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.

Remote Access: Connecting threatened communities with the outside world

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Achuar GPS training

1. What is your project? [1 sentence]

Remote Access is an initiative to build a mobile reporting platform for remote & indigenous communities to document environmental and human rights issues – from oil spills to political violence – and engage with a global audience.

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

Modern mobile devices can capture photos, video, audio, location and even spectral data, all in a relatively cheap device that is easy to use and designed to work in a disconnected environment. We will adapt and combine existing open-source tools to create a reporter’s “Swiss Army knife” to allow communities to tell stories about their lives; document environmental contamination; map their use of the land and visualize changes; and engage with a global audience through social media.

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

We are directly partnering with indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico and the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Amazon who will use Remote Access to conduct evidence-based reporting to speak out about the threats to their land rights, way of life, and environment, such as contamination from oil and gas drilling and forced displacement.

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

1. We will initially pilot the project in communities that we already have a partnership with in Mexico, Ecuador and Peru.
2. We will work with our network of local and international partner organizations such as Amazon Watch, Oakland Institute, International Accountability Project and others to identify other use-cases for Remote Access.
3. We will publicize and present on our tools at indigenous forums, climate conferences, agrarian gatherings and other convenings such as the World Social Forum, to further connect remote communities to the project.

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

We have existing strong connections with communities monitoring and documenting the impacts of oil drilling in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru and Ecuador, and communities facing eviction from their land in Chiapas. We will build upon the wide networks and connections of our team, including technologists (PublicLab, Development Seed, OSM, Stamen, Modi Labs, Vizzuality, MIT Civic Media etc) international NGOs addressing resource & land rights issues (Amazon Watch, RAN, Forest People’s Programme, Oakland Institute, International Accountability Project & IDEX etc) to ensure that our tools meet the needs of real applications in remote communities.

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

Our team makes wide use of existing open-source mapping, database & mobile tools, including work with indigenous communities in Peru to document and map the impact of oil operations, and with Haitian women’s organizations to build a database & call center to address gender-based violence. This new initiative will adapt and build from these tools to meet local needs in a low-tech, disconnected environment, developing HTML5 and native code mobile applications to gather and manage data and multimedia with a simple user-interface designed for the specific needs of remote communities.

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

Success for Remote Access is a transformation in the way that information is shared from some of the world’s most sensitive & bio-diverse regions, and the subsequent ability for these communities to hold international stakeholders accountable to protect these spaces from short-term exploitation. Success looks like indigenous community leaders owning & managing their own data, sharing information directly with international journalists & communities of interest, receiving alerts on what is happening in their areas and being able to investigate and address problems themselves.

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

We are seeking $600,000 to support 18 months of work to build & test Remote Access. This will support our team working full-time on this initiative, help us bring on additional technical collaborators, and continue to work in the field with our local partners to prototype the specific tools & approaches.

Additional details:
Please list who is on your team:

Three core team members will be working on the project, along with many other technological & local partners.

  • Gregor MacLennan, technologist & trainer who has worked for more than 10 years with communities in the Amazon to use GPS & cameras to document their land, resource use & the impact of extractive industries.
  • Emilie Reiser, technology educator with global experience including Brazil & Sierra Leone, currently directs Digital Democracy’s Haiti program, where she worked with grassroots women’s organizations to develop a locally-owned database and call center to address gender-based violence.
  • Emily Jacobi, founder & Executive Director of Digital Democracy, has worked for more than 15 years empowering marginalized communities to tell their own stories through media & technology, most recently conducting media & communications trainings with indigenous groups in Chiapas, Mexico.

Expected number of months to complete project: 18 months

Estimated Project Cost: $600,000
Name: Emily Jacobi
Twitter: @emjacobi
Email address: ejacobi(at)
Organization [if applicable]:
Digital Democracy
City: New York, NY
Country: USA
How did you learn about the contest? Social media

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