Articles by Mayur Patel

  • Article

    Social networks in 2015: How will we connect for the common good?

    April 6, 2011 by Mayur Patel

    Arthur Goyette knows the value of good neighbors. While his wife Betty was battling cancer, they brought countless meals to the Goyette home. When the neighbors learned that Betty had always wanted to ride in a convertible, they surprised the family with a loaned Chrysler Sebring. The couple drove down the block with the top down, surrounded by people waving and taking pictures.

    Arthur marvels that he might never have met these people f it weren’t for the Front Porch Forum, an online network of neighbors.

    The forum is a great example of how digital media and technology are changing how we connect to information and each other. The way we engage in public dialogue, coordinate, solve problems—all of it is shifting.

    Networks themselves are as old as humanity, used by activists from Mahatma Ghandi to the Tea Party to impact society. Today, though, technology is enabling networks to emerge in new ways.

    So Knight Foundation and Monitor Institute set out to look at the impact on communities, and ask, what do these emerging networks mean for community change? And, how can funders leverage them for good?

    The result is our new report, Connected Citizens: The Power, Peril and Potential of Networks. Through more than 70 examples, we found networked communities pushing for open government, banding together to care for the elderly, enlisting volunteer coders to make online aid maps for earthquake ravaged Haiti, and more.

    We also identified five promising trends, or ways people are using networks for social action. We hope funders will keep an eye on them. The practices include using the network to crowdsource ideas and listen to new perspectives, and “designing for serendipity,” or creating environments - in person and online - where connections can take shape.

    Serendipity isn’t necessarily in funders’ DNA, as Knight Foundation Vice President Trabian Shorters notes. Yet serendipitous spaces have been fertile ground for innovation.

    The report does raise some flags about the future though, offering a cautionary look at how society may change as a result of the evolving way people connect. In fact, we projected ahead to 2015, and offered several scenarios. Will neighbors be uber-connected and gathering to improve their communities? Or will people grow more distrustful, worried about their privacy and retreating into their own foxholes? Only time will tell if either, or both, come to pass.

    Whatever happens, it is clear that networks are a growing part of our ever-complex communities. It’s up to all of us to figure out the best ways to use their potential for good.

    We’d love to hear about your experiences with networks.

    Download the report and join us for a webinar conversation at 2 p.m. EDT on April 20th (sign up and more info here) or leave a comment below.

    - Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation, and Diana Scearce, Monitor Institute

  • Article

    Insights on Innovation: Findings from the News Challenge coming soon

    April 18, 2011 by Mayur Patel

    Mayur Patel

    In 2007, we launched the Knight News Challenge as a five-year $25m contest to support innovative digital experiments to transform the way communities gather, share and produce local news. The backdrop to the contest was the disruption happening in journalism, with the news industry in great flux. Since then, we have funded over 60 grantees, totaling more than $21m. With the future of journalism open, we made a deliberate effort to invest in a broad range of experiments from open-source publishing tools to journalism education, and from mobile news platforms to data visualization and mapping.

    As with all experiments, the key is to learn from them. At the start of 2010, we put in place a multi-year evaluation to understand the impact of winners’ projects, highlight practices that are showing promise and assess the contest’s contribution to advancing media innovation. The initial results from this effort will be completed shortly and we’re excited to share them publicly with you in June! The findings will build on some of the earlier reviews we’ve done of news challenge winners and the contest itself.

    Here’s some more detail: In 2010, we partnered with Lucy Bernholz and her team at Blueprint R&D (an evaluation and strategy firm on the West Coast), to put in place a framework for evaluating the news challenge. To date this has included:

    • An initial retrospective analysis to understand the progress winners have made in implementing their projects and the partnerships they have developed.
    • Profiles of individual winners and a set of papers exploring cross-cutting themes in the contest, e.g. news on mobile phone, civic media projects and news games. We started this by looking at the 2008 and 2009 winners, who are far enough along with their projects to examine outcomes. LFA Group, an evaluation firm, has been collecting this information by surveying and interviewing winners, their stakeholders and experts in the field.
    • We also recently put in place a system to help winners better track their progress and outcomes going forward by integrating web analytics and social media metrics into their work. John Lovett from Web Analytics Demystified has been supporting the 2010 winners with this. We’ll be demoing the platform they’re developing to track key performance indicators in the next few months.

    It’s our hope that the insights gathered from the evaluation will help winners strengthen the implementation of their projects and help us refine our media innovation efforts. We also hope that the findings will be meaningful for your own work.

    Others are also exploring the News Challenge contest independently of Knight Foundation. An example is Daniel Bachhuber’s recent post, which includes an interesting infographic. Check it out.

    Stay tuned for Knight's findings in June!

    Mayur Patel is VP for Strategy and Assessment at Knight Foundation.

  • Article

    Real-world social games are fun…but do they work?

    May 10, 2011 by Mayur Patel

    Mayur Patel

    For centuries, humans have used games to learn survival and social skills through play. According to the Institute of Play, chess was used to teach strategy, and in his 1938 book “Playing Man,” Dutch Historian Johan Huizinga posited that play was necessary in the generation of culture. It’s no surprise then that theorists and do-gooders alike are turning to game theory to design strategies to influence the culture of communities – how individuals connect with one another and how they develop new skills and attitudes.

    In a previous post we talked about two real-world games funded by Knight Foundation and developed in partnership with Area/Code that have the potential to create changes in attitudes and behaviors in communities. While much has been written about how digital games, in particular video games, have the potential to improve learning and influence behavior, less attention has been paid to the effects of real-world games – i.e., games that are played out in the physical world. Through our work with Area/Code we’re exploring this very topic.

    Over the next six months we’ll be conducting evaluations of Macon Money and Battlestorm and sharing results along the way. We hope that this will allow other communities, funders, researchers and gamers to explore the potential of these games with us and help move the field forward. We are working with Cause Communications and Madeleine Taylor from Arbor Consulting Partners to evaluate the process of each game (how it actually gets planned and implemented) and the outcome of each game (its overall effectiveness).

    • What is the effect of the games on community members who participate? Does participation in the game affect participants’ knowledge, attitudes and behavior as intended?
    • What is the role of community partners in the games? What is their role in institutionalizing learning and sustaining elements of the project after it is completed?
    • What factors affected game implementation and outcomes? Can the games be replicated in other settings?

    We’re interviewing participants and conducting surveys and focus groups to hear directly from community members about the impact of the games. In a series of posts, videos and graphics, we’ll share a glimpse into Macon, GA, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast as we think about what the implications of the evaluations could mean in a larger context.

    We’re also keeping a close eye on how communities adapt to unforeseen barriers as they play the games. For example, in Macon, game partners are already shifting their strategy to respond to large coupon offers like Groupon that are flooding businesses at the same time that they are being asked to promote Macon Money. And in Mississippi, game designers are using feedback from kids who are testing the game to change the rules to make the gameplay more fun and effective.

    We’re interested in hearing your questions about the games and suggestions for what potential impact they can have as currently designed, or, what their application might be in other contexts. If you have any thoughts, please get in touch with us.

    Stay tuned for the findings as the evaluation progresses!

    Macon Money: a game that uses an alternative form of local currency – Macon Money – to connect residents to each other and to attract and expose residents to local business in the College Hill Corridor and downtown area. The game is being implemented and developed in partnership with the College Hill Alliance.


    Battlestorm: a game designed to promote the importance of hurricane preparedness through activities focused on youth.  The game is being developed and implemented in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, United Way of South Mississippi, and Harrison County Emergency Operations Center.


  • Article

    New digital tool helps Serbians prosecute war criminals, unlock secrets

    May 25, 2011 by Mayur Patel

    Today, the president of Serbia announced the arrest of one of the world’s most wanted fugitives Ratko Mladic – a general accused of masterminding a 1995 massacre.

    Prosecutors from The Hague, where the general will be tried, frequently visit a new digital archive in Serbia that is unlocking some of the country’s long-guarded secrets. Records from the archive already have helped indict 14 paramilitary members, charged in the deaths of 70 unarmed civilians during the rule of Slobodan Milosevic, a new Knight Foundation report has found. (It's not yet known if the archive played a role in the general's arrest.)

    Using new digital software developed with seed money from Knight Foundation, records dating to 18th century Serbia can be key word searched and retrieved in seconds. Previously, the country’s military records were scattered around the city, many of them disintegrating in basements and in complete disarray.

    Serbia enacted a law opening many government records to the public in 2005. But practically speaking, military records were available -- but not accessible -- until the digital software made them easy to retrieve.

    The report  found that this powerful new tool also helped the government uncover mass graves of people who disappeared during the post-World II Tito regime.

    “For too long, the government in Belgrade acted as if it owned history – to hide and manipulate as it chose,’’ said Aaron Presnall, president of the non-profit Jefferson Institute, a Knight grantee. “The digital archives have returned the ownership of history to the people who lived it … and made government accountable for its abuses and mistakes.’’

    What’s more, the tools are open source, so archives around the world can use and adapt them.

    While federal agencies in the U.S. are making huge strides toward digitizing federal records, state and especially local records are decaying “before our eyes,’’ Presnall said. The Serbian digital project has captured the interest of U.S. archivists, museums and libraries, Presnall said.

    Open publication - Free publishing - More joan mitric

    The digital archives are not without shortcomings, a Knight-commissioned Reporter Analysis report that overall gave the project high marks.

    Lead reporter Joan McQueeney Mitric found that too many military records are still classified and that hoped-for media interest in the records has not been piqued. After four years, only about 10 percent of 40 million records are digitized – although these are from critical periods in Serbia’s history. The archive’s location on a military base is not ideal. But plans for web access are under discussion; meanwhile, the National Archive in neighboring Sarajevo has engaged Jefferson Institute to digitize its records.

    Using new tools to increase access to information is key to Knight Foundation’s mission of promoting informed and engaged communities. Eventually, Jefferson hopes that archives – in post-conflict countries and U.S. cities and towns alike – will use the tools to keep public information in the public’s hands.

    Judy J. Miller, Editor, From Ruins of War, Nation’s History Preserved; Former Managing Editor, Miami Herald

    Mayur Patel, Vice President for Strategy and Assessment, Knight Foundation

  • Article

    4 insights and 4 lessons: Knight News Challenge

    August 9, 2011 by Mayur Patel

    4 insights and 4 lessons:  Knight News Challenge


    We recently completed an assessment of the early Knight News Challenge winners (2007 and 2008), taking a closer look at the outcomes they’ve achieved in their targeted communities, their challenges, progress and influence on the field of media and journalism. We’ve displayed the report highlights in an infographic and a SlideShare presentation that we built in partnership with the design firm Kiss Me I’m Polish.

    Certain key insights and lessons stood out for us.

    Here are four things we noticed about successful media innovation projects:

    1. Knowing Your Niche – Projects that stayed close to their community, and adapted with it, found success in unexpected places.  A good example of this is Freedom Fone, a two-way, phone-based information service (e.g. audio menus, SMS and voice messages), which discovered a niche by working with community radio stations in Africa that had been denied broadcasting licenses. A growing number of stations have used Freedom Fone’s VoIP technology to enable them to continue to reach their audiences (and now often with added interactivity).  

    2. Building Community – Whether it had a fancy design or promised the next whiz bang tool, projects’ success hinged on how well they engaged their users. For example, EveryBlock didn’t gain significant traction until...

  • Article

    Seven lessons learned about social impact games

    June 19, 2012 by Mayur Patel

    Seven lessons learned about social impact games


    The prevalence of games in people’s lives is undeniable. Nearly three-quarters of all American families play computer and video games. Increasingly, businesses, nonprofits, funders and governments are tapping into this trend, experimenting with games to unlock existing social challenges. Yet, what are games good for and when are they most effective?

    Last month, we completed an in-depth evaluation of two-real world social impact games Knight funded to bring individuals together to address local challenges: Macon Money, an alternative form of local currency to connect residents to each other and to attract and expose people to local business in Macon, Ga; and Battlestorm, a youth-based game to improve hurricane preparation awareness and habits in Biloxi, Miss.

    We’re excited to share the results of these two experiments today at the 9th Annual Games for Change Festival! While a lot has been written about the impact of digital games on learning, less attention has been paid to the effects of real-world games – i.e., games that are played out in the physical world. We hope the insights gathered will encourage funders, researchers and gamers to explore the potential of these games with us and help move the field forward.

    In addition to the main study, we’ve created an interactive data visualization synthesizing the Macon Money findings and an infographic poster on Battlestorm.

    Here are seven lessons about the effectiveness of the two real-world games and how games can be leveraged for social impact in communities. 

    1.       Making Exploration Safe – Games are powerful liberating structures that allow people to test new patterns of behavior in a playful and secure environment. In Macon Money, residents took advantage of their free currency to experiment with new spending habits: 46% of players surveyed spent their bills at a local business they’d never frequented before, and 92% of those players report returning to those businesses after the game.

  • Article

    Four insights into how tech is changing the way communities share, trade and borrow

    July 11, 2012 by Mayur Patel


    Last month I spoke with Rachel Botsman, founder of the Collaborative Fund and author of What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative ConsumptionBotsman’s work explains how our traditional relationships of mutual assistance – things like sharing, trading and renting – have been entirely reinvented and scaled with the help of new network technologies.

    Last year, as part of a Knight Foundation study on social networks, we talked about how various initiatives are trying to catalyze mutual support in communities. They seek to connect residents with one another, encourage them to discover latent assets in their community and build trusted, reciprocal relationships. Through our Technology for Engagement initiative, Knight has supported a number of projects that help neighbors connect with each other to exchange information, goods and ideas, including CommonPlace. Recently, we supported FavorTree, an online platform that allows community members to share, lend or swap goods, services, and information, and as a result, the community increases its social capital. Favor Tree is led by Micki Krimmel, the founder and CEO of, a site that allows users to save money and resources by sharing stuff with their friends.

    Four insights stood out from my conversation with Botsman that are relevant to efforts to build mutual support networks in communities.

    1. Rethinking Proximity: Transactions of goods or services in a collaborative consumption setting tend to happen physically, even if the introduction is done remotely. This means that people have to be in the same space. We tend to think about proximity in terms of where people live, but there are a range of different places that end up being useful exchange points that fit into someone's everyday life, such as where they work, where they drop their kids off at school and where they go to church, etc. For example, FavorTree, , an online forum for sharing goods between community members, allows users to create a group for their small business, religious organization, or sports team in addition to their entire neighborhood.  

  • Article

    Nine insights on taking community information projects from idea to impact

    February 6, 2013 by Mayur Patel

    Nine insights on taking community information projects from idea to impact

    It’s almost time for our sixth annual Media Learning Seminar, where community and place-based foundations will gather to discuss how to create informed, engaged communities. This year, we’ll give them something new to consider – a case study of how foundations have been able to put together their community information projects.


    Case Studies:       

    "How Four Community Foundations Information Projects Went From Idea to Impact"


    Dubuque Community Foundation

    "Dubuque2.0: How the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque Used Environmental Information to Spark Citizen Action

    Incourage Community Foundation  "Revitalization in Central Wisconsin: How the Incourage Community Foundation Used Information to Build Hope and Speed Community Change

    Hawaii Community Foundation "HIKI NO: Youth Journalism to Foster Digital Literacy and Build Diverse Community Stories

    New Jersey Community Foundation  "NJ Spotlight: Building Transparency and Improving State Policy Debates"

    Why does this matter? Because making positive change in communities requires the free flow of quality news and information. If the news and information environment is in trouble, so is civic life.  Foundations can only help improve education, public safety, the environment or anything else if people understand and are engaged in the issues. Through the Knight Community Information Challenge, more than 80 foundations have stepped up to invest in everything from local and state reporting to citizen dialogue and digital literacy, all to help their communities thrive. These projects have successes to show for it too - resulting in new funding for early childhood education, more environmental conservation and increased digital literacy among teens and seniors.

    This new study - published today in partnership with FSG and Network Impact - provides a behind-the-scenes look at four foundations. We asked: Why are they working in media? How does that connect to their overall goals? How did they go about doing it? Has it mattered?

    The four funders are:

    You can find an in-depth look at each project in today’s report. Here are a few insights and examples of foundation practices that stood out for us:

    Lessons on Design and Planning

  • Article

    Foundations ask, how to measure social media’s contribution to social change?

    April 25, 2013 by Mayur Patel

    Foundations ask, how to measure social media’s contribution to social change?


    As social media tools have become ubiquitous, foundations have used them in a variety of ways to expand their networks, gather insights and build new relationships. As a result, there’s a growing interest in developing better ways to measure the impact of their online efforts.

    Today, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest funder of health programs in the U.S., is hosting a roundtable on Social Media Measurement. Nearly a dozen foundations, including Knight Foundation, will gather with communication experts, evaluators and data analysts to share best practices and learn from one another.

    At Knight, our approach to social media is based on using the tools to create opportunities for interaction and information exchange. As my colleagues Elizabeth Miller and Jon Sotsky recently wrote, we actively use social media to connect with our network, gather feedback, cultivate networks and promote our grantees and topics of interest. As a foundation, we’ve often used social media to disseminate publications and lessons learned, invite discussion on foundation topics, promote open contests and let people know about grant application deadlines. Our experience has demonstrated that social media tools have been powerful in pushing us to be more transparent. It’s opened up new channels for participation and feedback in our work.

    Social media can be part of a broader shift in philanthropy as foundations seek to become better networked as organizations and more adept at building effective relationships. It can also help a foundation inspire and promote the work of its partners, and engage others in marshaling resources towards achieving social change. Steven Downs, director of IT at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, summarizes their investments in social media as part of a larger focus on greater “openness, participation and decentralization.

    We think these broader shifts in philanthropy are a good thing. At Knight, we try to use social media to mirror our programmatic goals. And we’re eager to learn how we can better use and track its impact on our work in the following areas:

    • Transparency: Improving the transparency and responsiveness of our work and the openness of our strategy and grantmaking.
    • Information Dissemination: Sharing lessons learned and helping shape best practices.
    • Network Strength: Diversifying and growing our network to find new talent and sources of innovative ideas.

    Several foundations now regularly collect basic social media analytics, which are monitored on a monthly basis and fed into program reviews. These measures tend to cover two areas:

  • Article

    Measuring what matters

    May 22, 2013 by Mayur Patel

    Measuring what matters

    Measuring What Matters from Knight Foundation on Slideshare

    In his 2012 annual letter to grantees, Bill Gates stressed the value of measurement as a critical tool for delivering social impact – in classrooms, clinics and cities. “Setting clear goals and finding measures that will mark progress toward them can improve the human condition,” he said.

    It’s a familiar and important refrain and it turns out most of us agree. More than 80% of nonprofit leaders recently surveyed believe that demonstrating impact through performance measurement is a top priority.  Yet still, when we get down to evaluating our work, it can feel like a time-sensitive and daunting task that delivers little value.

    How, then, do we improve our practice of it? How can we use it to strengthen our programs without overtaxing our organizations?

    These are questions we often grapple with at Knight Foundation. At the annual Philanthropy Miami Conference in March, we shared a few simple exercises on how to use evaluation to deliver better programs and promote greater effectiveness within organizations.

    A lot of what we shared was drawn from three resources that we’ve found valuable in our work. Each comes at the topic of measurement from a different angle. Together they offer a great starting point on various approaches, techniques and tools for using data to make progress towards your goals.

    • Measuring the Networked Nonprofit (Beth Kanter and Katie Delahaye Paine) - Provides strategies and step-by-step guides for measuring relationships, social connectivity and engagement in nonprofits.
    • Lean Analytics (Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz) – Offers a guide on how to use data to build a better startup, by tracking indicators that help you iterate and understand market needs and user engagement.
    • Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity (Mario Morino) – Provides a call to action and a set of case studies that highlight the importance of outcomes-based management in the nonprofit sector.

    A few highlights from these resources include:  

  • Article

    Eye on results: Publishers rethink how to measure impact

    December 19, 2013 by Mayur Patel

    The following, written by Knight's Vice President of Strategy and Assessment Mayur Patel, is cross-posted from the Global Forum for Media Development. Above: Finding a Foothold: How Nonprofit News Ventures Seek Sustainability from Knight Foundation.

    Basic numbers tell an incomplete story about the effects of journalism, according to Mayur Patel, the Knight Foundation’s vice president of strategy and assessment.

    If you were philanthropist Pierre Omidyar, how would you measure the impact of your soon-to-be-launched new journalism venture? Omidyar, the founder of eBay and the venture philanthropy network that shares his name, recently committed $250 million to starting a new mass media organization with Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian reporter who broke a series of stories on national security surveillance. 

    You might suggest Omidyar track the number of stories his journalists publish, the quality of the reporting, and the number of people who read their articles each month. Are these the right metrics? They don’t seem to get at real impact, something Omidyar has put at the heart of his philanthropy. Maybe the focus should be on public policy changes and shifts in legislation. But what happens if the journalism produced isn’t so narrowly defined? Welcome to the media measurement merry-go-round.

    Those of us who work in media development believe that democracy would be poorer without good journalism. Journalism itself must have some democratic and social value, then. The problem today is that the measures we commonly use have been shaped by thinking about media’s economic value to advertisers. As Jonathan Stray noted, a series of public media impact summits summed it up best: the “usefulness of tools in this arena is limited by their focus on delivering audiences to advertisers.”