Knight Foundation invests $1 million in projects to engage citizens with data

16th June 2020 Sarah Wray

Knight Foundation is investing US$1 million to fund seven US initiatives which use data for civic engagement.

The non-profit organisation says that despite unprecedented amounts of big data being made available by governments and private companies, it is typically only accessed by people with the specialist technical knowledge to mine it.

The projects were chosen after the Knight Foundation put out an open call in November for ideas to transform how data is used. They include a 3D data visualisation platform to engage young people in planning in the City of Charlotte; a university partnership using municipal data from Philadelphia in a SimCity-type game and a collaboration in Wichita to make civic data accessible via audio for the blind and visually impaired.

Knight’s funding aims to connect more residents with data, increase public trust around data and explore new ways to capture community sentiment. Knight Foundation, which invests in journalism, the arts, education and related programmes in 26 cities where the brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers, argues that better citizen engagement with data can also foster greater government and institutional accountability.

Making data accessible

Other initiatives include a real-time asthma risk alert pilot in Long Beach based on pollution levels and a project in San Jose which uses augmented reality to create data visualisations telling pedestrians more about public spaces. A further project in Philadelphia uses data to help residents identify unsafe construction and another lets citizens contribute to plans for a busy central district using digital tools.

Lilian Coral, Knight’s Director for National Strategy and Technology Innovation, said: “These projects meet residents where they are — on platforms they recognise and in the cities they know — to show that we can engage residents with data and create more responsive communities.

“Utilised well, open data could help local governments effectively tackle major community issues, such as the health effects of lead and pollution, or growing gentrification in communities,” she added.

The open data initiative is part of Knight’s Smart Cities programme.

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