Civic Data Challenge & Knight Foundation announce data project winners

The Civic Data Challenge, a partnership between the National Conference on Citizenship and the Knight Foundation has announced the winners of its challenge to build civic health applications. Separately, the Knight Foundation announced the winners of its Knight News Challenge on data, which seeks to advance the growing field of data journalism. Winners of both challenges are using open government data to power their work. CivSource spoke with John Bracken of the Knight Foundation about the winners.

More than 60 participants submitted entries to the Civic Data Challenge. Politify, one of the first place winners leverages public policy data to show the impact of presidential policies at the zipcode and household level. The project is the work of UC Berkeley students Nikita Bier and Jeremy Blalock.

WhyGDP?, a project from Will DeKrey, a nonprofit consultant from Washington, DC, and Sean McDonald, a data visualization specialist from Los Angeles also won first place. WhyGDP? looks at whether GDP is a good measure for community well-being outcomes. Nick Doiron a coder from San Francisco, also won first place for his work making an interactive view of downtown Oakland, California. Finally, a large group of creatives from Razorfish Healthware won first place for their work on a video showing the importance of the arts on community life.

In the Knight News Challenge, six media ventures were chosen for their work advancing the field of data journalism. Three focus on using open government data to tell stories and help individuals understand what is in government records. LocalData, is one of the winners and provides a set of tools that communities can use to collect data on paper or via a smartphone app, then export or visualize the data via an easy-to-use dashboard. The city of Detroit has used the tools, created by Code for America fellows, to track urban blight. LocalData was awarded $300,000 to build out the project.

“On a personal level, we were really excited about LocalData,” explains Bracken. “Their Code for America pedigree added a layer of confidence during the review process in terms of their ability to build out these tools and have an impact.”

Open Elections another winner will create the first freely available, comprehensive source of U.S. election results, allowing journalists and researchers to analyze trends that account for campaign spending, demographic changes, legislative track records and more. Senior developers from The Washington Post and The New York Times lead the project, which was awarded $200,000. “Anytime you get a proposal that’s a collaboration between the New York Times and the Washington Post, you take notice, but that in of itself wasn’t enough for us to fund it. What put it over the edge was what was already there, and what we have seen in the field, such as Nate Silver’s work at 538 for example, which shows the value of elections data to the public,” Bracken said.

A third winner,, provides journalists and the public with a simpler way to access Census data, so they can spend less time managing the information and more time analyzing it and finding trends. The project is led by a senior developer from the Chicago Tribune in partnership with Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). The project was awarded $450,000. Bracken notes that the key for reviewers with this project was that it was already going to happen one way or another, as the developers were already invested. “We’ve seen the value of census data as a wealth of knowledge for journalists to draw important stories and trends from. It was a question of waiting three years while they did this on nights and weekends or helping get it to the public faster.”

The data challenge, one of three launched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation this year, accelerates projects with funding and advice from Knight’s network of media innovators. For the data round, Knight Foundation sought ideas that make the large amounts of information produced each day available, understandable and actionable. The winners of the challenge will present their projects via live Web stream at 4 p.m. EDT/1 p.m. PDT Saturday, Sept. 22, from the Online News Association conference in San Francisco. The final news challenge round this year will focus on mobile initiatives. The first challenge for next year will center on open government issues.