8 October 2012

Africa: IDS and AllAfrica Team up to Focus Attention on Key Development Issues

This week the first of three special multimedia packages is being carried by the AllAfrica media group. In blogs, stories and images, AllAfrica will explore the challenges faced by communities in Kenya around food security and under nutrition. They have captured the perspectives of farmers, local journalists, researchers and policy makers, and will take you from rural Kenya to the corridors of Westminster Palace in the UK.

The next package, coming out later this month, will look at how high levels of malaria are impacting on local health services in Nigeria. You will be taken on a journey spanning the attitudes of patent medicine vendors who offer the only access to medicines in many poor communities to international experts' views on what the Global Fund should decide about affordable medicines for malaria at next month's board meeting in Geneva. The final package will be focused on maternal health in Uganda.

IDS offered AllAfrica complete access to our researchers and our partners and provided support and advice as the reporting was being developed. We had been looking for a media partner committed to taking a critical approach and able to identify where the real stories were.

AllAfrica clearly recognised the project as a valuable opportunity to engage with research organisations in a new way and deliver the kind of high quality journalism focused on international development and human wellbeing that is sometimes squeezed out by other issues and content.

Our decision to work with a pan-African digital media organisation rather than a more traditional national media outlet was partly driven by the innovative and exciting model of news and information service that we felt AllAfrica represents.

The AllAfrica Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation whose staff are primarily African, working in Nairobi, Cape Town, Dakar and Monrovia. The web site allAfrica.com, which is hosting the development reporting project, posts over 2000 items on an average day, in partnership with 130 African news organisations, and has a searchable archive of some three million pieces. They are committed to supporting African journalism and even seem to share our interest in evidence based policy making.

Some argue that the rapid development of new information and communication technologies, such as social media, have rendered the traditional media (including online) less influential. However, there is much convergence of the old with the new. Just consider AllAfrica's own plans to work with the Kenya Women Finance Trust to pair community radio programs with mobile devices to allow interactive information sharing.

Another good reason to work with journalists and media organisations is to take advantage of their access to policy makers. The White House recruited AllAfrica as the sole news organisation to interview President Barack Obama before his only presidential visit to sub-Saharan Africa. AllAfrica users from around the world and from almost every African country – of all ages and occupations, from truck drivers to students to physicians – submitted questions to pose to the president, some of which he responded to by text from Air Force One en route to Ghana.

Probably the most exciting part of this collaboration for me has been witnessing journalists interview the experts in nutrition and health systems and then go off and build up stories through local journalism with the people actually affected by these issues. This may sound like a bit of a top down approach but it must be said that IDS never told AllAfrica what the stories were. It was only after they finished visiting farms, health clinics and local newspaper offices that they came and told us what the packages were to be about and of course grilled the academics all over again about their findings.

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