Knight News Challenge

The Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Winners receive a share of $5 million in funding and support from Knight’s network of influential peers and advisors to help advance their ideas. The first round of 2013, which opens in February, will invite innovators from all disciplines to focus on tools for open government. In 2012, three challenge rounds, each focused on an emerging trend, drew more than 2,500 entries.

Challenge 1 - on NETWORKS: Winners were announced June 18.

Challenge 2 - on DATA: Winners were announced Sept. 20.

Challenge 3 – on MOBILE: Winners were announced Jan. 17.

Anyone, anywhere can apply for the challenge - whether for-profit start-ups or non-profit ventures. For more information on a variety of topics - from guidelines for for-profits, on intellectual property licensing, open source software and more - visit our FAQ.


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1. What is your project? [1 sentence]

Commons is a mobile social gaming platform for civic engagement that enables citizens to publicly report problems, suggest improvements in their neighborhoods, vote up one another’s ideas, and share the things they love most about their neighborhoods – in short, Commons is taking 311 social.

2. How will your project use mobile tools and approaches? [2 sentences]

Commons connects mobile and web users through an online service that combines features of 311 reporting, SMS messaging, serendipitous social interactions, real-time voting, game mechanics, and data visualization.


Commons is also a highly extensible, location-aware platform that integrates with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, alerts local businesses to opportunities in their area, and serves as a new channel for existing 311 services and e-gov platforms.

3. Who will use it and why? [1 sentence]

Commons will be adopted by urbanites on the go because it makes being a good citizen and a good neighbor fun, interactive, and personal – and because it gets results; it will be adopted by city governments to reduce information silos, streamline responses to non-emergency issues, consider popular demand in allocating resources, and demonstrate public accountability; and it will be leveraged by local businesses keen to take a visible and proactive role in improving quality of life in their communities.

4. Please list three ways they would learn about your project.

Many stakeholders and organizations from around the world have already approached us asking to bring Commons to their cities, including youth organizations, politicians, activists, universities, serious gamers, civic leaders, and more. We are constantly encouraged by people’s enthusiasm for the idea, and want to get it into their hands as soon as possible.


Three ways people will learn about Commons:


1.    Mobile Tech and Gaming communities. Bring Commons to SXSW, Games for Change Festival, and the Game Developers Conference in 2013.

2.    E-Gov and Digital Cities communities. Work with Code for America’s 2012 Cities and Fellows, Center for Civic Media at MIT, and Gov 2.0 networks such as Tech@State and GovFresh.

3.    Local City 311 Services and the Open311 communities. Launch a pilot in a civic-minded city such as NYC 311 (the largest 311 system in the USA), SF 311, Philly 311, etc.

5. What connections have you made, or will you make, with others [communities, organizations or networks] about your project? [2 sentences]

The Commons prototype app was launched at the NYC Come Out & Play Festival and invited to demo at the New York Tech Meetup (NYTM) and the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival, garnering support from the NYC tech scene, and in addition the City of New York’s NYC Digital and NYC 311 teams have expressed strong interest in supporting Commons as a channel for 311, so we would like to work closely with them and the Open 311 community on a pilot. In addition, the founder of GovFresh publishes updates about Commons for the Gov 2.0 community, the Director for Teens Take the City (TTC), a citywide program with the YMCA of Greater New York, would like to use Commons to engage youth in community mapping activities and service learning, the Director of Ashoka Start in Tel Aviv requested localization in Hebrew to deploy Commons in youth venture programming, and there are many others who have asked for Commons in their cities.

6. What part of the project have you already built? [1-2 sentences, feel free to include links]

Commons won the “Real World Games for Change Challenge” in 2011, a $5000 design award sponsored by Games for Change, which funded the prototype of the iOS mobile app (versions 1.0 and 1.1) available for free download in the App Store. In 6 weeks, we built the app, playtested the prototype with hundreds of users in New York City, documented our findings, and captured user requirements and lessons learned.


Commons in the App Store:

7. What does success for your project look like? [1-2 sentences]

Our goal is to introduce a new way for citizens to work together to improve their cities—to make democracy more real-time and more mobile—and to reduce the overhead for local government to run 311 services, so success for us ultimately means that citizens see problems in terms of solutions, and that citizens, government, and local businesses share the responsibility for making their neighborhoods and communities better places for all.


While ideally we aspire to sign up at least one city to use Commons as a channel into its 311 system, and to acquire 100,000 users in the first 6 months of our release, our minimum goal is to build a sustainable platform and open source codebase available for any city to use and build on, and to that end, we would like to get the web-developer community interested and involved so that Commons can be customized for each city and improved upon.

8. What resources do you need to succeed? [1-2 sentences]

We envision 12 months at USD $500,000 to complete the platform architecture primed for localization, priority APIs, and cross-platform support for iPhone, Android and web, requiring a minimum of 2 full-time developers ($200K), 1 product manager ($100K), 1 visual / UX designer ($100K), and marketing / operations / office space / equipment ($100K).


Ideally we would like 18 months at USD $900,000 to build robust data visualization, analytical functionality, natural language processing and machine learning features, requiring 2-3 additional engineers and testers.

Additional details:

Here’s a quick look at how Commons is used.

Please list who is on your team:

Commons is founded by Suzanne Kirkpatrick, and built by a trio team of creative technologists from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.


Suzanne Kirkpatrick has 10+ years experience in Silicon Valley and abroad bootstrapping and developing digital products and services for public and private sector organizations, including Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Apple, and the United Nations. Prior to obtaining her master’s degree at ITP where she was a Tisch Dean’s Scholar and Graduate Researcher at the NYU-Poly Game Innovation Lab, she did her undergraduate studies at Stanford University in International Relations and French and has done extensive international development / ICT4D work in Sub-Saharan Africa and Afghanistan. She is the recipient of the “Real World Games for Change Challenge” awarded in 2011, and also worked for the City of New York’s Chief Digital Officer planning the City’s digital media strategy and as an advisor for the City’s 311 mobile services.


Nien Lam is a programmer and designer based in New York City and is co-founder of Blank Canvas Labs.  He has over a decade of professional software development experience, accomplished in designing real-time applications for data visualization and analysis. While at ITP, Nien was the recipient of the 2011 May and Samuel Rudin Scholarship and was a TechStars NYC 2011 Finalist. He has a background in gaming, computer vision, mobile applications, and wearable devices.


Jamie Lin is a design professional and graphic artist, with a background in psychology, gaming, interactive story telling and animation. She specializes in educational and serious games, and she is an avid competitor in game design competitions such as Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Game Design challenge.

Expected number of months to complete project:

Expect 12 months for product launch. 18 months for localization and scaling.

Estimated Project Cost:

Total estimated project cost is USD $900,000.


Suzanne Kirkpatrick



Email address:

suzkirkpatrick at gmail dot com

Organization [if applicable]:


New York City



How did you learn about the contest?

Knight News Challenge updates.