By Ericha Hager; Internews Center for Innovation and Learning Intern

The second annual Mashable Media Summit was the place to be for media enthusiasts and technology junkies. This gathering, which took place last weekend at The Times Center in New York City, brought together over 300 professionals from a wide swath of the media landscape to learn how new technologies are shaping the future of journalism, redefining the boundaries of consumers/producers, and encouraging the design of new business models and revenue streams. Founders, presidents, CEOs, COOs, CCOs, SVPs and all other powerful acronyms were sharing media secrets of the leading lifestyle publications, television networks, and social media outlets.

Coming from the non-profit media development sector, I felt a little out of my game. Most of the time when I engage in conversations about innovative trends in media, SMS text messaging, interactive voice response, or data visualization platforms are the topics of choice. This conference focused on the exact opposite user demographic than the one typically found in the regions where Internews works. I was a little dubious after the opening plenary listed touch screens as one of the top five trends of 2012 to look out for. I mean, it shouldn’t matter to a media development organization that that 70% of viewers are using “second screens” (smartphone, computer, or tablet) to multitask while watching television or that brands are now starting to become media companies instead of the media being used to advertise for brands, right?

Not necessarily. While not all of the topics discussed at the Summit are applicable in this field of work, it is still important to be aware of where the future of media is headed. The new platforms and slick technologies discussed at the event are just now hitting the market, but they will be considered old in no time. The rate at which technology is developed and disseminated is astonishing. As one speaker pointed out, many digital electronic devices are subject to one of the many variations of Moore’s Law which states that technological advances occur at an exponential rate in such that every 18 months devices are twice as advanced as their predecessor and cost half as much as they did originally.

As these advances occur, technology is becoming more widespread and affordable than ever before. At this point, more people have access to cell phones than clean drinking water in much of Africa. We can only assume that the number of smartphones being used will overtake simple phones in this region sooner than later. Tablets will be next on the horizon with their light weight and ease of transport. Being aware of what is coming down the digital technology pipe and anticipating ways to integrate it into existing forms of traditional media will increase the effectiveness and timeliness of projects. If the media development sector is able to stay ahead of the curve and have projects hit the ground running, the better it will be able to improve the flow of information and open up new channels of communication in areas that need it most.

By Tara Susman-Peña ; Director of Research of The Media Map Project

The Data Without Borders first inaugural Datadive took place Oct 14-16, 2011 in New York.  The event brought together three NGOs with more data than they had capacity to deal with, together with approximately 70 volunteers to work with the data.  Volunteers’ skills clustered around statistics, visualization, and computer programming (or hacking, if you’re a cool nerd).

A map of our collective skill sets:

So what is a DataDive exactly?  I went there to learn just that (I don’t think I quite pass for a cool nerd, sadly).

Day 1 Kickoff:

3 NGOs present their datasets & projects.

1)      NYCLU – the NY chapter of the ACLU.  Their project uses data from the NYC police – what’s called “stop, question, frisk” data that the police produce to track their own activity.  They need help shrinking file sizes through data recoding and cleaning, and visualizing data including geographic mapping of incidents and demographics.  They also want help brainstorming ideas about what to explore in the data.

2)      MiX Market – a source for data on microfinance around the world.  They need scraping for data on microfinance in Africa.  I feel a pang when I learn what scraping is – writing computer code to automatically convert data files from html or pdf into excel, which then update automatically when new data is added.  Oh, the time we have spent manually converting such files (i.e. copy, paste, fix formatting, and proofread) for the Media Map website!  Then MiX Market wanted help with data cleaning and finally, analysis on key issues for microfinance.

3)      UN Global Pulse – the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General’s innovation initiative.  This group is meant to serve a parallel function to the Secretary-General that The Center for Innovation and Learning serves for Internews.  They propose two projects: one, to “see” fertilizer in Uganda using NASA satellite imagery to try to understand farmers’ practices and the impact that fertilizer has over time.  The other, a fascinating global survey (but participants were sworn to secrecy until the UN announces results in early November).  Stay tuned on that one.

Day 2:

A patchwork summary of the day can be found on the Data Without Borders wiki.

Participants start to trickle in at 8am.  Each group makes an informal and brief presentation about their data, and people form into groups according to their interest and array themselves throughout the Green Spaces loft space in Tribeca.  I work with the largest group, which is working on the NYCLU data, which requires huge amounts of cleaning.  One challenge: there doesn’t seem to be any publicly available statistics on crime in NY to the level of granularity that the NYCLU wants (to be able to investigate the degree to which police stop, question, and frisk people with certain demographic characteristics, out of proportion to the degree to which those demographics commit crimes).  Several people create some maps that look at interesting aspects of the data.  For example, this map shows “percent of blacks stopped to percent of blacks in the population, by precinct, 2010.” (Numbers on top indicate the precinct number; numbers on the bottom is the ratio). The map shows parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island.

A stroll around the loft to look at the progress of other projects finds most laptops displaying inscrutable (at least, to me) computer code.  Saturday saw a lot of bonding, a goodly supply of Red Bull, communal head scratching, hard work, time wasting, brainstorming, asking for and getting help, creativity, learning and sharing, and a fair amount of progress, especially given the short time period.  People come and go, with some lasting until 2am.

Day 3:

The participants from each team present what they accomplished over the weekend.

Each team was given a substantial leg up toward their goal, but there was plenty of work left to do.

Some overall observations:

  • Might be better to identify and select volunteers according to a range of skill sets, organize more beforehand and set up lines of communication in advance
  • Perhaps a bit more structure would help, and clearer information about how the weekend was organized from before we even walked in the door
  • Volunteers could have gotten much further in their analysis and visualization if the NGOs came to the event with clean data
  • It was helpful to have a data expert in the inside of the NGO with identified research questions
  • Lines of communication within a large team were not always clear, so there was potential for people to work at cross purposes or with unaligned goals
  • Would be good to hear from the NGO afterward (and throughout their research project) about what was useful, what not
  • Some interest amongst volunteers to continue on after the event – what is the best way to facilitate this?
  • Additional recommendations from the NYCLU team

DataDives coming soon to San Francisco, and beyond.

By Amy Chen; Masters student at Columbia University’s School of International & Public affairs

Earlier this year I joined a team of student consultants assisting Internews in their Media Map Project. Our objective was to create a report outlining the role of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) in donor decisions. Over the course of 4-months we interviewed 23 individuals from the media development field, focusing our efforts on donors: private, public, and multi-lateral. This post, however, is not going to outline the results of that project (for those interested, the report is available online), but recount my experience on the other side, facing the implementation challenges of media development M&E.

My experience in media development M&E took place in Bhutan this summer, but to understand the lens through which I view this experience, it is important to note I spent the first half of my summer conducting an endline evaluation in Chiapas, Mexico. Removed from the ivory tower, I spent six weeks traveling from village to village, collecting data for a randomized controlled trial (RCT). Unpredictable obstacles arose frequently, requiring us to make decisions that sacrificed procedures designed by academia to maintain consistency across 30 surveyors. Though my experience in the villages made me confident the program could have positive affects, I doubted the RCT could accurately reflect the potential impact of the program.

Already frustrated by my experience in Mexico, I arrived in Bhutan a bit uneasy. When my flight touched down I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t even have a clear idea of what my role at the media development Civil Service Organization (CSO) would be. One staff member informed me I had been pitched as an “expert” on research, brought in to bolster the CSO’s research component. I immediately began to doubt my qualifications for the internship, having had very limited experience conducting field research.

I arrived in the office the next day, still jetlagged and unsure of myself. After a quick orientation into the NGO I sat down for a basic training on qualitative research methods, led by two American lecturers conducting research at the local college. As I acclimated to the pace of the office, I took on my first assignment: transcribing a recent focus group conducted by the program officers. The hour-long recording taught me about Bhutanese youth culture and the culture of the NGO.

Though the entire staff had obtained college degrees, some even had post-graduate degrees; none had been trained in M&E basics. The first 20 minutes of the focus group centered around a subject, though interesting, failed to address the key concerns and questions of the moderators. My first two days in the office left me relieved and concerned; relieved I could contribute some M&E and research knowledge, but concerned my limited experience put me ahead of individuals required to incorporate M&E into their projects. Over the next month and a half, I learned the strengths of my coworkers. All could incorporate M&E elements into their assignments, if only they had the opportunity to learn them.

Several donors had mentioned the lack of M&E training available to implementers in their interviews, but I had not realized the pervasiveness of the problem. Despite my frustrations conducting M&E this summer, I still believe it’s an important component of development work; but the experiences have made me question the extent M&E can capture the outcomes of a program and the implications of an increased emphasis on M&E results.

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