In recent years, the field of media development has undergone great transformation, as have many areas of development cooperation. Changes include new approaches to development in terms of content and methods, a reevaluation of development cooperation, and innovative ways of evaluating impacts. As a result, organizations such as DW Akademie have rethought their approaches while foundations and human rights groups face a variety of new challenges.
The upcoming Forum for Media and Development (FoME) conference in Bonn gives media development experts a chance to learn from one another and to look at the effectiveness of various tools in improving the quality of projects, among other things. Patrick Leusch, head of International Affairs at DW Akademie, gives us this preview of the 2015 FoME annual conference, where the focus is on impact.
Patrick Leusch, what are the big issues at this year's conference?
This year we want to talk about how changes around development policy in addition to global change processes have altered our day-to-day work. In other words, we'll discuss the new methods and concepts that have been developed and what specific instruments are being used. For example, there are a variety of new digital tools that can be used to monitor the success of media development projects. We want to exchange experiences, approaches and very practical knowledge with one another.
How should we understand the changes we've seen over the past few years in the field of media development?
Previously, the focus of media development was on training journalists and the primary instrument for that was workshops. However, in many countries there have been very few structural changes and journalists there still work under extremely difficult conditions.
So today, we're looking at the bigger picture. Overarching objectives such as supporting democracy, higher levels of citizen participation and a respect for human rights are crucial. And when you consider these aspects, it very quickly become clear that whole sections of society have to be included in our thinking – legal entities, public authorities, organizations, and political and legal frameworks.
Using a holistic approach in the pursuit of these overarching goals requires complex processes that require better strategies. This requires precisely defining a project's objectives and how they will be reached, which in turn leads to new concepts and methods and to longer-term projects. It also means that donors are increasingly demanding we clearly show that the projects undertaken are having the desired effects.
What are some of the new processes and instruments that can measure these effects?
Primarily, the instruments used in media development are those that are already commonly used in the field of development cooperation: evaluation methods, monitoring systems and project management systems. At the same time, completely new procedures are also being developed to measure success and impact in areas such as storytelling or investigative journalism. These new journalistic formats will be presented at the conference.
What is a particular challenge regarding impact assessment in the field of media development?
Essentially it's about measuring what effects media content has on people who consume it, and how it affects their behavior. We want to see what effect the media has on media consumers in terms of access to information, degrees of freedom and the free exercise of their rights. This kind of thing is hard to measure, but there is a lot of work going on right now to do just that.
How far has media development come in terms of digital transformation?
The mainstreaming of digital thinking is going to be a big subject at the conference. It's a hot topic in media development circles as well as at foundations and NGOs. Our goal is to nudge digital thinking even further into the mainstream – both at media development organizations and their partner organizations. We want to look at how digital instruments can be better integrated, the kinds of tools that are available, and strategies for improving our own consulting with regards to digital transformation. I'm very excited about the exchanges that will take place among the different groups at the conference.
What else is on the agenda?
One workshop will offer tips on how to build a sense of ownership at a partner organization. That is, it will look at how it is possible to strengthen a sense of responsibility on the part of a project partner abroad. DW Akademie will offer a "consulting lab" on the subject of organizational development and we're inviting a group of local consultants from developing countries who will take part in a workshop on strengthening the consulting expertise of partners and who will share their own experiences with others.
What would be the ideal takeaway from the symposium?
We hope there will be a strong exchange about current instruments and tools – everyone should have a better understanding at the end of the conference about what is now being used. We want people to leave with very practical information. In addition, I'd like to see a positive dialogue take place that can help everyone better understand the challenges and objectives of today, be that regarding cooperation with donors, implementing organizations or partners. Representatives from DW Akademie partner organizations in the countries where we work will be at the conference to discuss just that.