How to make your Knight Cities Challenge application stand out

communities / Article

Photo courtesy of 2015 Knight Cities Challenge winner, Daily tous les jours.

The Knight Cities Challenge is now open. This is the third time since 2014 that we’ve issued an open call to uncover ideas to make cities more successful. The challenge will close for applications at noon ET on Nov. 3.

We’re looking for projects that will help to attract and retain talent, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of civic engagement. We’re open to many different ways to achieve these outcomes with the condition that we’re looking to fund work that we can learn from, and then share the learning among our cities and networks. The only other rule is that your project needs to take place in one or more of the 26 Knight communities.

<p><em>Photo courtesy of 2016 Knight Cities Challenge winner The Longest Table.</em></p>

Photo courtesy of 2016 Knight Cities Challenge winner The Longest Table.

Since we started the challenge, we’ve received more than 11,500 applications. I’ve read more than 8,000 of them, but I can’t tell you exactly how to write your proposal, or exactly what we’re looking for. I can give you some tips for success as you put your application together.

  • Avoid jargon. This is not a traditional grant application. You have just 300 words to make sure your idea stands out; don’t waste them. There are no magic words that you need to include.

  • Be clear. You know your idea, and your community. The people reviewing the applications may not. (We’ll have more than 40 readers who will bring local and national perspectives to the process.) So don’t assume knowledge on their behalf. Before you submit, find someone who doesn’t know you, or your idea, and ask them to read your application. If they can understand it—and they’re excited to hear more—you’re on the right track.
<p><em>Photo courtesy of 2015 Knight Cities Challenge winner Next Stop: Democracy.</em></p>

Photo courtesy of 2015 Knight Cities Challenge winner Next Stop: Democracy.

  • Focus on the outcomes. Make sure your idea is oriented towards moving talent, opportunity or engagement forward. If your idea doesn’t fit into this framework, then the Knight Cities Challenge may not be the best platform for your idea.

  • Don’t worry too much about the price tag—yet. We don’t require a budget, or even an amount, in the initial application. If you’re selected as a finalist, you’ll need to provide more details. That said, be reasonable. The total possible award pool for the challenge is up to $5 million. If your project will cost $10 million, we can’t fund it.

  • Think big. What’s your passion project? This is your chance to access funding for the ideas that you always thought were too “out there.” What’s the burning question that you’ve always wanted to explore? Why not propose an experiment to fund it?

  •  Apply early. The application portal closes at noon ET on Nov.  3. If you have not clicked the “submit” button by then, you’re too late. Please apply early so that you’re not bumping up against the deadline.

Applications are open at from Oct. 10 until Nov.  3, 2016. Our readers will help us determine a list of finalists, which we plan to announce in January 2017.

<p><em>Image of 2015 Knight Cities Challenge winner Miami Science Barge. Photo by George Abbott.</em></p>

Image of 2015 Knight Cities Challenge winner Miami Science Barge. Photo by George Abbott.

Whether your application is successful or not you’ll hear back from us with a decision by early January 2017. All finalists will have at least a month to prepare their final application. A smaller team of reviewers will look at the final applications before our board of trustees approves the winners. We’ll announce the winners in spring 2017.

Knight staff and community partners are hosting informational sessions and Q&As on the challenge online and in various locations around the country. Check out the calendar of events and find the one most convenient for you.

 You can find more information on the challenge at Sign up for our newsletter to get email updates on the challenge and search the hashtag #knightcities on Twitter and Instagram to see more. Send any questions to [email protected]. Good luck on your application.

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