Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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March 13, 2017, 6 a.m.
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The Knight Foundation spent most of the past year undertaking a planning process to figure out how to optimize its work for the next decade. As part of that effort, it took a year off from awarding grants from the Knight Prototype Fund, an initiative to help fund early stage media projects.

On Monday, Knight said it is relaunching a revamped Prototype Fund that will now award winners $50,000 — up from $35,000 — and focus on more specific themes that will allow grant winners to try out various approaches to a single problem. Winners will now have nine months to work on their projects, and Knight plans to introduce new ways to offer training and share findings.

The first topic the new Prototype Fund will focus on is misinformation and trust in media.

Knight announced the topic of the call last month, but Monday released more details on the call-out. Applications open today. The deadline to apply is April 3 at 5 p.m. EDT. Applicants must be based in the United States, but individuals, for-profit, and non-profit organizations can all apply. The winners will be announced in June. The Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation are joining Knight in funding this challenge.

They plan to award up to 20 grants, totaling $1 million. (Disclosure: Knight also supports Nieman Lab, but not through the Prototype Fund.)

Knight launched the prototype fund in 2012 and has awarded about $9 million to 255 different projects over that time. As part of the revamp of the fund, Knight commissioned a report, conducted by The Impact Lab, that examined the project and offered suggestions for how to grow it moving forward.

The report concluded that the human-centered design training that grantees received through the Prototype Fund was “the most valuable part” of their six-month experience. And while a few of the projects have caught on, most did not:

The majority of projects had not launched a live product or attracted users outside of private testing even six months after the demo day marking the conclusion of the grant period. This partly reflects the inherent riskiness of projects supported through the fund. It also reflects struggles with achieving a working prototype during the six-month window of the fund experience, and it suggests the potential for additional supports for projects.

The report concluded that the Prototype Fund has “demonstrated how a small investment along with nonmonetary supports, including design training, can advance successful projects and innovation.” However, it noted that the fund would benefit from more defined metrics for success.

“Defining success more intentionally may enable the fund to achieve greater impact and assemble a more coherent portfolio of projects aligned with achieving important outcomes,” the report said.

You can read the full report here.

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