This DC media org is among the winners of the Knight News Challenge on Data - Technical.ly DC

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Jan. 27, 2016 7:47 am

This DC media org is among the winners of the Knight News Challenge on Data

Orb Media is developing a tool for DIY, scientifically sound surveys.

Surveys can be hard.

(Photo by Flickr user nate bolt, used under a Creative Commons license)

The Knight Foundation acknowledges that we’re living in a complex time. All the more reason, it believes, to support innovations that use data to make sense of the world around us.

To this end, the Knight Foundation announced the winners of its $3.2 million Knight News Challenge on Data on Tuesday. From 1,013 total entries the foundation selected 17 winners, with projects including a toolkit for reporting police misconduct, software that would allow users to track the enforcement of new laws in New Jersey and much more.

Among the winners is D.C.-based Orb Media, a nonprofit media organization that won $450,000 to develop a project called “Weighing the Wisdom of the Crowd.” Weighing the Wisdom of the Crowd would create a survey tool that will allow individuals, or organizations without Pew Research Center-level support, to create surveys that are more scientifically sound.

The tool will do this both by providing suggestions for the wording of questions (remember — when it comes to statistics wording is important), and by weighing responses against pertinent Census data. This is key because when it comes to getting a good read on how people feel about an issue it’s important to know who those people are (when compared to the population at large), and who they’re not.

Neal Rothleder, CTO at Orb, provided this helpful example:

Suppose you’re trying to poll residents of Fairfax County, Va., about the county’s response to Snowzilla. You specifically want to know if residents with kids have a more positive view than residents who do not have kids.

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So you create a survey, you put it out on social media, and you get your responses. Among those who view the county’s response to the storm positively, the respondents are around 50 percent parents and 50 percent people who are not parents. This would tell you there’s no difference between people who are parents and people who are not parents in terms of how each views the county’s response to the storm, but that might not be correct.

Suppose, now, that the population of Fairfax County, Va., is heavily skewed towards people with kids. In that case, the views of the people with kids in your survey would need to be more heavily weighted. This is the calculation that Orb’s planned tool will make for you — no complicated math necessary.

The tool is still in development, but Rothleder told Technical.ly that Orb plans to launch a first version in six months. It’ll be open-source, and free to use.

The Knight News Challenge on Data was the second Knight challenge launched in 2015 — the organization will launch a new challenge next month. Beyond the challenge itself, John Bracken from the Knight Foundation told Technical.ly that his organization is “trying to build a network” of past and future winners to share ideas and collaborate.

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Tajha Chappellet-Lanier

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier is the lead reporter for Technical.ly DC. The California native previously worked for NPR and the editorial board at USA Today. She can talk travel plans all day, and has strong opinions on the best doughnut in D.C.

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