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.

Backyard Budget Mobile: for the Federal Budget

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1. What is your project? [1 sentence]

NPP will create the of the federal budget – an interactive mobile federal budget dashboard that presents hyper-local federal spending data while allowing citizens to benchmark the flow of federal money against their own priorities and journalists to track funding for education, housing, or other beats they cover – making it easy for everyone to understand what’s going on with their federal tax dollars.

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

Backyard Budget Mobile will target iOS and Android, combining mapping capabilities, location data, alerts, and social media applications into a dashboard that allows users to look up federal spending data by zip code search or by “checking in”; play an interactive federal budget “game” by allocating dollars to the programs they think are of greatest priority; and quickly find out how federal spending supports things they care about, such as schools, national parks, highways, and healthcare. Whether you are a citizen at a town meeting or a journalist working on a local story, Backyard Budget Mobile puts the federal budget at your finger tips – you are always connected to interactive data sets that demystify federal spending, as well as customized budget alerts and tools that allow you to write and submit letters to the editor, contact Congress, and share data across social networks, all from one integrated interface.

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

Journalists, activists, students, bloggers, and concerned citizens – this tool is helpful for the everyday folks who care about how tax dollars are spent and want to understand the impact of federal funding on their community, as well as journalists who harness data to put budget decisions into focus for their readers.

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

1. Existing grassroots and national partnerships: Hundreds of community organizations and national groups around the country access our federal budget data on a regular basis: These existing partnerships offer a ready audience of users who would benefit from the ease and agility of mobile. Examples of partners include Caring Across Generations, Young Invincibles, Coalition on Human Needs, Coffee Party USA, and MoveOn.

2. Evolving partnerships with journalism networks: We will reach out and develop connections with six journalism networks to offer free trainings and resources around budget data, including the Investigative News Network, The Media Consortium, the Online News Association, Hacks/Hackers, and others.

3. Media, social media, blogosphere: We have a growing following on our own social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) and have received coverage through traditional news outlets such as Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Bill Moyers, and NPR. We also have connections at new media and high-traffic blogs such as MomsRising, TomDispatch, and Daily Kos.

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

In addition to our existing national partnerships, we will create financially-supported partnerships with diverse target user groups (i.e., millennials, journalists, organizers) for planning, testing, and distribution of the final product. Project advisors, including PopVox, SymSoft Solutions, and the Sunlight Foundation, will provide feedback during development and outreach/promotion of the final product to their own constituents.

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

Like, NPP does all the work of organizing and categorizing federal spending: we have built, with the help of the Sunlight Foundation, APIs for federal spending data and approximately 45 social indicators such as Medicare enrollment, poverty rates, health insurance coverage, and average teacher salary: NPP’s Federal Priorities Database, based on these APIs, is a prototype for the non-mobile version of Backyard Budget; user feedback on this site has streamlined our approach to Backyard Budget in terms of additional localization, social sharing, and action-oriented tools:

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

Backyard Budget is a critical part of NPP’s larger mission to inform and engage Americans about the role of the federal budget in our democracy. In the shorter term, we will measure success by the number of users from around the country who download the app; the number of journalists accessing Backyard Budget for local and national stories; the percentage of people who identify their preferences for federal spending; responses to legislative alerts and other action items; and the number of shares and friend referrals.

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

There are three core pieces of work needed to complete this project:
1.Pulling, cleaning, and aggregating federal assistance records from, assigning each transaction to an understandable high-level category (e.g., education, military, transportation, healthcare), and adding this data to our existing APIs;

2.Architecting, designing, prototyping, developing, and user testing the mobile tool; and

3.Outreach and marketing.

We will need resources to increase our staff for the first item, contract with our development partner, Fission Strategy (, for the second item, and activate partnerships with user networks for the third item.

Additional details: For almost 30 years, the non-partisan, non-profit National Priorities Project ( has been making the federal budget accessible and transparent so that people can oversee and influence how their tax dollars are spent. We believe Americans have the right to understand the federal budget as readily as they understand their own household budgets, which is why we’re building on the model. We know that current online sources of federal spending information, such as, are not practical for the average person to use. NPP takes the mystery out of the federal budget by shaping raw spending data into information that’s meaningful to average citizens. Backyard Budget is the federal budget for the rest of us – a tool that shows how federal spending affects our lives and communities, compares actual spending against our own priorities as citizens, and makes the budget engaging, interactive, and social…even fun.

Please list who is on your team:
Jo Comerford, Executive Director, National Priorities Project
Jo has two decades of work as a community organizer and nonprofit administrator. Her writing has appeared in The Nation, TomDispatch, The Huffington Post,, Mother Jones, and Dollars and Sense. Jo holds an MSW in community organizing from Hunter College School of Social Work and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Smith College School of Social Work.

Becky Sweger, Director of Data and Technology, National Priorities Project (Project Leader)
Becky has 15 years’ experience in technology and data. Before launching NPP’s Federal Priorities Database, Becky developed data-intensive web applications at the Wharton School of Business and designed, built, and managed Cooper University Hospital’s first data marts.

Jake Brewer, Chief Strategy Officer, Fission Strategy
Jake is the project’s strategist and campaign architect. He was previously Engagement Director of the Sunlight Foundation, leading Sunlight’s acclaimed communications, multimedia production and grassroots organizing teams, and Strategic Communications Director for the Energy Action Coalition.

Lori Goldberg, Development Team Lead, Fission Strategy
Lori has over ten years of experience architecting custom software solutions, including expertise in user interface design, custom software architecture, and CMS implementation. Most recently, she was the Senior Web Developer at Center for American Progress, where she architected websites and outreach campaigns.

Expected number of months to complete project:
Phase I: 9 months
Phase I includes cleaning, categorizing, and aggregating data and developing the first version of the mobile tool and beta testing it with user groups. This minimum viable product will provide a high-level, dashboard view of localized federal spending data that will include maps, trends over time, and spending by category and geography. For users who opt to enter their personal federal spending preferences, Backyard Budget mobile will compare those preferences to actual spending. The full release of Phase I will also include functionality for legislative alerts, social sharing, and advocacy contacts with legislators.

Phase II: 5 months
Phase II includes robust promotion of the product through financially-supported partnerships and networking with journalists, community organizations, and other user groups. We will gather user feedback and make improvements to Backyard Budget to meet newly identified needs.

Estimated Project Cost: $359,000
Name: Jo Comerford and Becky Sweger
Twitter: @natpriorities
Email address:
Organization [if applicable]: National Priorities Project (
City: Northampton
Country: USA
How did you learn about the contest? Previous Knight News Challenge applicant

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