International development organizations tend to agree that more coordination is better in order to reduce activity duplication and scale successful projects. Indeed, it’s vital to be strategic about funding and approaches to common causes, particularly when it comes to media development for which funding is scarce. We’ve all seen international organizations try to improve coordination over the years in different forms—usually encouraged by donors—yet despite pouring money into pricey coordination activities, convoluted funding schemes and overlapping development approaches have persisted. This makes me think that another approach is necessary.
In fact, here at CIMA we have been trying to do something slightly different. CIMA has sought to focus on listening to local and regional organizations and stakeholders and helping those organizations project a clearer message about their media development priorities—from which donors and implementers can then learn. We piloted this approach at a gathering in Latin America last year, where we brought together a multi-stakeholder group including representatives from media organizations, civil society organizations, government regulators, and regional authorities to address local challenges. The hope is that donors, regulators, and civil society organizations will now take their cues from the actors who can actually foster change and get things done. Our pilot builds on the idea that coordination on development approaches is most effective as a bottom-up process.
Shifting funds for coordination towards local and regional actors may help international implementers better organize and strategize about how to support media development in various contexts. I’ve only been in the democracy and media development field for five years, but I know personally how hard it is to successfully argue for funding for networks, coalitions, or coordination projects aimed at local actors. While continuing to advocate for more funds for these local and regional efforts, I think it is still important to improve our approach to coordination at the international implementer level. Merely shifting funds for coordination entirely to local and regional actors does not address the perception that current media development funding schemes are burdensome and disconnected from local realities.
Although it’s sometimes hard to justify the dollars spent on the convening of these large organizations rather than the local contexts we seek to empower, coordination meetings and efforts among international implementers could play an important role if we rethink our approach. This starts with acknowledging the limitations and re-defining the objectives of such efforts. At international or regional coordination meetings between international implementers, it’s hard to make sense of media development programs at a granular level. We get caught in the weeds of projects and beneficiaries, and lose hope. It may be worth leaving those types of details to regional and local consultations, like the ones CIMA has been organizing.
There are a lot of ways to energize international coordination approaches. International coordination efforts among media development implementers could focus on 1) building relationships and trust to strengthen support networks where we share lessons and leverage resources, 2) honing political messages and strategies to influence donor funding schemes and policy decisions that squeeze media development efforts, and 3) supporting data gathering. This last point is key: the media development field lacks data. In order to influence policy decisions and develop more effective programming, media development organizations need to provide evidence and data to effectively advocate for media priorities and support key research initiatives. This isn’t possible if organizations are not systematically tracking and evaluating their media development projects, and sharing the results. Coordination meetings can serve as a platform to exchange success stories about developing these internal data collection processes and discussing trends.
Gaining clarity about the benefits of different types of coordination efforts and meetings—those driven by local and regional actors versus international implementers—will create pathways for scaling up media development impact around the world.
Madeleine Stokes was the Assistant Research and Outreach Officer at the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) until July 2016 Prior to joining CIMA, Maddy worked on NED’s Middle East and North Africa program team. From 2012 to 2014, she worked on democracy-building approaches and NGO management in Beirut, Lebanon. There she supported local initiatives to empower civilians in Lebanon and Syria. She developed and oversaw programs that advocated for women and independent voices and contributed to research and public polling efforts that highlighted the deleterious effects of political conflict on local communities and democracy.