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Between February and June 2020 we will fund and support a community of changemakers to test their promising ideas, technologies and models for public interest news, so communities in England have access to reliable and accurate news about the issues that matter most to them.

Public interest news. By this we mean coverage of matters concerning public life and democracy. Public interest news covers facts and information that help hold the powerful and elected to account and allow communities to campaign for the issues that matter to them. You can submit ideas for any medium (print, radio, social media, podcasting, digital, video, etc.).

Open to anyone. The best ideas often come from the most unexpected places. That’s why this fund is open to any organisation in England with a new idea for how public interest news could be generated, sustainably run or disseminated.

Get your application in. Applications have to be submitted by 23:59 GMT on 8 December 2019. Below you will find the information you need to apply:

  • The backstory of the fund.
  • The focus areas for this round of funding.
  • The support you will receive if selected.
  • Eligibility criteria.
  • Assessment criteria.
  • What success would look like.
  • Key dates.
  • Steps to submit your application.

Why is Nesta running this fund?

From our own analysis, Nesta has shown that there has been a steep decline in the number of journalists and public interest news outlets at a local and regional level: the number of newspaper journalists in the UK almost halved between 2009 and 2017. We also found that disadvantaged communities, that tend to have older populations, higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of education, are particularly affected by a decline in journalistic activity. With very few sources of revenue or funding available to spark innovative responses, this trend looks set to only go in one direction.

This is worrying, not just for the industry itself but for communities who are losing a vital way to hold those in power to account, campaign for issues that matter to them, to participate in democracy and to feel part of a shared community, particularly at a time when trust in politicians and institutions is falling. Public interest news has been an important part of the immune system that keeps our democracy healthy. Today, this democratic immune system is in crisis.

Nesta was appointed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to run a pilot fund for new approaches to public interest news, as recommended by the Cairncross Review. This pilot fund will be used to shape decisions about a larger fund in the future.

Focus areas for this pilot fund

Solving the public interest news crisis will not simply involve putting more money into existing journalism, as high quality as much of it is. We will need to completely transform the way that public interest news is created, distributed and sustained for future generations.

That said, we won’t solve all challenges with this pilot fund. It is an important first step to support brave and new ideas. These could be brand new to the world, or could offer a breakthrough that is adapted from another industry or jurisdiction. We are particularly looking for ideas that reimagine engagement and could improve financial sustainability of public interest news:

  • Ideas that reimagine engagement of people and communities in the generation and dissemination of public interest news. This could include, for example, new ideas, technologies, tools or approaches that
    • create more effective engagement and reach with existing and new audiences;
    • give users, people and communities a new role in producing, presenting and distributing public interest news;
    • help public interest news generators increase the relevance, trust and perceived value of their work for the communities they serve;
    • increase the diversity and representation of audiences engaged in public interest news.

Ideas that aim to help at local level and focus on under-served communities will be particularly welcome.

  • Ideas that could improve the financial sustainability of public interest news. This could include, for example, new ideas, technologies, tools or approaches that
    • help news organisations to explore new and different revenue streams that align with / support the mission of public interest news;
    • make the generation, validation and dissemination of public interest news more; efficient, time- and cost-effective;
    • lead to new business models, e.g. via new types of collaborations or partnerships.

Ideas that aim to help at local level and focus on under-served communities will be particularly welcome.

Innovations that reimagine engagement and improve financial sustainability could take many forms. They could include - but are not limited to - new platforms where journalists, citizens and communities can co-create their local news, jointly set an agenda and thereby increase readership and trust. They could also include AI-based tools that help news organisations generate stories in a more time- and cost-efficient way. New business models could explore different types of collaborations, for example between news publishers and universities.

Support you will receive if selected

Successful applicants will get support between February and June 2020 to develop and test their ideas.

We have created two tracks for this fund, recognising the different support needs different types of organisations have. Within each track there is flexibility to ensure we can support all flavour of organisations (regardless of whether you work on a local or national level, are a not-for-profit or for-profit organisation, or come from a big or small organisation).

To apply, you need to select one of the two tracks.

  • Innovation Sprint: this track offers grant funding, plus a wide range of wrap-around support and community events. Any organisation that wants to test a specific idea should apply to this track. Support activities will take place across the country and at Nesta’s offices in London.
  • Accelerator: this track offers grant funding and will provide structured business-building support and community events. This track is for commercial, early-stage businesses with a technology-enabled solution that could address the focus areas of this fund. The accelerator programme will be run by Bethnal Green Ventures and take place in London.

Funding within both tracks:

Both tracks offer grant funding of £20,000–£100,000, depending on the scope of the idea.

Wrap-around and business-building support within both tracks:

The Innovation Sprint will provide additional support which will include:

  • Targeted support to build and test a specific idea for any organisation, either alone or in partnership.
  • Bespoke and masterclass support from news, journalism, public engagement and digital experts.
  • London-based and regional workshops across England.
  • Support from sector and business experts.
  • Workshops, skills and training sessions run by a number of leading organisations in the journalism, technology and innovation field.
  • Evaluation and impact measurement support.
  • Access to new research and insights.

The Accelerator will provide:

  • A structured business-building programme for early stage for-profit businesses using technology to support the ecosystem of generation and delivery of public interest news with this funding.
  • Support from sector experts and fellow entrepreneurs.
  • Mentoring.
  • Three months central London office space for up to two team members.
  • Workshops, skills and training sessions run by a number of leading organisations in the journalism, technology and innovation field.
  • Evaluation and impact measurement support.
  • Access to new research and insights.

Community events for both tracks:

This fund is aiming to build a community that works together on testing their ideas. Successful applicants will not only develop their own ideas but also form part of a wider community that supports each other and shares useful learnings. Between February and June 2020 the fund brings together successful applicants in both tracks at multiple points.

Eligibility criteria

Who can apply:

  • Any organisation can potentially apply. The Future News Pilot Fund will be open to anyone with promising new ideas for how public interest news, especially at local level, could be produced, sustainably run and disseminated. The best ideas to address the public interest news challenge will not just come from inside the established industry and we want to support a wide variety of organisations to take part. Any organisation that is not itself a news organisation generating public interest news, but has a promising and potentially transformative idea for reimagining public interest news, must demonstrate their commitment to public interest news in the application form and selection process.
  • You must be a UK registered organisation; if you are not, then you must apply with a lead partner who is a UK registered organisation.
  • Ideas need to be focused on public interest news in England and address the focus areas of this funding round.
  • The idea must be designed to benefit people in England (noting that people elsewhere could also benefit).
  • The idea, solution or business must have an intention of delivering measurable social impact and ambition to continue beyond the duration of this fund.

We are unable to support:

  • Applications from individuals.
  • Ideas that cannot demonstrate public benefit.
  • Ideas that are likely to increase inequality or exclusion, or otherwise have a harmful or detrimental effect on individuals (such as through the unethical use of private data).
  • Any activity that is party political, affiliated to a faith or religious group.
  • Pure editorial work or individual investigative journalism pieces.
  • One-off projects that do not aim to continue beyond the lifetime of the fund.

Other requirements

  • Shortlisted applicants must be available to attend an interview / event in the week commencing 6 January 2020.
  • You must be open to collaboration and happy to share your learning more widely, the challenges as well as the successes.
  • You must inform Nesta of any changes to your plan, your team or partners, if they occur.
  • You must keep accurate records of your expenditure of the grant and comply with Nesta’s monitoring requirements.
  • You must be committed to taking part in internal Nesta workshops (with other grantees for example) and relevant Bethnal Green Ventures’ events and any identified public events.
  • Nesta is committed to evaluating the impact of its grant-making processes over the medium-term, so you must be willing to participate in a follow-up survey or informal conversation about the progress of your initiative for up to three years after being successfully selected for the fund.
  • You need to have high-level buy-in from your organisation so that you are able to devote time and resources to this idea.
  • You must appoint a team lead who will be our main point of contact should you be selected.
  • You must be able to deliver your proposed idea in England.
  • You must declare any potential or actual conflict of interest.

Assessment criteria

We will use the following criteria to assess eligible applications:

  • Innovation (whether your idea is new and different).
  • Impact (what difference your idea will make, and for whom).
  • Capacity (the skills, knowledge and resources you have to develop and deliver your idea).
  • Feasibility (whether you can realistically deliver your idea by June 2020 and within budget).
  • Sustainability (whether your idea has potential to become financially sustainable and last beyond the lifetime of the fund).

What success would look like

A successful innovation fund produces many new learnings about what works and what doesn’t. In other words, each innovation fund inevitably supports many things that won’t work in order to find ideas that are impactful, sustainable and scalable. We expect all successful applicants to give your absolute best and full dedication, to contribute to the desired outcomes for this fund:

  • Innovations with a positive impact on growing democratic engagement, empowering communities and engaging people differently in the generation of public interest news.
  • Innovations with a positive impact on the sustainability of public interest journalism, without undermining the role independent journalism plays in democratic engagement.
  • New connections and collaborations between innovators in very different sectors (e.g. journalism and technology startups) and across different levels (e.g. very local with national).
  • Increased knowledge and learnings about what methods work well for innovation in public interest news.

Key dates

Applications open on 4 November 2019 and close at 23:59 GMT on 8 December 2019.

We will also be hosting two webinars during the application window, to give you an opportunity to ask additional questions not covered in the FAQs section and to give guidance on what a good application might look like.

Register for Webinar 1: 14 November 12:30 - 13:30.

Register for Webinar 2: 26 November 12:30 - 13:30

Shortlisted applicants will be notified by 20 December 2019.

Interviews / development days will take place during the week of 6 January 2020 and applicants may be asked to further develop their proposals or submit supplemental information.

Final decisions will be made in mid-January 2020.

The Innovation Sprint will include two months of intensive support to design and test ideas from 1 February to end of March 2020, followed by a three-month period to further test ideas from April to June 2020.

The Accelerator Pre-Programme will run from 17 February to 13 March 2020, with the Core Accelerator Programme running from 30 March to 29 June 2020.

Submitting your application

Before you apply, please read the FAQs and the terms and conditions. You will also find contact details there for any additional questions.

To apply, you need to decide if you want to apply to the Innovation Sprint or the Accelerator.

Innovation Sprint

Submit an application to the Innovation Sprint


Accelerator Programme

Submit an application to the Accelerator Programme through Bethnal Green Ventures

Bethnall Green Ventures

Ensure you submit your application by 23:59 GMT on 8 December 2019.

We look forward to reviewing your application.