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Knight Foundation Awards $2.2 Million for Health-Care Tech Projects

The seven Knight News Challenge: Health winners were chosen from nearly 700 submissions.

On Tuesday, the Knight Foundation unveiled its 2014 winners for the Knight News Challenge: Health, a $2.2 million investment initiative to promote innovation in health care through data and technology.

The challenge was a collaboration between Knight, a civic tech investment organization, and health-care groups that include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the California HealthCare Foundation, the Clinton Foundation and the Health Data Consortium. The seven winners were chosen from nearly 700 submissions.

“Overall, we were really struck by how rich of a class it was, we thought we might only get 200 or 300,” said Michael Maness, Knight’s vice president of journalism and innovation, who coordinated the initiative. “We’re excited about moving into the health area for data because what you see in a lot of these [submissions] is a new way to approaching what 'coverage' is.”

The Camden Health Explorer, from the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, was among the lucky awardees and received $450,000 to create an interactive dashboard with real-time health-care enrollment costs and statistics.

Aaron Truchil, the Camden Coalition's associate director for data and evaluation, said he saw the project as part of a data-driven effort to support residents, who previously lacked access to big data for decision-making. He said the open source program was built in partnership with the data firm BlueLabs, and it combines anonymous individual health and medical claims data to display and map results by demographic and geography, to depict potential hot spots and needs.

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“We really wanted to leverage that data to not only benefit our work, but the work of an entire community,” Truchil said. “We think it can tell a really powerful story if it gets into the right eyes.”

Also chosen as a winner was the Homebrew Sensing Project by Public Laboratories for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS), for the the lab’s proposed production of an affordable and mobile chemical analysis tool for residents. The project earned $350,000 from the challenge and was first conceptualized by PLOTS in 2010 during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Knight funding is going to help us to really take this to the next step,” said Shannon Dosemagen, PLOTS' president and director of outreach.

“What we’re hoping with the spectrometry project is to take an instrument that’s traditionally at the price point accessible to governments, corporations and formal researchers, and make it accessible to the independent person who wants to know what’s in their water or what’s in the soil,” she said.

Taking the idea of a social service directory and turning it into a searchable database, Code for America’s (CfA's) Ohana API was awarded $210,000 to build an open source app that takes a city’s listings of social services and aggregates them into a simple search platform on the Web. The app was unofficially launched in beta in San Mateo County, Calif., by a team of CfA fellows to provide an open source tool that would connect citizens with community resources inside a single database.

“The funding is going to go to primarily packaging up the product," said Anselm Bradford, a CfA fellow and front-end developer for the app. "What we we want to focus on more is the Web API database and make that very easy to employ for different communities."

While The Knight News Challenge has been supporting innovation in a number of industries and fronts, this is the first year it has targeted health care as an area for innovation, Maness said. However, considering both the quality and number of the submissions he conjectured the health-care industry is likely to be reconsidered for next year.

“Really, it’s a way of using technology to generate data that we believe has a lot of high utility for people,” he said.

The listed winners included the following projects:

The Camden Health Explorer from the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, which was awarded $450,000 to create an interactive dashboard with real-time health-care enrollment costs and statistics.

The Crisis Text Line from, awarded $350,000 to provide youth with free crisis counseling through text messages and live referral services from counselors.

The Homebrew Sensing Project by Public Laboratories for Open Technology and Science, awarded $350,000 to provide low-cost chemical analysis tools so residents can track hazardous chemicals.

Ohana API from Code for America, which was awarded $210,000 to build an open source app that would connect the public with community resources through a centralized social service database.

The Open Humans Network from, awarded $500,000 to develop an online portal to connect people willing to share personal health information with researchers to advance medical breakthroughs.

Positive Deviance Journalism from the Solutions Journalism Network, awarded $180,000 to organize a collaboration between newsrooms and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to supply data for journalistic efforts.

And finally, the SafeUseNow project from Principled Strategies, awarded $208,000 to spearhead an effort to use data as a way to identify and prevent incidents of prescription drug abuse through tracking.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.