Making local governments accountable through data journalism in Kenya

Halftime at the BMZ project “Our County – Our Responsibility: Telling Data Stories – Revealing Citizens‘ Reality”

The open data tool developer Code for Africa (CfA) and the Kenya Community Media Network (KCOMNET) have teamed up with CAMECO to help local communities track public governance decision making and spending in eight counties in Kenya.

Based on the successful implementation and lessons learned from the CAMECO-led pilot project in 2019, a larger three-year follow-up project was approved and launched in October 2020, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

In 2010, Kenya adopted a new constitution and voted to decentralise government. Forty-seven counties were created, and county governments negotiated a working relationship with the national government in terms of power and revenue sharing. Every five years, each county submits a "County Integrated Development Plan" (CIDP), which defines the respective development areas, goals, and budget lines. According to the Constitution, the development measures set out in these documents should also reflect the priorities of the citizens, which result from a participatory process in which citizens are involved, and their opinions and recommendations are considered.

The reality on the ground, however, shows that concerns of the citizens in the eight selected target counties often contrast with the measures that have been decided on. The majority of the population was not informed that so-called citizens' forums were taking place in which the plans were to be presented and discussed. Accountability is largely neglected by county governments. Transparency is not established with regard to either the planned or the implemented development projects, etc.

In such a situation, the information and control function of local media plays a key role. They have the potential and opportunity to promote participation in debates and discuss the management of public affairs as they have the most immediate and direct access to people, especially in rural communities.

In the pilot project, KCOMNET and the social science research institute Jesuit Hakimani Centre (JHC) cooperated to enable 14 community radio stations in eight counties to understand the political process and the contents of the local development plans and their implementation. The main objective of the pilot phase was to motivate the population to participate actively in democratic decision-making processes and to demand good governance. Topics such as the mandate and role of public officials, processes of public participation, budget cycles, etc. were first communicated to journalists and then addressed in 42 radio productions and 24 theatre plays.

The current perennial project continues to cooperate with KCOMNET as main partner and from October 2020 until June 2022 included the civic technology, open data and data journalism NGO, Code for Africa (CfA). CfA oversaw the implementation of three training cycles – which had to be re-designed as an online programme due to the Corona pandemic. The training cycles aimed to improve the skills of 56 journalists from 14 radio stations in digital journalism and ultimately strengthen their competence to independently research and validate the CIDPs. Training focused on basic fact-checking/investigative journalism, the introduction to public budgeting/public procurement and data journalism. In a Training of Trainers workshop (ToT) a selected group of trainees was empowered to adopt a people-centred and participatory approach to designing and delivering effective data journalism and verification training at their radio stations/journalism clubs. 

In May 2022 the IT-based online tool (County Data Information System - CDIS) was launched in Nairobi with data from the eight counties. The tool helps journalists, researchers, and activists to transform their work with in-depth county-specific information for data tracking, analysis, and comparison between the counties.

Meanwhile, KCOMNET started and continues to systematically work with aspiring young journalists. In cooperation with the 14 radio stations, KCOMNET has established 14 journalism clubs in secondary schools, with 280 students participating. In a photo competition, the students impressively visualised shortcomings and grievances in their living environment/county.

Besides, at least twenty young people are currently working as freelancers at five radio stations in Nairobi, Tana River, Kajiado and Isiolo and are involved in producing youth-specific programmes. In addition, an internship programme has been arranged with five Kenyan universities, with a view to enabling students to gain hands-on experience and contribute to the workforce of local community-based radio stations – a win-win scenario.

In the remaining months of this year, the focus will continue to be on the production of youth-specific programmes and the formulation of a manifesto for young people, the expansion of the internship programme as well as the production of content that deals primarily with the general election.

The project will be rounded off next year with the production of a Local Journalism handbook, including examples of good practice on how to improve local reporting so that all local journalists and students of journalism can benefit from the experience. Organisational measures for the Association of Citizens' Media (KCOMNET) in 2023 will ensure and further develop the sustainable continuation of the initiated processes and achievements of the BMZ’s projects in Kenya.