hitchcock

    Two weeks ago, we opened up our Knight News Challenge on Open Gov, where we’re offering a share of $5 million to the best projects that answer the question, “How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?” We began with an invitation to share in a week of inspiration. In that first week, 176 inspirations were posted to the News Challenge site, with more than 10,000 views and 245 comments.  

  • Article

    Innovating from within: Five public media innovators to develop new digital prototypes

    June 20, 2013 by Chris Barr


    Photo credit: Flickr user Bartek Kuzia.

    The future of public media is driven by the relentless creativity of talented individuals committed to storytelling in the digital age; it also hangs on their ability to experiment. The disruption of news journalism continues to happen every day. Stories may be here to stay, but how they are made, discovered and distributed is constantly evolving to keep pace with new information needs and innovation. That’s why we are happy to announce five prototype grants dedicated to public media innovation and driven by public media innovators.

    Creativity and innovation can come in many forms and from within organizations of all kinds. Today, one of the most important jobs of effective leadership, especially within news media organizations, is to surface internal creativity and provide time and modest resources to understand if and how new ideas connect with audiences. With our Prototype Fund, Knight Foundation seeks to enable intrapreneurs, enterprising individuals within established organizations, to focus on the R&D that will open new pathways for storytellers and the media industry.

    The prototypes, announced today at the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference, are specialized tools especially relevant to journalists. Each of them also leverages specific expertise within their organizations for new digital projects. They include:

  • Article

    News Challenge: Health opens for entries

    September 3, 2013 by Chris Barr

    News Challenge: Health opens for entries

    Knight News Challenge OI Engine: How the Platform Works from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

    We’re now accepting submissions for Knight News Challenge: Health. During the next two weeks, ending at 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 17, we invite anyone and everyone to submit a project with an answer to the question, “How can we harness data and information for the health of communities?”


    "40 ideas advance in News Challenge: Health"

    "What's next in Knight News Challenge: Health" by Chris Sopher

    "Bring your best ideas; deadline nears for News Challenge: Health" by Chris Sopher

    "Knight News Challenge on Health opens for entries"

    "Knight News Challenge: Health opens with inspiration phase, additional prizes from collaborators" by Raina Kumra and John Bracken

    "Announcing key collaborators and details of Knight News Challenge: Health" by John Bracken and Chris Barr

    "Join us to brainstorm ideas around News Challenge: Health" and There's still time to brainstorm around News Challenge: Heath" by Chris Sopher

    "Data: Why we care" by Esther Dyson

    "Data provides a focus for community action" by Bryan Sivak

    "News Challenge: Make APIs not apps, health CEO says" by Lucky Gunasekara

    "How data-driven solutions can transform health" by Lexie Komisar

    "Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announces new prize for News Challenge: Health" by Paul Tarini

    "California HealthCare Foundation: The data stops here" by Andy Krackov

    "Data essential to promoting healthy habits" by Nirav R. Shah

    "Media company harnesses health data for stories that connect with communities" by David Kansas

    "Pizza tracker versus patient tracker" by M. Bridget Duffy

    More than 100 community needssuccess storiesdata sources and more were submitted over the past two weeks during the inspiration phase of the News Challenge. These community-curated resources help us all think about where we are now and where we might go in addressing health and information needs. If you are working on your New Challenge submission, we encourage you to revisit these resources and have them challenge your thinking. If you haven’t developed an idea yet, the inspirations can give your brainstorming a kickstart or offer models to implement in your own community.

    Whether or not you submitted an inspiration, we hope you’ll participate in the News Challenge by submitting an idea for funding or leaving feedback on someone else’s. Again, the deadline to apply is 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, Sept. 17. However, the earlier you submit your idea, the more time you will have for others to find it, critique it, share it and help you improve it. Here are some tips for constructing your application.

    We have invited 10 individuals to help us read entries, improve ideas and make connections. They will be identified on the site by a “reader” badge and will be sharing their insight and expertise. Please be friendly with them in the comments.

    Once the submissions phase closes, our panel of external advisers will help select our finalists, who will be invited to submit more information. Winners will be announced in January.

    If you proposed an idea during the inspirations phase that you would like to submit as an entry, please contact me, Chris Barr, to have its status changed so that it can be considered for the contest.

    If for some reason you’d prefer not to share your idea openly, you can submit your entry  by emailing [email protected].

    Knight has committed $2 million to the challenge. In addition, two collaborators, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the California HealthCare Foundation, have each pledged $100,000 for companion awards. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will award prizes of $50,000, $30,000 and $20,000 for the top three projects that “best combine public health data and health care data to improve the health of communities.” California HealthCare Foundation will award $100,000 to one or more projects focused on helping county and city officials use health data for policymaking.

  • Article

    The testable moment for media innovation

    January 22, 2014 by Chris Barr


    Above: Knight Prototype Fund participants gather at the LUMA Institute. Photo credit: Chris Barr.

    Often good ideas just need the time and space to see if they work. That’s an opportunity 24 projects will get with new funding from the Knight Prototype Fund. They’re each receiving $35,000 to test new approaches to informing the public. In addition to nine projects discovered through our News Challenge: Health, this group includes projects developing new tools and approaches for journalism and civic data.

    We’re also seeing more projects led by designers. Three design firms are receiving grants and individual designers are working with two of the projects. Today more designers seem willing to engage with civic projects and take action to solve problems in their own communities.

    No matter who is involved, or what the focus, all of our Prototype Fund projects are faced with a testable moment. Sometimes this means that the project is at an early stage, but with any project there are critical assumptions that need to be tested in order to get over the next hurdle. When done with rigor and integrity, iterations of research, building and analysis can help a team gain confidence in an assumption that was accurate, make an important course correction or quickly pivot an idea based on new knowledge. 

    The 24 projects being announced today started their experience as Knight grantees with an intensive two-day workshop on design thinking led by LUMA Institute. While we don’t expect all of our grantees to all become expert design practitioners, the workshop provides a reminder and methods to build projects in the service of real people.

    This isn’t just the beginning for these projects, however. We’re also looking ahead to the next round of Prototype Fund grants. Applications for the next round are due by Jan. 31, and it’s a chance for us to discover even more media and information experiments.

    Within our Journalism and Media Innovation strategy, Prototype Fund grants enter at the beginning of a pipeline that has the potential to help grow and scale projects through follow-on funding. We reassemble the grantees at the end of the six-month grant period to share what they have learned with us and the public. Through this model, we hope to have more opportunity to accelerate projects, learn through experimentation and make more informed funding decisions.

  • Article

    17 projects receive funding through Knight Prototype Fund

    April 22, 2014 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.

  • Article

    41 ideas advance in Knight News Challenge: Libraries

    October 21, 2014 by Chris Barr

    41 ideas advance in Knight News Challenge: Libraries

    Last week 11 advisers helped us select a group of semifinalists for the Knight News Challenge: Libraries. Today, we are excited to announce that 41 projects have moved to the next stage of consideration. These semifinalists will have a week to fine tune their entries before we begin work with another set of advisers to choose the finalists.

    We received 680 submissions to the challenge, which is focused on the question: how might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?

    Having the opportunity to look at a multitude of ideas from the library community is immensely valuable to our work. It gives us the chance to understand the shared energy among those working to innovate in the field and the shifting role of libraries in the digital age. Here are some of the themes that emerged as we reviewed the 680 entries:

  • Article

    Knight News Challenge: Libraries moves to ‘feedback phase’

    September 30, 2014 by Chris Barr

    Knight News Challenge: Libraries moves to ‘feedback phase’


    Knight News Challenge: Libraries is now closed.  We received more than 675 submissions, including some offline; we’re still counting, so the final number may change. Thanks to everyone who entered. Here’s what happens next:

    From now until Oct. 21, we’ll be in the “feedback” phase where we review the submissions. We invite everyone to join us in looking through the ideas, asking questions and giving feedback.

    We read every application we get, but we’ve also asked nine people to join us as (paid) readers; they’ll go through every application and help us select the semifinalists. You can identify them on the site by the “reader” tags on their profile photos.

  • Article

    Knight Prototype Fund tests early-stage ideas

    September 18, 2013 by Chris Barr

    Knight Prototype Fund tests early-stage ideas


    Above: Employable? is an early prototype for the Making it in America project by DataToys.

    This week team members from 10 media and information projects are traveling to Pittsburgh to kick off their projects with a crash course in human-centered design. As part of the Knight Prototype Fund grant program, these workshops, facilitated by LUMA Institute, set the tone for six months of experimentation, rapid iteration and design thinking.

    It’s the first time we’ve brought the teams together for these sessions, where they will be building towards a demo of their projects. As the pace of innovation keeps increasing, we believe this process will help adapt their projects to the new reality.  These type of events also allow us to create closer relationships with grantees and build peer networks as the teams tackle challenging problems.

    Our Prototype Fund, which supports small projects with grants of $35,000, is designed to help teams and individuals test core assumptions in their early-stage ideas. We don’t ask them to focus on the outcomes; we ask that they test their concepts by concentrating on what features will eventually resonate with possible audiences.   In the process asking interesting questions becomes as valuable as making interesting things.

  • Article

    Digital Pathways for Digital Artists

    November 15, 2018 by Chris Barr

    Digital Pathways for Digital Artists
  • Article

    20 projects explore new uses of data, media and tech with support of Knight Prototype Fund

    April 30, 2015 by Chris Barr

    20 projects explore new uses of data, media and tech with support of Knight Prototype Fund

    This post has been updated to reflect the Aug. 17, 2015 deadline for the Knight Prototype Fund.

    Nearly three years ago we started funding prototypes as a way to make small bets on exploratory work that promises to create new pathways for information that is essential for communities. We’ve focused on providing funding for broad experimentation at this early stage, designing a program that asks small teams to iteratively test their assumptions and share what they’ve learned.

    We now fund groups of prototype projects each quarter. In addition to $35,000, teams receive training in human-centered design and support from a data science team at Impact Lab to structure their learning objectives. At the end of six months, they meet to share what they’ve learned and the outcomes of their projects.

    The deadline for the next round of Prototype Fund grants is Aug. 17. Submitting an idea is easy; just answer five questions through our online form.

    This round of grants includes a diverse group of projects that explore novel uses of data, media and technology to inform people. Check out the 20 projects receiving support in this cohort below.

    Chris Barr is director of media innovation at Knight Foundation. Email him at [email protected]. Apply for the Knight Prototype Fund at

  • Article

    On View: A new podcast on museums, technology and change

    June 5, 2019 by Chris Barr

    On View: A new podcast on museums, technology and change

    Today, we launch On View, a new podcast series that examines how museums and cultural institutions are evolving to keep pace with a changing world.

  • Article

    A call for ideas: Immersive technology in the arts

    July 17, 2019 by Chris Barr

    A call for ideas: Immersive technology in the arts

    On July 27, Knight Foundation will open a new call for ideas exploring how arts institutions can present immersive experiences to engage audiences.