Earlier this week, the Knight Foundation announced funding for 24 new projects as part of its Prototype Fund. The fund allows innovators to move from idea to demo with $35,000 in funding.
A spokesperson for the fund says there are several noteworthy elements particular to the current round of funded projects.
First is a new, “human-centered design approach,” where projects now go through a six-month prototyping period that begins with a crash course in human-centered design, directed by the LUMA Institute, an organization focused on accelerating the pace of innovation.
Chris Barr, a media innovation associate with Knight, explains that the workshop is focused on simple innovation methods that help ensure that projects are being developed with specific attention to people.
“That is, the process helps teams identify the needs of the people and communities their project is targeting, craft innovative ways to meet these needs and design solutions with impact in mind,” Barr says.
Barr adds that this unique type of design training serves as a basis to build out ideas, where teams come together after six months for a Knight-hosted Demo Day to share discoveries and prototypes.
Of particular interest to journalists is a focus on media innovation through data application, whereby 10 of the projects seek to help journalists provide better information to communities and center on using data to enhance reporting.
Barr notes that one strong project example, geared to help journalists conquer data is The Daily Yonder (The Center for Rural Strategies), which strives to create county-level stories from national datasets. “The technique utilizes data, story templates and mail merge techniques to get local data to rural newspapers that may not have the bandwidth to create data-driven stories on their own,” Barr explains.
While most of the 24 newly-funded projects have some relevance for journalists, these 10 show the most promise to bolster and transform the task of news-gathering and reporting:
- Zago: Seeks to make newsrooms more efficient by building a mobile app that will allow secure data sharing between reporters and newsrooms.
- Data Driven Detroit: Will help to inform the public and address important community issues by developing an interactive tool that helps Detroit residents discover and use relevant data about their city.
- Vizzuality: An open source tool that allows journalists and other users to quickly turn data, maps and other content into interactive stories for online publication.
- University of Missouri: Developing a system to collect and report noise data to better track problems of noise pollution in Columbia, MO that will be informed by community hacking events and prototype tests.
- The Center for Rural Strategies: Testing an approach to generate data-driven, localized news stories that media and other organizations in rural U.S. counties can use to produce local stories.
- Moneca Core: Seeks to create an open source code library to capture multimedia content by citizen journalists in mobile apps.
- Keepr: An open source data-mining tool for journalists to track breaking news stories, so they can easy find quality news sources.
- !nstant: An app designed to verify and provide context to breaking news on social media so that the public is given a more accurate and clear picture of news stories.
- Restatement: Seeks to make legal information more accessible by producing a design-driven system for the creation and parsing of machine-readable legal text.
- Argos: Seeks to make news content easy to digest by building a design-driven news platform that aggregates and analyzes news stories and creates concise news backgrounders, including insights and connections regarding specific stories.
Asked what types of people are behind the projects, Barr says that the innovators aren’t all tech geeks and software developers.
“I really don’t believe you need to be cut from a special cloth to be innovative,” he says. “Innovation is about the will to move a given situation towards a more desirable situation. More than any technical expertise, we are interested in intensely curious and collaborative individuals and teams that are as interested in the questions as the solutions.”
Aspiring tech innovators take note, the deadline for the next round of grants is Jan. 31.
For a closer look at the project, !nstant, check out our sister blog Social Times.
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