Empowering Community through Partnering and Experimentation

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 1:59 pm
Heather Scott
Shelton Roulhac
Attending this week’s annual Knight Foundation Media Learning Seminar in Miami, we were struck not only by how much has been accomplished by the Knight Community Information Challenge (KCIC), but also by how much the conversation has evolved. It was just a few years ago that Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, announced the KCIC and its Knight Information Challenge Grant program during the Council on Foundations Fall Conference for Community Foundations. This open invitation encouraged community foundations and other place-based funders to help local community media discover and define their community’s information needs.

Four years later, hundreds of community foundations and place-based funders are engaged in this work—including more than 70 KCIC winners. The initiative has met its initial goals of fostering an increase in foundation leadership on the issue of a better-informed citizenry. While national in scope, the breadth and depth of experimentation and partnering are wonderful expressions of local conditions. By leveraging a combined total of $22.4 million in direct project support and offering supplementary learning and networking opportunities, disseminating new tools and resources, and delivering critical technical assistance and capacity-building support, Knight has stuffed lots of high-value extras into this successful national initiative.

Significant progress has been made during the past four years. However, as Alberto pointed out, on a scale of 1 to 10 we are still around a 2 in terms of the evolution and impact of social media. Everyone in the room this week would collectively agree that there is much more to be done. That said, KCIC is an outstanding example of how a national foundation can, by partnering with others, build a learning ecosystem that encourages experimentation and fosters deeper engagement. And while we know that community needs always will outweigh available resources, the Knight Foundation’s effort to steward and evolve this important conversation in the field is another compelling example of philanthropic leadership.

Knight’s ongoing commitment to helping communities learn more about their information needs is commendable and extends far beyond KCIC and the challenge grant program. With a new grant from the Knight Foundation, the Council is convening a working group of grantmakers, practitioners, scholars, and legal experts to remedy barriers to philanthropic support of nonprofit news and information services. This working group was formed in response to a request from the Federal Communications Commission in its June 2011 report, “Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age.” By this fall, the group will suggest changes to tax laws or rules that would stimulate the growth of the nonprofit media sector and facilitate philanthropic giving to nonprofit media. What it’s all about is finding better ways to help nonprofit media meet the information needs of communities.

Heather Scott is managing director of community foundations at the Council on Foundations. Shelton Roulhac is the Council’s senior policy analyst.


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