2020 Climate + Resilience Magic Grant Call for Proposals

The 2020 Climate + Resilience Magic Grant Call for Proposals closed on May 15, 2020 with winners announced on June 5, 2020.

Background. The David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation was founded in 2012 and is a joint effort between Stanford’s School of Engineering and Columbia Journalism School. Each year, the Brown Institute awards close to $1M in grants and fellowships to foster new tools and modes of expression, and to create stories that escape the bounds of page and screen. We are committed to radical experimentation with the potential to define new priorities and practices for both engineering and journalism.

In addition to the open “Magic Grant” program which provides year-long funding awards of up to $150,000, the Brown Institute at Columbia is sponsoring a separate call to support a project focused on reimagining stories, tools, and journalistic practices at the intersection of media, climate and communities at risk. The theme is climate + resilience (C+R).

Why resilience? Even if the most ambitious track for cutting planet-heating emissions were somehow hit, inertia in the climate system guarantees no substantial reduction in climate or coastal impacts for decades.

Climate reporting presents unique opportunities that don’t exist on other beats. Data sets are immense and varied, including remote sensing, paleoclimate clues to past extremes and computer simulations of what lies ahead. Behavioral and social sciences reveal sources of societal inertia and possible solutions. And after decades of disengagement, the public is eager for answers given that climate impacts are being felt and experienced by everyone —  whether global warming is acknowledged or not.

In 2019, Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) launched Covering Climate Now, a project aimed at encouraging news organizations in the U.S. and abroad to raise their game when it comes to climate coverage. The organizers bemoaned the habit of relegating climate stories to the environmental beat, and the parade of headlines conveying calamity but often missing pathways to solutions.

Like CJR, the Brown Institute at Columbia Journalism School is committed to boost the effectiveness of climate reporting. Along with our colleagues at Columbia University’s new Earth Institute Initiative on Communication and Sustainability, who helped shape the C + R Magic Grant, we are dedicated to supporting radical experimentation that changes how we think about, visualize, and respond to the climate crisis. Given the wealth of climate data, expertise and analytical tools now available, we welcome proposals that seek new forms of storytelling, or new ways of using data to help communities identify the many drivers of climate risk that are in local control. We are open to a variety of proposals — from the development of tools better connecting scientists and journalists, to open-source visualization libraries crafted for climate-related data, to a real estate story shaped by a changing climate, to immersive experiences that reimagine the issue entirely.

A successful C+R Magic Grant application clearly explains a unique story approach or technological advance and outlines a one-year (or less) plan for its realization or the creation of a prototype. We seek applications from teams of students, faculty, and alumni, as well as practitioners working in areas relevant to climate, media and technology. Previous grants have supported the work of journalists, computer scientists, engineers, artists, designers, and communications and digital humanities scholars.

Application Process. Teams must submit an application to be considered for the C+R Magic Grant. Applications will be evaluated on various criteria — the novelty of a platform or the quality of a story, the broader impact of the project, and the strength of the team. The Climate + Resilience grant will be administered by the Columbia side of the Brown Institute and is not being offered at Stanford. Each team must submit a single PDF through the application system (brown.submittable.com) made up of the following:

  • Cover Letter: A cover letter, including proposal title and the full name, affiliation, and contact information of each team member.
  • Proposal: A two-page proposal that explains the innovative idea(s); the projects originality, uniqueness, and relation to other work in the area; potential for broader impact; a work plan to demonstrate viability of the idea(s) within 12 months; and expected outcomes, results, prototypes, or media products.
  • Letters of Support: Two letters of support that assess the importance of the project and its chances of success.
  • Resume: Résumé/CV of each team member. Please include links to any climate related work.
  • Transcripts: Most recent transcript(s) of each individual on the team.
  • Budget: A budget for 12 months not exceeding a total of $150,000. The budget can include financial support of the team members (e.g. tuition remission and salary in accordance with University guidelines); cost for specialized hardware, software, and materials; travel, services; etc. and should follow the rules of the respective university. Each line item must be justified. Columbia applicants should use the budget template provided here.


  • Proposal submission deadline: May 15, 2020
  • Announcement of finalists: May 22, 2020
  • Presentation/Q&A by  finalists (virtual): June 1, 2020
  • Announcement of winners: June 5, 2020
  • Projects start: September 2020 (July/August by special arrangement)

Selection of Winners. Judging will take place in a two-step process. First, based on the reviews of the written applications, a small number of teams will be selected as finalists. Finalists will then be invited to submit a 5-minute presentation video by May 28 for review. Following video review, Finalists will participate in a virtual Q&A session.