Katine, one year on
The Guardian’s Katine project is a unique attempt to track a development project by reporting it over a long period and by using the full range of media. It is coming up to a year since the project was launched, so this is a good time to see how effective the media components have been so far.
Katine might also provide lessons to a whole family of similar projects, such as Kiva, The Millenium Village and Nabuur, where ICTs, whilst not the principal intervention, are involved predominantly to allow a Northern audience to connect more closely with these interventions.
Based in Northern Uganda, the Katine project seeks to provide improvements in the region through a number of interventions in health, education, governance and livelihoods. The Guardian, along with Barclays bank occupies the position of development donor, supplying the funds for NGOs AMREF and Farm-Africa to carry out the interventions.
But, the Guardian “unlike many more traditional donors..is not a ‘hands off’ donor”*. With regular reporting and coverage on its dedicated Katine website, it is closely involved in following and scrutinising what is happening on the ground. For the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, this hands-on approach is a way to allow the Guardian to report development complexities, moving “beyond the sloganising and occasional yah-boo politics of the development debate” whilst allowing space for readers to contribute, “we would like a technical know-how bank of people who are prepared to offer time and advice”.
We can see two styles of reporting that have emerged, one comes from the writers from ‘outside’, the other from those who have a longer association with the project. Unsurprisingly, the more embedded views tend to be the most interesting; the work by Guardian reporters and visitors often seems indistinguishable from online material produced by other NGOs.
The embedded Ugandan journalist, Richard M Kavuma, has provided a number of interesting pieces, particularly more recently. For example, he takes up the case of the non-payment of the builders within the project, and recently has used website comments to question AMREF’s contracting practices.
Equally enlightening is the writing of the independent evaluator Rick Davies. It is disappointing that his blog is separated from the Guardian, as it provides the most interesting discussions. He has used the extended form of his blog to debate a number of interesting development issues, such as project aims and goals, openness of implementers and the jargon of development.
The surprise is that the voices of the locals of Katine are muted. Where local voices do appear, such as in the small documentaries or the village voices section, they are often mediated through a video narrative or a communications officer. The Katine website could have been an opportunity for locals to interact with the online community through articles, photography, video and audio, particularly given the presence of the Guardian as a resource. Without this, the Ugandan villagers often seem secondary to the opinion of the writer or narrative; not exactly in line with the empowering rhetoric of the overall project.
Benefits of media?
Increased amounts of funding can be seen to come through this higher profile method of fundraising. Not all of this goes directly to the project, as there are significant costs that come from the extra requirements as outlined in the budget; internet access, IT specialists, supporting UK journalist visits, UK based “liaison with the Guardian and Barclays”*. However, it would be unfair to say that the donators are simply funding the Guardian’s media operations. This type of media-aware action provides potential for increased contributions to a development project.
And what about editor Rusbridger’s comment abou the media coverage influencing the project itself? In his most recent evaluation, Rick Davies comments that “Most AMREF staff…could recall particularly postings that had prompted a reaction of one kind or another”, although he doubts any changes, “in Katine my impression was that in some cases nothing more was heard”. Perhaps Davies is underplaying their power. Even if not explicit, the media awareness and learning must have some effect on the way the project partners act, even if it is not possible to measure.
What about more advanced hopes of the Guardian ‘crowd-sourcing’ help for development? Despite a few isolated successes, Davies provides a more convincing critique as to why this is not occurring. Rusbridger is making an incorrect assumption “that the main problems are technical when in fact it could be argued that they are really more social and institutional”.
In sum, Katine has provided a more expansive view of development, mainly through the ability to build stories over time, particularly from those like Kavuma and Davies who are closely connected with the work. But there seems a missed opportunity for local production which still leaves a suspicion of the Guardian project being a one-way conversation.
Increased funding can also be attributed to the Guardian, and although this has been somewhat diminished by the extra resources needed, the extra funds generated point to the financial potential of such close media link ups in development.
As this is a three year project. I’m look forward to seeing how this develops, both in terms of the project itself (and the inevitable issues that arise) and how the media components evolve as technology changes.