In a world where populism is on the rise, hoaxes promote extreme positions and public opinion is increasingly shaped online, attempts are emerging to create innovative approaches, experiences and information technologies that entertain and educate at the same time. One of these is MediaFutures, the European digital innovation hub whose final event was held last week in Hamburg, Germany. Focused on the fight against misinformation and the problems it generates in the media sector, MediaFutures has organised three cascade funding calls for innovative projects in this field in its three years of existence.
Thanks to this funding mechanism of the European Commission, which allows for a more agile distribution of public funds, MediaFutures supported the development of projects that combat the spread of misinformation in the media through the innovative use of data and the application of algorithms. To engage the most creative stakeholders across Europe and encourage their participation, each open call targeted diverse types of actors.
“A key element that distinguished MediaFutures from all similar projects has been the unique Startups meet Artists’ call, as it fostered collaboration between entrepreneurs and artistic agents,” underlines Igor Idareta, Team leader with expertise in European Programmes at Zabala Innovation, one of the project partners. Artists were able to present proposals that addressed the problem of misinformation from a global perspective. “MediaFutures also supported projects that actively involved citizens, with the aim of achieving a greater social impact beyond the typical high-tech accelerator programmes,” adds Idareta.
Another focus of the project was the concern for diversity issues. From the second open call onwards, applicants were asked to voluntarily provide demographic information, to identify potential barriers to access. MediaFutures also took initiative-taking steps to ensure inclusion and access to funding for under-represented groups by diversifying the target audience and publicising the calls through different channels. A targeted outreach strategy to under-represented groups ensured that stakeholders were informed about the project.
As a result, MediaFutures received more than 565 expressions of interest and 383 full proposals, and more than 230 start-ups or SMEs and 235 artists participated in its open calls. This was despite the unexpected challenges it faced, namely the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to a rapid adaptation to remote working, and the war in Ukraine, which imposed additional restrictions and controls on new projects with participants from Russia, while acknowledging the disruption faced by applicants residing in the invaded country.
Cascade funding project: how we did it
As a partner in the project and drawing on its extensive experience, Zabala Innovation guided the design and implementation of the calls for proposals, project evaluation and overall management. Its in-depth knowledge of the European innovation landscape and funding mechanisms helped MediaFutures to attract a diverse range of applicants and to ensure that the project was in line with Brussels’ objectives. Zabala Innovation’s involvement also fostered effective collaboration between the project partners, ensuring smooth and successful implementation of the initiatives.
“With its experience as a manager of cascade funding calls, Zabala Innovation has gained valuable insights,” says Idareta, who shares recommendations for future media projects, data accelerators and initiatives focused on countering misinformation, to ensure an inclusive approach and maximise the diversity of participants.
Diversify the target audience. Publish open calls through channels that reach diverse audiences. Repeatedly targeting the same audience limits the diversity of nominations. Media projects should consider reaching out to under-represented groups and ensure that their messages are accessible to all.
Gather demographic information. Collect demographic data on applicants to track diversity and identify potential barriers to access. It is crucial to clearly communicate why this information is being collected and to respect the sensitivity of the data. Provide a wider range of options and ensure that the way questions are worded does not reinforce stereotypes.
Disseminate information to under-represented groups. Develop a clear dissemination strategy targeting nodes and multipliers of under-represented groups. This ensures that relevant stakeholders receive project information regardless of their traditional access barriers.
Streamline application processes. Simplify the application process to reduce bureaucracy and provide a seamless experience for applicants. Provide support through FAQs, sample applications, webinars, and a dedicated helpdesk. Minimising barriers to entry encourages greater participation.
Provide feedback and continuous improvement. Continuously gather formal and informal feedback from applicants and stakeholders to improve processes. Actively seek ways to improve the application experience and address any challenges faced by applicants.
“By implementing these strategies, similar projects can achieve greater impact, foster diversity and contribute to a more resilient and inclusive media ecosystem,” concludes Idareta