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What is the GNI Innovation Challenge?

As a part of the Google News Initiative’s $300M commitment to help journalism thrive in the digital age, we’ve launched GNI Innovation Challenges to support projects that drive digital innovation, help publishers understand their communities and develop new business models. The GNI funds sets of projects from around the world that meet specified criteria, with the intent of producing learnings that can be shared with the wider industry.

We are taking an exciting turn this round of the North America Innovation Challenge by calling for projects which focus on a fundamental challenge for local publishers: understanding and serving the needs of your communities. The changes in our digital world requires both a fresh understanding of a community’s needs and an understanding of how to communicate the benefits and values of a news organization back to its community.

As local news organizations strive to address the needs of their communities and attain financial sustainability, this North America Innovation Challenge will support projects that tackle the challenges of better understanding and serving communities to enhance the relationship with their varied audiences. To achieve this we’re encouraging news organizations to further develop learnings about their audiences through rigorous research.

Google will fund selected projects up to $200,000 and will finance up to 70% of the total project cost. Special discretion on the total project cap may be considered by the Jury depending on the scale and impact of a very large collaborative effort.

Apply Now

Application Process

There will be one application window opening on June 23rd, 2021 at 9:00 PT and closing August 26th, 2021 at 23:59 PT. You will be asked to provide descriptions, detailed project and research plans and budget information via our online application form. You will also have to accept the North America GNI Innovation Challenge Application Terms and Conditions.

Application Eligibility Requirements

The North American GNI Innovation Challenge is open to local news organizations of every size. Applicants should be operating in a local news market and aim to tackle the challenges of better understanding and serving communities in ways that demonstrate the value of journalism to enhance the relationship with their various audiences.

Established publishers, online-only players, news startups, publisher consortia, academics and local industry associations are all eligible to apply. Collaborative applications with other industry players are very welcome. Incorporated organizations must be incorporated in one of the eligible countries (see below) in the North American region. Unincorporated organizations must be registered in North America (or, if unregistered, have their principal place of business there).

Eligible Regions

Incorporated organizations must be incorporated in one of the eligible countries (see below). Unincorporated organizations must be registered in the North America region (or, if unregistered, have their principal place of business there).

Eligible Countries

  • Canada
  • United States
  • United States Overseas Territories

Eligible Projects

The North American GNI Innovation Challenge will focus on projects that demonstrate how they plan to tackle the challenges of better understanding and serving their communities in ways that demonstrate the value of journalism to enhance the relationship with their various audiences. Every community is a unique place, distinct from yet still linked with others around the world. Every audience, whether it is urban or rural, wealthy or poor, young or ageing has a way in which it processes, participates in and perceives local news. The path to sustainability includes diligently understanding the communities publishers serve and applying those learnings to their work.

Applicants should address how their plan might approach the following steps:

  • Step One: Using survey, focus group and other data-driven methods to establish a baseline understanding of the community’s informational needs and expectations - from accountability journalism to “news-you-can-use.” This should include an assessment of the perception of your news offering from within the communities.
  • Step Two: Incorporate those learnings into adjustments in product design, editorial strategy and messaging.
  • Step Three: Repeat step one based on the product and messaging changes.
  • Step Four: Disclose what you’ve learned and evaluate how it might impact your ongoing approaches.

Projects should be about rigorous testing and research that plan to share both the instruments they develop and the results with others in the industry. They should not be about soft research eg. forming advisory groups or embarking on listening tours. Approaches that are intended to be repeatable by the organization and/or replicable by others will be favored during assessment.

All four phases of the projects should be delivered within one year (including the testing stage) and successful applications will lead to the disclosure of a report about implementation and sustainable change within your organization.

Example projects could include, but are not limited to, ones that:

  • Community engagement: Based on rigorous research methods, using surveying tools, forming a community listening project, involving online events, facebook forums, SMS/ whatsapp based research.
  • Revenue: Based on a structured methodology, a project to sell more subscriptions by asking survey respondents to financially support a local news organization with messaging A/B tested against moral segmentation (protect the vulnerable -vs- long standing service to community)
  • Infrastructure: Integrating customer databases across media types and departments, to create a holistic view of customers and provide seamless service.

Please note: This call for applications is a discretely different call from the previous two North American Innovation Challenges as it is very focused on baseline research. However, if you would like to view previous recipients, please visit our Selected Projects Gallery here.

Projects that are limited to the creation or publication of content without a specific innovative component are not eligible for funding. Examples of projects that would NOT qualify for Innovation Challenge funding include:

  • Projects without a clear focus rigorous research and testing
  • Projects limited to the creation of content
  • Projects that are for general funding or investment
  • Project just about content improvement by licensing existing tools such as Groundsource, Subtext, Metrics for News, etc.
  • Projects merely translating news content into other languages
  • Upgrades of legacy publishing systems
  • Projects that relate to simply collating or listing data (for example, the publication of job listings or stock exchange data, or the re-publication of newswires articles);
  • Projects delivering training or education only

Project Funding

Google will offer up to $200,000 to selected projects. Special discretion on the total project cap may be considered by the jury depending on the scale and impact of a very large collaborative effort. Google will finance up to 70% of the overall costs of the selected projects. The remaining self funded costs can be operational costs. Eligible expenses include research costs, personnel costs, engineering costs and other the purchase or licensing of any equipment, tools, hardware, software such as research tools and other assets or materials needed for the project and marketing expenses (capped to 20% of the total amount requested). Editorial expenses are also part of the eligible costs for the Google funded portion of a project. Funding may not be spent on general and overhead costs. Projects need to be delivered within one year.

Governance

Applications to the North America GNI Innovation Challenge are reviewed by a combination of the Google Project Team and The Jury. The Project Team will review all applications and interview applicants and then make a recommendation on funding projects. The Project Team includes, but is not limited to:

  • Alex Paterson (Growth & Opportunities, CA)
  • Anntao Diaz (News Consumer Insights, US)
  • Ashley Edwards (News Lab, US)
  • Ben Shaw (GNI Innovation Challenges, DE)
  • David Stoller (Global Partnerships, US)
  • Juan Marchese (Americas Partnership Solutions, US)
  • Katherine Chang (Google News Initiative, US)
  • Ludovic Blecher (GNI Innovation Challenges, FR)
  • Megan Chan (News Ecosystem, US)
  • Robbie Brown (Google News Initiative, US)
  • Sarah Hartley (GNI Innovation Challenges, UK)
  • Thibault Davet (Americas Large Customer Sales, CA)

Jury is composed of regional and global Google executives and might be open to external experts from the industry. The Jury will vote on projects and is responsible for oversight of the GNI Challenge.

FAQs

Who was eligible to apply? Answer

The North American GNI Innovation Challenge is open to local news organizations of every size. Applicants should be operating in a local news market and aim to tackle the challenges of better understanding and serving communities in ways that demonstrate the value of journalism to enhance the relationship with their various audiences.

Established publishers, online-only players, news startups, publisher consortia, academics and local industry associations are all eligible to apply. Collaborative applications with other industry players are very welcome. Incorporated organizations must be incorporated in one of the eligible countries in the North American region. Unincorporated organizations must be registered in North America (or, if unregistered, have their principal place of business there).

What’s the theme of this call for projects? Answer

The theme of the North American GNI Innovation Challenge is:“Understanding and serving the needs of your communities”

Local news organizations strive to address the needs of their communities and attain financial sustainability. Given the changes in our digital world this requires both a fresh understanding of the community needs and an understanding of how to communicate the benefits and values of the local news organization back to the community.

The goal of the North American GNI Innovation Challenge is to enable new thinking in how local news publishers assess the needs of their diverse communities online and understand how best to communicate the beneficial services they provide.

How are projects evaluated? Answer

Projects will be evaluated against five main criteria:

  • Process and tools used: Preferred projects will differentiate themselves by employing rigorous research based on data-driven methods.
  • Diversity: Preferred projects will be able to demonstrate their self-defined commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) whether that is within their audience, organisation or content.
  • Innovation: Preferred projects are innovative (plan to share the learnings, method to share the research framework, use of technology, new readers engagement approaches…) and be transformative for the applicant and for users.
  • Feasibility: Projects should demonstrate a sound research plan, clearly outline key performance indicators or metrics, and set out key risks and mitigation steps.
  • Inspiration: How can the project help news organizations learn from each other? Willingness to share knowledge or/and to contribute to the improvement of the ecosystem overall.
How does the selection process work? Answer

Initial selection of projects will be done by a Project Team, composed of a select team of Google staff who have knowledge and/or experience in digital publishing and local journalism. They will review all applications for eligibility, innovation and impact. They’ll compose a shortlist, conduct interviews with applicants and make recommendations to the North America GNI Innovation Challenge Jury.

When can I apply? Answer

The application window will open June 23rd, 2021 9:00 PT and closing August 26th, 2021 23:59 PT. Further details will be announced on the GNI website.

How can I apply? Answer

You will be asked to provide descriptions, detailed project plans and budget information in our online application form as well as accept the North America GNI Innovation Challenge Application Terms and Conditions. See the application form here.

How can I best prepare my submission? Answer

The application window lasts for 6 weeks. Take advantage of this time to document your application as thoroughly as possible and please download the list of questions in advance. All eligible applications submitted by the deadline will be reviewed, so there’s no need to rush into filling in the online form.

Please take the time to consult and do research on opportunities and investment requirements, brainstorm with your team and prepare the draft responses. When you are ready, please go to the online form and submit the application. If you need additional information, please contact us at nagnichallenge@google.com

What information is required for my application? Answer

In order to assess the projects, the Project Team will need information including:

  • Company/individual information
  • Location, URL, number of employees, number of journalists
  • Project description
  • Project budget and amount of funding requested
  • Key indicators to measure the impact of the project
  • A slideshow of, ideally, 10 slides or fewer which should address at least the following:
    1. Introduction
    2. Team
    3. Problem
    4. Steps of the project (1 slide each)
      One: Initial research methods
      Two: Product, editorial or messaging enhancements
      Three: Follow up research methods
      Four: Plan for disclosure of learnings/ frameworks
    5. DEI commitment
    6. Contact
  • As set out in the North America GNI Innovation Challenge Terms & Conditions, we require that applicants do not submit any Business Sensitive Information (as defined in the Application Terms and Conditions). Google intends to publicize its activities relating to the GNI Innovation Challenges. As outlined in the Application Terms and Conditions, it is a condition of application that Google may publicize aggregated data showing how funds have been offered in the GNI Innovation Challenges and certain project-specific information.

What if I want to work in collaboration with others? Answer

Collaborative applications with other industry players are very welcome. You can find more information on how to make a collaborative application in the North America GNI Innovation Challenge Terms & Conditions.

Where can I read a full copy of the terms and conditions? Answer

You can find the North America GNI Innovation Challenge Terms & Conditions here.

Will every application be reviewed? Answer

Yes, we will review all eligible applications received by the application deadline.

How can I contact the GNI Project Team? Answer

If you would like to contact the team please email nagnichallenge@google.com. During the assessment process, applicants may be asked to provide additional details about their project, including through interviews and/or the submission of further supporting documents.

How many applications can I submit? Answer

Each applicant may only submit one application per round and we will not consider multiple applications in respect of the same project. For organizations that are part of a larger group or holding structure, we are unlikely to fund more than 3 projects per group or holding per application round. organization groups are therefore encouraged to focus their applications on top priority projects.

What will you do with the information I submit? Answer

A limited number of people from the Project Team and Jury will have access to the responses that applicants provide. They will use the responses to assess the projects.

Application information received by the Project Team and Jury will be exclusively used for GNI Challenge operations and processes. Google will only share detailed application information outside the Project Team and Jury with the applicant's permission. Additionally, as described in the Application Terms and Conditions, certain information may be used by Google for publicity purposes.

Please see the Application Terms and Conditions for further details on how we will treat the information that you provide to us. As set out in the Application Terms and Conditions, we require that applicants do not submit to us any Business Sensitive Information. If the applicant has indicated that they wish to be connected to other applicants or industry groups, the Project Team may contact the applicant to offer knowledge sharing opportunities (featuring projects at events, case studies, etc).

Are there spending limitations? Answer

Funding may not be spent on: General and overhead costs such as office rental, furniture and travel expenses, costs and expenses connected with registering, protecting, defending or monetising any intellectual property rights you may have (or that you may obtain through registration). This includes payments to any personnel engaged in such activities, or expenses or liabilities incurred before the date on which the parties enter into a Funding Agreement.

Which expenses are eligible? Answer

Eligible expenses include engineering and operations costs (e.g. product development, project management, user experience design, database build and maintenance, and hosting) and marketing expenses. Please note marketing expenses will only be covered up to 20% of the total funding offered. Editorial expenses are also part of the eligible costs for the Google funded portion of a project. Please note that the effective date for the project will be the date that we sign the funding agreement. No expenses incurred before this date can be covered by the funding.

What constitutes highly confidential information and business sensitive information? Answer

Business Sensitive Information is confidential information which, if disclosed, would provide your competitors with a competitive advantage over you or would otherwise cause substantial harm to you.

Please see the Application Terms and Conditions for further information on this.

As the owner of your project, you are the best judge on what information is Business Sensitive. However, if you are in any doubt about this then we recommend that you seek independent legal advice.

When will I hear back about my application? Answer

If your application is shortlisted, you will hear from us about two months after the closure of the application window with any follow-up questions we have before communicating our final decision to selected applicants. At that time we will contact you by email and arrange a video meeting to discuss the funding process in greater detail. Unsuccessful applications will be notified, but we can’t provide specific feedback to applicants who have not been selected.

If the project is not selected, can I learn more about why? Answer

Unfortunately, due to the high volume of applications expected, the Project Team is unable to provide personalized feedback on each proposal. That said, we will make ourselves available for general advice in the future and to answer questions about the application process. The email for contact is nagnichallenge@google.com

What is the role of the Project Team? Answer

Initial selection of projects will be done by a Project Team, composed of experienced Google staff, who will review all applications for eligibility, innovation and impact. They’ll pre-select projects and make recommendations for final selection to the Challenge’s Jury.

What is the role of The Jury? Answer

Innovation Challenge oversight and final approval will be decided by a Jury composed of Google staff and experienced industry figures. The Jury team will consist of internal, high-level stakeholders responsible for the final selection of projects of the NA GNI Innovation Challenge. This group will include Google’s regional and global executives and may be open to external experts from the news industry.

Who is part of the Project Team? Answer

The Project Team will consist of internal stakeholders responsible for ensuring and communicating the success of the GNI Innovation Challenge. Team should include, but not be limited to:

  • Alex Paterson (Growth & Opportunities, CA)
  • Anntao Diaz (News Consumer Insights, US)
  • Ashley Edwards (News Lab, US)
  • Ben Shaw (GNI Innovation Challenges, DE)
  • David Stoller (Global Partnerships, US)
  • Juan Marchese (Americas Partnership Solutions, US)
  • Katherine Chang (Google News Initiative, US)
  • Ludovic Blecher (GNI Innovation Challenges, FR)
  • Megan Chan (News Ecosystem, US)
  • Robbie Brown (Google News Initiative, US)
  • Sarah Hartley (GNI Innovation Challenges, UK)
  • Thibault Davet (Americas Large Customer Sales, CA)
Who is part of The Jury? Answer

Jury is composed of regional and global Google executives and might be open to external experts from the industry.