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.

Textizen: Citizen feedback for the digital age

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1. What is your project? [1 sentence]

Textizen helps City Hall open its ears by collecting SMS citizen feedback for more data-driven, representative decisions.

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

Currently, in-person community meetings are expensive and time consuming to run, and logistically difficult for many to attend. By advertising in high-traffic public places and collecting SMS feedback with Textizen, government meets citizens where they are, so anyone with a minute and an opinion can participate.

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

Over 110 city officials and community orgs have already written to say they want to use Textizen to reach a more representative citizenry; people participate when they see opportunities for dialogue about their immediate community.

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

1. Residents see surveys in bus shelters, at cafe tables, and in other public places.
A method we’ve piloted in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Boston with strong results (photos below).

2. Residents see surveys during live events, such as city council hearings.
A method we’ll be piloting in Whitewater, WI in October.

3. City officials are already learning about us through Code for America’s network and positive press coverage, and recommending us to other cities and other departments. We’ll also have a strong presence at national conferences.

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

With the City of Philadelphia, we launched a pilot that multiplied one district’s participation count from dozens to hundreds, followed by Boston and Salt Lake City. Looking forward, we count beta subscribers from 110 local governments and community-based organizations.

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

At, we’ve built an open-source SMS survey platform that can create and launch surveys, collect text replies, and display a live response dashboard. Here’s an example survey to try on your phone: “Would you use rapid transit to get to Center City? Text YES or NO to 208-994-3051”.


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

Digital and mobile citizen engagement should be the norm — not the exception. During the 12 months we’re requesting Knight support, we aim to bring Textizen across the gap from beta to self-sustaining product and deploy it in 500 communities in the US and Canada.

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

We are requesting Knight support of $340,000. This will support new best-in-class software features, best practice guides for writing the most compelling and useful surveys possible, and community micro-grants for outreach materials.

Additional details:

Through our pilot, we’ve identified a few key aspects of effective SMS survey questions and come to understand just how critical they are to increasing participation. As a consequence, we’ll devote a significant portion of our efforts not just to writing open source code, but building an open playbook of best practices in mobile citizen engagement.

We believe Textizen plays a role in reinventing civic dialogue that is larger than the application itself. Several beta users have written to ask if could we please refer them to other interesting digital projects, as they would like to build up their toolbox. Because Textizen is simple and inexpensive, it’s a gateway drug for city governments interested in digital engagement.

Please list who is on your team:

To date, Textizen was developed by a team of two:
Michelle Lee brings 8 years of experience in user-centered design and research, most recently at Google where she created Google Forms and worked on the Maps team. Alex Yule is a geographer and web developer with experience in data analysis, GIS, and mapping at Esri where he led the development of a map-based polling platform.

Starting in January, we plan to expand our team to include two additional members who already contribute part-time or as advisors to the project. Together, our team brings interdisciplinary experience in consumer technology, online mapping, journalism, and digital citizen engagement.
Serena Wales is a creative technologist with deep expertise in developing web applications that connect citizens to government. She led the development of a campaigning tools platform at Purpose and has worked with many national non-profits and brands. Hannah Young brings experience in Wisconsin newsrooms, the U.S. House of Representatives, and Silicon Valley startups.

Expected number of months to complete project: 12 months
Estimated Project Cost: $340,000
Name: Textizen
Twitter: @textizen
Email address:
Organization [if applicable]: Code for America
City: Philadelphia + San Francisco
Country: USA
How did you learn about the contest?
Word of mouth

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