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Toolkit for a Tricky Business

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

What makes media development work? It seems that even development specialists don't always know. To close this knowledge gap, CommGAP is working on a media development toolkit for governance advisors, giving recommendations on how to implement successful media development projects.

Basis of this toolkit is a learning needs assessment study that CommGAP commissioned at the end of last year. The two main findings: many governance advisors aren't aware of the importance of the media in governance. The few who are describe their media-related capabilities as "emerging" or "unsophisticated."

To change this rather regrettable status quo, CommGAP's Shanthi Kalathil has taken on the development of a toolkit with recommendations and best practices. Last Thursday, a number of media development specialists sat down at the World Bank and discussed their experiences and the dos and don'ts of media development.

The participants of the Media Development Working Group come from a variety of development agencies, including CIMA, Internews, USAID, Global Voices, ICFJ, IREX, and, of course, the World Bank. A lively discussion resulted in a long list of points to consider, and some specifically caught my attention. Interestingly, it seemed to be somewhat of a problem for the discussants to figure out what to do about new media. One of our experts advocated for a stronger awareness that new communication technologies will change the entire development landscape, and are already doing so. Still, it was difficult to get beyond a more traditional approach to media development - or does the old approach still apply, only with new caveats? And no, I will not attempt to answer this question here.

Another interesting discussion focused on well-meant donor attempts at providing media training, without necessarily considering all factors that make such a training a success. For instance, the discussants all agreed that if possible, local trainers should be employed who work with the trainees on actual stories in their actual environment and with their actual equipment. What use is it if a British journalist comes in with a portable digital editing station, only to leave the trainees without any advanced technical devices when leaving? It's not much help to be able to use digital editing programs when you don't even have a computer. Also, the Working Group members strongly recommended that donors get the editorial staff and management of media outlets to buy into any training efforts. Great skills are worth nothing if the editor sent journalists to a training only because there was some reward for participating. And especially in authoritarian states donors must be aware that they might endanger people's lifes with the training they offer. Idealism is misplaced if journalists will be persecuted after participating in professional workshops. It's also misplaced if donors are trying to teach something that is plain impossible in a country. Our participants warned that Western ethics may be a tricky business in countries where journalists earn their living by "pay for play." If you want a change in practice, you will need to introduce alternative models.

Media development is certainly no easy job. CommGAP will keep you updated about the media development toolkit!

Photo credit: Flickr user hoosadork


Submitted by Premesh on
Its interesting that such a discussion is happening. But without any input from the final recipients of such a toolkit??? I think you would do better actually asking media organisations what they need and want. Also with regards to trainers, US contractors continue to insist on Western trainers and also evaluators, because these are people that they already know.

Submitted by Anne-Katrin on
Thanks a lot for your comment! Actually, we agree entirely with your arguments. Before we started the round table discussions we did a full needs assessment among governance advisors and specialists (the recipients of the toolkit) within the organizations on the ground. The discussion we're reporting on were based on the outcomes of this survey: we asked our participants to discuss solutions to the problems that the experts on the ground reported they face. One of the points that came up over and over in our discussions - and I should have mentioned it in my posts - was that it is more effective to use local trainers and local partners for media development projects. There's more trust and local specialists know the environment much better. So several recommendations in the toolkit will refer to the advantages of working with local people. If you have any more thoughts on this particular point, we'd be very interested to hear about it!

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