Full RFP details



Request for Proposals: 

Research on the Future of an Informed Society

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation seeks to support the creation or expansion of research centers around the United States that will study the changing nature of an informed citizenry in America. These centers are intended to foster the growth of an emerging field of study that addresses pressing questions about the health of an informed society and citizenry in the context of our digital age.


The conditions of an informed democratic society, both in the U.S. and abroad, are changing rapidly and dramatically. News and discourse have moved to a parallel online world that does not have the same standards and practices observed by some of the legacy institutions that historically ensured access to accurate, authoritative information about community and public affairs. This is evident in recent debates about the role of technology in mediating public discourse, surfacing or obscuring accurate information and facilitating intrusion into our democratic processes. We have not yet developed a clear understanding of how to address the future impacts of technology on an informed society. 

A growing consensus suggests that the internet and the social web have had fundamental, far-reaching effects on how we encounter and process information, and on our democracy. Yet several key knowledge gaps inhibit productive action. Basic questions about how our digital information environment affects the production and consumption of information and the associated effects on people and communities remain unanswered. Addressing these questions requires novel approaches that bring together researchers from diverse backgrounds (e.g., computer science, social science, philosophy) and significant and sophisticated data infrastructures. To date, few universities and research institutions consistently provide the time and resources necessary to sustain such long-term multidisciplinary work and to cultivate a new generation of leaders and scholars who can thoughtfully deliberate on these issues. 


Knight Foundation believes there will be substantial benefits to enabling universities and other centers of research to dedicate attention to these issues. We believe that these questions are fundamental and emergent. New research is needed to establish frameworks for understanding and governing this new landscape and to provide potential solutions for the individuals, civil society, governments and private sector.

We do not know precisely what questions and areas of study will lead to insights that can inform practice and policy. Nor do we believe knowledge will inhere in any one institution. Knight Foundation has previously supported research that strongly indicates these questions require the marriage of disciplines, such as social science and humanities with the computational and data sciences, as well as the creation of substantial infrastructures to collect and analyze data generated through online activity.

The role of universities and centers of study extends beyond the production of research to that of educating and preparing the next generation of scholars, thinkers and leaders. To that end, we are also interested in the ways these centers will provide incentives and opportunities for collaboration, for the development of students and for wider contributions to our society’s ability to address these issues, including through communications and public discussion.

Knight Foundation therefore seeks to provide substantial, multiyear support to establish or accelerate the growth of dedicated centers of study focused on the role of information in our democracy and the changing conditions of an informed society. While we do not seek to be prescriptive, broad topics of interest include:

  • Access and use of information in our democracy today; the conditions of trust, or distrust, in information; and the role of news and journalism in an informed society. 
  • Digital phenomena that impact the role of information in democratic society, such as the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation.
  • The general effects of the internet on democracy, including such issues as the changing nature of civic and social participation online, the interaction between online and offline activity and the vulnerability of our information system to intrusion.
  • The evolution of democratic institutions relevant to the production and distribution of information, such as social media companies and the changing journalistic landscape. 
  • Policy and legal considerations regarding competition and antitrust.
  • Policy regarding internet-based and online content managed by private entities within the framework of the First Amendment and freedom of expression.

Although many of these topics are global in nature, the focus of Knight Foundation is on the United States.

Guidance on Proposals

We will accept initial proposals, due on Dec. 1, through an online form here.

We seek proposals of significant ambition and scope; applicants are encouraged to think expansively about how new resources could enable breakthrough work and major contributions. Our intent is to provide substantial, multiyear awards that would support a considerable portion of the operating costs of selected centers. Knight Foundation will work with award recipients to secure additional required resources. 

To assess the breadth of proposed work and commensurate additional resources required for groundbreaking efforts, elements to be addressed in the initial proposal include:

  • The core mission for the proposed or existing center of study.
  • Discussion of a proposed course of research to advance the field. This can include illustrative ideas for specific projects but should be focused principally on key questions that will be addressed and why they are significant for generating long-term, applied knowledge.
  • Discussion of any current efforts and contributions, including the existing structures for research, data collection and analysis.
  • Discussion of what additional, sustained funding would enable.
  • Evidence of your institution’s strength in relevant disciplines, commitment from faculty and leadership and relevant experience in establishing such centers.
  • Evidence of a capacity to match or exceed potential Knight Foundation investment.
  • A discussion of who will lead this effort and brief biographies of key individuals and faculty members who will be involved.
  • A high-level, provisional six-year budget.

Proposal Review Process and Further Guidance

Please submit proposals by Dec. 1, through an online form here

We seek to facilitate a collaborative process and encourage discussions around resources and alignment between planned efforts and Knight Foundation’s aims. Please reach out to ask questions and discuss key issues in advance of submitting a proposal. Email Sam Gill, VP/Communities & Impact at Knight Foundation, at [email protected], to arrange a time to speak. General questions can be sent to [email protected], and we will respond promptly.

Initial proposals will be reviewed in December 2018. More detailed proposals will be solicited from select finalists, with site visits taking place in January and February 2019. Finalists will be asked to supply a detailed budget and work plans, as well as key details around public-facing programming and planned matching resources. Awards will be determined solely on the basis of satisfactory proposals, plans and resource commitments from applicants. 

While the review process will include input from external advisors drawn from multiple sectors, Knight Foundation will make the determination of any awards.

We encourage, but do not require, one proposal per institution.