Boston Indicators Project wins Knight Foundation grant to improve use of data in journalism

September 5, 2012

$137,000 grant will fund effort to train journalists and community members to better use and visualize data in storytelling

Boston – Dozens of Boston-area journalists and community members will develop their data skills and learn to use new data visualization technology to create better stories, thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to the Boston Indicators Project at the Boston Foundation.

The $137,000 grant will allow the Indicators group to train journalists and community members on the new open source Weave data visualization platform, as well as drawing connections among journalists and community members with an interest in data-driven reporting and analysis. The funding is part of the Knight Community Information Challenge, which engages community and place-based foundations support news and information projects that inform and engage residents.

Weave, which was developed at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, allows users to conduct analyses and create dynamic graphics from numerous public datasets. These graphics can then be shared, embedded and edited by other users of the platform, allowing for unprecedented community collaboration on data analysis. The platform was launched earlier this year on the MetroBoston DataCommon, a joint project of the Boston Indicators Project and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

“This grant gives us the opportunity to more fully capture the power of data in storytelling by professional journalists and other community members,” said Charlotte Kahn, Senior Director of the Boston Indicators Project. “The Weave platform makes the power of creating compelling data visualizations more accessible – and with funding for training and continued platform development, we can enhance journalism and community information sharing through more thorough coverage of critical issues facing our communities, and inspire more effective discourse.”

The funding is part of the Knight Community Information Challenge which engages community and place-based foundations in supporting news and information projects that inform and engage residents. As traditional media has struggled, funders have increasingly realized how integral good information is to all their areas of interest, whether that’s education, housing or the arts. Community foundations, now celebrating 100 years of service and leadership, and the larger field of place-based foundations, are uniquely positioned to play a leadership role on this issue.  So far, close to 80 local foundations nationwide have launched projects that meet local information needs.

As part of the challenge, the Boston Foundation will match Knight's support.

“The Boston Foundation joins the 80-plus community and place-based foundations nationwide who are leading by informing and engaging the public on issues they care about,” said Trabian Shorters, vice president/communities for Knight Foundation, who leads the challenge.

The Boston Indicators Project will work with its partners at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council(MAPC) and the University of Massachusetts–Lowell to conduct training and continue development of the Weave open source platform and the MetroBoston DataCommon – a an interactive data portal and online mapping tool that provides a wealth of information about the region’s people, communities and neighborhoods through a wide variety of topics – from arts and education to the environment and transportation.

Weave was developed – and is being constantly improved upon -- by a team at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. The 20-person team of faculty and graduate students at UMass-Lowell’s Institute for Visualization and Perception Research works with teams across the US through the Open Indicators Consortium (OIC) to create new code, and is building a global learning community of Weave developers and users.

MAPC partnered with the Boston Indicators Project in the creation of the charter Weave-based website, the MetroBoston DataCommon, which uses the Weave platform to allow website users can create, publish and share their own visualizations and maps – with a focus on 101 Greater Boston communities. Training sessions are currently offered each month at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s offices. As part of the grant, MAPC and the Boston Indicators Project will also sponsor Data Day 2013, a daylong data and technology conference including training sessions and workshops.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of $850 million.  In 2011, the Foundation and its donors made almost $78 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of $81 million. The Foundation is made up of some 850 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.

In 2012, the Boston Foundation and The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) merged, with TPI operating as a distinct unit of the Boston Foundation.  TPI pioneered the field of strategic philanthropic advising over 20 years ago and remains a national leader today. Through its consulting services and its work to advance the broader field of strategic philanthropy, TPI has influenced billions of dollars of giving worldwide. TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy promotes international giving from the U.S. and indigenous philanthropy abroad.

For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit or call 617-338-1700.