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.

mActivist-in-a-Box: Distributed, Secure, Bottom-Up Mobile Data Collection

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1. What is your project? [1 sentence]

mActivist-in-a-Box is an extremely easy-to-use, lightweight mobile platform for distributed and more secure, bottom-up data collection for activists.

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

mActivist-in-a-Box allows a phone to be used not just as a data entry tool (such as for gathering election or violence monitoring data) but as a distributed data aggregation and dissemination platform that uses smartphones as mini-servers and SMS gateways to mobilize, organize, track and collect and securely transfer reports from others with less powerful “feature phones.”

Multiple mActivist-in-a-Box phones can be deployed for a distributed, systematic data collection effort that distributes information management to the grassroots level while avoiding detection, blocking, surveillance and other bottlenecks in challenging political or low-infrastructure environments.

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

Civic organizations and individuals mobilizing groups of people such as activists, election monitors, those conducting sensitive opinion polls, or citizen and professional journalists in sensitive environments who want to use mobile phones for distributed, secure communication and data collection in the field.

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

1. Prototyping, Testing, Beta: NDI works with civil society organizations in 70 countries and would roll out a beta version in select locales in cooperation with local partners, mostly likely within an election context (NDI is the go-to support organization for bottom-up election observation and so-called “quick counts” to tabulate election results in real time.)

2. Testing and Marketing: Once there is a mature platform, NDI would more widely test and then market the platform to its civil society partners and networks (such as the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors, a network of 180 civic groups that systematically collect grassroots election data with 4 million volunteer observers, and the more than 180 parliamentary monitoring organizations that collect legislative data), and other activist and civil society groups that NDI works with in the global “#tech4dem” community.

3. Promotion: As the premier organization working to promote democratic processes and institutions, NDI maintains significant media and civil society networks, which would be leveraged to promote mActivist-in-a-Box.

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

NDI has worked on bottom-up data collection for elections with NGO partners in more than a 100 countries, and therefore can boast a well-developed understanding of workflows as well as technology platforms for spoke-to-hub mobile data. NDI works only and always with local NGO partners who have demanded better ways to “route around” telecommunication bottlenecks (especially in sensitive environments) to accomplish large-scale, secure, distributed, bottom-up collection of sensitive data.

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

NDI has developed very preliminary code on the Android platform, building on the few existing products but adding on what they lack for NDI’s intended user base (that is, activists, journalists etc working in sensitive environments): extreme ease of use, sophisticated distributed data analysis, offline and small-group syncing ability, other small-group communication, and data security and encryption.

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

In short: an extremely-easy-to-use tool for activists to collect and disseminate critical data in a decentralized manner, using the computing power of smartphones while being able to communicate with simpler phones. More specifically:

  • A significantly better, faster, secure, and distributed way to collect, aggregate and process or disseminate mobile data that bypasses current aggregator and mobile service provider bottlenecks.

  • An easy-to-use, stable and useful product that can be rapidly deployed by those who systematically collect data via mobile phones in the field and who need to process, analyze, store and disseminate often sensitive data.

  • A sustained community of users and developers contributing to the code base and the ability to build on the platform via open APIs.

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

Financial resources for code development and field-testing in one or two countries; NDI will also need resources for security auditing of code, and publicity after launch.

Please list who is on your team:

Chris Spence, NDI Chief Technology Officer
Katrin Verclas, Sr Manager for Innovation
NDI background: NDI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions and practices in every region of the world for more than two decades. Since its founding, NDI and its local partners have worked to establish and strengthen political and civic organizations, to safeguard elections, and to promote citizen participation, openness, and accountability in government.  NDITech, NDI’s technology innovation unit, spearheads technology approaches and solutions in supporting democratic processes and institutions.

Expected number of months to complete project:
Estimated Project Cost:
 Katrin Verclas, NDITech
@nditech, @katrinskaya
Email address:
Organization [if applicable]: N
ational Democratic Institute
Washington, DC
United States 
How did you learn about the contest?
 Foundation communications