Many poverty reduction strategies and the return to five-year national plans in sub-Saharan Africa are often linked to longer term development strategies e.g. Vision 2030 in Kenya and Vision 2025 in Tanzania, which stress the vital importance of economic growth. Yet, detailed growth objectives fall short on specifics of implementation and how relevant policies will prioritise benefits for the poor. The recent economic crisis impact on economic and social development in the region has made donors and policy makers critically focus on how achieve ‘pro-poor’ growth.
If poverty reduction and economic growth are to respond to the needs and interests of the poor, policy-making must be more coherent and inclusive in both content and process. More inclusive policy and better policy coordination require not just the development of policy proposals based on robust evidence reflecting range of views but also require effective communication strategies. So that the proposals can be more widely shared, enriched through stakeholder debate and effectively promoted and owned at an official level.
The World Bank has stressed the vital importance of communication for participation and more inclusive policy-making on poverty reduction. It is not enough for the poor to make their voices heard, it also depends on how the poor are seen and represented by other actors such as NGOs, the media, policy research bodies, official ministries, advocacy groups and public institutions. These groups can shape public attitudes and official policy discourse on causes and solutions for poverty, including the role of economic growth. Yet, their approach to communication and their capacity for more influential communication through effective interaction is often problematic.
In Kenya and Tanzania, Relay is working to build links between policy research bodies and the media, to strengthen media coverage and debate around issues of economic growth and poverty reduction. The project, which is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), runs from July 2009-September 2011. Project activities include:
- Media scan – to obtain information on the media landscape with regards to the capacity of reporting inclusive growth issues
- Icebreakers – bringing together researchers and journalists together to identify problems inhibiting an effective working relationship
- Media and Researcher Trainings in Kenya and Tanzania – building on the problems identified through activities where both journalists and researchers work together
- Mentoring and Fellowships – providing support for journalists to report on economic growth and poverty issues
- Regional Building Solutions workshop – bringing together stakeholders from Kenya and Tanzania to share findings and capture lessons learned from the project
- Evaluation throughout to capture lessons learned
To date, outcomes of the project include:
- Information gathering – the media scan found that there were several factors impeding the media to disseminate research findings. The scan found that there was a lack of access to public information and/or data as for example, some are hidden under Kenya’s Official Secrets Act and similar bureaucratic red tape exists in Tanzania. Corruptive practices towards the media in both countries have constrained their respective media standards. In addition, there is a concern that academic levels of entry into the media profession are low, yet there is a demand for skills in practice. The scan noted a lack of training for both journalists to understand and researchers to communicate research findings.
- Regional Advisory Group (RAG) – the purpose of the RAG is to support, advise, question and challenge Panos‟ work in relation to the objectives of this project. The group comprises of five members who were chosen for their experience within/across the media, research and civil society sectors, their interest in economic and inclusive growth issues, and their strong networks in East Africa and regionally.
- Understanding relationships – the icebreakers brought together researchers and journalists to discuss existing challenges, their perceptions, their attitudes towards each other and existing opportunities of working together to bring to the fore economic growth and poverty reduction issues in Eastern Africa. Lively debates occurred in both countries
- Demystifying inclusive growth – as the scan revealed journalists had little understanding of inclusive growth issues, the media and researcher trainings provided time to provide explanations for various terms and provided examples of research to policy issues by key stakeholders with experience in these issues.
- Building partnerships – the media and researcher trainings incorporated field trips that were an opportunity for journalists and researchers to work together and helped build partnerships. Journalists and Researchers were mixed and put into groups to package a story. Participants were divided into two groups and both given journalistic and research duties to come up with a publishable feature story and personality profile. Moreover, the trips allowed researchers and journalists to meet people affected by inclusive growth issues and to see the importance of such trips to include voices from the ground.
- Engaging with inclusive growth issues – After the Media and Researcher training in Tanzania, the participants took initiative to set up a google-group to discuss inclusive growth issues. The Kenyan participants were also keen but this has not been set up yet. There are plans to set this up in the next period.
- Changed attitudes – A remarkable aspect of the training in both Kenya and Tanzania was the 180 degree change in the opinion by researchers and journalists of each other. Both researchers and journalists were skeptical and did not really trust one another to work together. However, by the end of the field trips, many of the participants felt that they achieved an understanding and respect for each other’s professions.
- Understanding gender disparities – there were fewer women in attendance for these activities in Tanzania than Kenya. It has been suggested that this may be due to fewer women in the media than their Kenyan peers and invitations to researchers were sent to the directors who on the whole were men. As a result, the project partners are actively stepping up the recruitment of women through explicit targeting especially in Tanzania.
- Understanding lack of buy-in from Kenyan researchers – Fewer researchers attended in Kenya than in Tanzania. It was suggested that there is more activity and mobilisation around this issue in Kenya than in Tanzania so researchers were extremely busy with various commitments. However, invitations were given out earlier for the Media and Researcher training in response to the lack of numbers that attended the Icebreaker in Kenya.