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Crowd-Powered Startups in the Knight News Challenge
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Crowd-Powered Startups in the Knight News Challenge

For journalism, media, and communications startups, few accolades can compare to being recognized in the Knight News Challenge, a competition put on by the Knight Foundation.

Each year, the foundation holds a contest to find the most ambitious and promising startups around a specific theme. The last competition, for example, focused on mobile technologies; the challenge currently running is centered on open government.

Winning ideas can earn up to $1 million, and the challenge attracts hundreds of innovative submissions from across the world. In a way, the challenge acts as a barometer to gauge emerging communication technologies and interesting methods of applying them.

In this particular challenge (which is powered by the open innovation intermediary OpenIDEO), crowdsourcing is a big hit. We browsed through the ideas submitted so far – there is only an hour left before the deadline – and picked out a few of the more interesting ones to highlight.


Changify is a “mobile reporting, voting and funding platform for civic issues and ideas to solve them.” The idea is to crowdsource information about a particular issue, gauge community interest through voting, and then fund potential solutions through crowdfunding. This is similar to the engagement effect concept, though it works in reverse – instead of a crowdfunding campaign owner looking for other ways to tap into the crowd, it’s a crowdsourcing platform that allows for fundraising. The key here is that Changify gives its users a potential way to fix an issue in their neighborhood, instead of just bringing it to officials’ attention.

Online Crowdsourcing for Law and Decision Making

This is another crowdsourcing project that goes beyond just identifying issues and tries to actually effect change in government. The Latvian platform enables many-to-many conversations among government officials, related industry experts, and citizens to come up with solutions to specific problems. The platform demands back-and-forth collaboration to function, meaning officials will be pressed to reply to citizen and expert concerns and comments. If a solution is not reached, the collective crowd goes back and repeats the failed steps.


A “discovery and watchdog tool showing the influence of lobbyists in lawmaking,” LobbyPlag aims to track special interest money in government. The platforms asks members of the crowd to show which lawmakers are planning to make which amendments, and ties the changes in text to large companies pushing for these changes. The goal, LobbyPlag’s founders write, is to make the lawmaking process as transparent as possible. The company already seems to have some support among Europeans – it recently finished a successful 8,000 euro crowdfunding campaign on the platform KrautReporter. 


And here’s a submission that LobbyPlag may not find too compelling – crowdfunding the lobbying effort. iLobby takes a more if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them approach to lobbying, which it doesn’t see as a dirty word but as simply the “act of political persuasion” that is enshrined in the U.S. Bill of Rights. In essence, the platform acts as a communications tool based on a user’s location. Community members can debate an issue, and then raise money toward hiring a professional lobbyist to make the case to appropriate officials on the users’ behalf.

Civic Toolkit API

The final submission we highlight is the Civic Toolkit API, which would enable external developers to “integrate location-based government information into their platforms… and combine crowdsourced public data with official data, allowing for new open government collaborations and initiatives.” The Civic Toolkit API is one of many submissions around big data, a large number of which propose to either enrich or organize the data with the help of the crowd.

Whether the Knight Foundation recognizes any of the submissions above (or other crowd-powered startups) remains to be seen, and that is, of course, the real litmus test. The prevalence of crowdsourcing among the submissions, however, shows that the industry is maturing and steadily entering the mainstream, at least among open government enthusiasts.

There are literally hundreds of fantastic ideas that have been submitted, crowdsourcing-related or not, and we encourage everyone to check them out here. We’ll be sure to keep our eye on the challenge as it proceeds through the feedback, refinement, and evaluation stages; winners will be announced in June.

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