At the 2015 FoME symposium, DW Akademie's head of Strategy and Consulting Services Petra Berner came away with some important lessons that media development can learn from the art of cooking.
Each year, the German Forum for Media and Development (better known as FoME from the abbreviation of its German name, Forum Medien und Entwicklung) holds a symposium bringing together people and organizations working in media development.
In his opening remarks at this year's FoME symposium, Christoph Dietz from the Catholic Media Council spoke of grandmothers' recipes and how they are an important source of information for the cooks of today. He wondered if there were similar recipes for those in media development.
Now, after two days of sharing and debating at the conference, I am convinced that those of us involved in media development have now put together some new chapters for a cookbook. A cookbook with recipes for methods and concepts in media development.
The recipes in this cookbook aren't rigid though – they don't set out exactly how much of one ingredient and how much of another should be used. Rather, they provide a guide for cooks who from time to time will need to add their own individual touches.
So here are the new chapters of our cookbook, which received a good pinch of seasoning from the speech made by our keynote speaker, Ben Ramalingam, a development researcher and adviser at the Institute of Development Studies.
Simple versus complex cooking
We cannot simply eliminate or even scale back complexity. Instead, we have to recognize and embrace it. We need to avoid oversimplified recipes where we just add water and expect the dish to turn out as depicted on the front of the packet. Cooking is a complex art form and a good cook will taste, tweak and flavor a dish during the cooking process. Media development needs to do the same: we need to be open to learning what is happening and adjust what we are doing. We can do this by using diverse methods to analyze, measure, and evaluate projects while they are taking place.
But our food is different
I heard many people at the FoME symposium say the media sector is different from other development sectors. I agree, the media sector is as different as, well, any other sector.
A microwave oven and an induction oven are also different, but they are also quite similar in that they both need electricity to work and they can both heat food. So when it comes to the issue and practice of evaluation, we shouldn't use difference as an excuse to avoid doing something we really need to be doing.
At the same time, it is true that media is different when it comes to digital transformation and its implications for the media development sector.
Special dietary requirements
Experienced cooks knows that people from one country prefer their food spicy, those from another country spurn beef, and the inhabitants of a third want bread with every meal. They also know that ingredients have regional and seasonal variations and adjust their recipes accordingly.
It's the same with media development. When working in any given country or region, we need to research people's eating habits and the kind of ingredients they are used to, and tailor our projects to this. And we shouldn't forget to ask the people themselves what they need in order to achieve a healthy, balanced and tasty diet.
New exploratory dishes
During the two-day symposium, we discovered many new recipes for our work with our partners:
Overall, we have developed the elements of a unique cookbook and I think we should follow up on that.
We need to make use of our unique community of media development activists, experts, implementers, evaluators, consultants, trainers, and project managers, and keep on exchanging recipes for both simple and complex meals!