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Improved media coverage and debate in Kenya

Issa Hussein from the Kenya Pastoralist Journalist Network practises interviewing Kenyan tax expert, Jack Ranguma. / Annie Hoban - Panos London

Panos London’s Relay Programme Manager, Annie Hoban, talks about a new case study that shows how researchers and journalists worked together to talk tax and governance in Kenya.

Development agencies working on issues such as maternal health, agriculture, stigma and exclusion are being challenged to prove that their activities produce results and make a real difference to the people they are supposed to help. For instance, last month, Bill and Melinda Gates talked about the impact of development aid to London’s international development glitterati at the event ‘Living Proof: Real lives, Real progress’. Melinda Gates said: “When aid is focused on poor people, when it is done properly, it works… As a world, we are getting a lot smarter about this development aid. We are much more focused on results, we’re more focused on measuring the impact these dollars are getting, and we are more coordinated.”

The UK government is also looking for results. In May, the new international development secretary Andrew Mitchell pledged that his “top priority [would] be to secure maximum value for money in aid through greater transparency, rigorous independent evaluation and an unremitting focus on results.” In October, alongside a recommitment to increase the UK’s aid budget to 0.7% of GNI from 2013, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact was unveiled. “Results, transparency and accountability will be our watchwords and will define everything we do,” Mitchell affirmed.

Development researchers are facing the same demand from their donors. Impact was on the agenda of a recent conference of the UK’s Development Studies Association, where the Economic and Social Research Council shared their new requirement that applications for research funding should include summaries of the expected impact of the research.

Some prominent development practitioners and thinkers have not welcomed the new focus on predicting and measuring results, and have launched the ‘Big Push Back’ movement. They doubt whether a heavy audit culture will ultimately support the type of development practice that leads to social transformation. They fear that it will favour programmes that deliver easily measurable numbers-based results, ignoring the complexity of development and demanding the impossible in a way that will waste time and resources.

Like others involved in supporting development research, Panos London’s Relay programme is finding the new demand to prove results challenging. It is already a full plate to work with partners on the ground, building capacity, brokering relationships and generating media coverage to get research and research findings into the public domain and discussed by policy makers. Finding ways to measure results and share learning, let alone find evidence of longer-term impact, is indeed a very tall order.

But we do want to understand the value of what we do. We want to weigh up what works against what does not, to track what changes happen in the longer term as a result of our own interventions and others’, and ultimately to build up a bigger picture of how these changes contribute to development. The first step is to document and study the short-term results of our activities. Reporting tax research: connecting researchers and journalists for improved media coverage and debate in Kenya is one example of how we do this.

This case study describes some of the methods developed by Panos London’s Relay Programme, which has worked with partners in Africa and Asia to bring together editors, journalists and researchers to build skills and knowledge and develop professional relationships to improve the reporting of research through the media. The case study offers a detailed and descriptive account of a workshop in Kenya in which Relay’s methods were applied to the issue of tax and governance. It also looks at what we know about the early results of this activity.

Relay hopes that this case study will inform and encourage others to take up our approaches in order to improve media coverage and debate of research issues. Documents like this are also a step towards understanding what impact our activities have, and contribute to a healthy discussion about what kind of assessment and tools can effectively capture and communicate results to our partners, donors, beneficiaries and the wider public.

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