The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently announced funding for 20 new projects through its Knight Prototype Fund, which helps media makers, technologists, and tinkerers alike take ideas from concept to demo. Innovators are given $35,000 grants–and six months–to research, test, and iterate before building out a complete project.
Launched in 2012, the Prototype Fund allocates grants each quarter and provides teams with training in human-centered design and support from Impact Lab. Teams use this experience to better develop their projects and gather six months later for a demo day to share their discoveries and prototypes.
Chris Barr, the Knight Foundation director for media innovation, runs the Prototype Fund. He hopes it will spark further experimentation in both the media and public information fields.
“We started it as a way to quickly test and learn from new projects,” he said. “It’s a different model than most philanthropic funds; it’s more in line with the pace of innovation happening on the Internet and with new digital technology. We’re interested in how we can help people with research and development as well as sharing the learning and outcomes from that learning and development.”
With its emphasis on low-cost experimentation, the Knight Foundation recognizes that innovators should be able to build, test, explore, and share their best ideas before settling on a path. If and when those projects become successful, the Knight Foundation helps them scale.
Previous Prototype grantees include Foia Machine and StoryCorps. The former is an open-source platform that empowers citizens and journalists to easily prepare, file, and track multiple public records requests to various governmental and public agencies worldwide. Initially funded by Knight, Foia Machine went on to receive additional funding through a successful Kickstarter campaign. The latter used its grant to build a prototype mobile app that allows people to record, upload, and share do-it-yourself StoryCorps interviews. StoryCorps recently won the $1 million TED Prize and used the award to fund and launch a new and improved version of this app.
Compared with previous years, the Prototype Fund has become more structured and the application pool much larger, leading to an improvement in the quality of projects. The latest batch of winners features a diverse range of ideas from a platform bringing together journalism and gaming to get audiences to interact with stories to a solution that addresses the cyberbullying of women bloggers. Barr noted that, with several projects attempting to tackle the same problem, it will be interesting to observe and compare how the different approaches work.