This GFMD IMPACT report analyses the scope and focus of media assistance coordination efforts, highlighting common pitfalls as well as best practice models.
The need for coordination and information sharing within the media development industry is widely recognised – particularly in the wake of conflict or crisis. Common wisdom holds that coordination plays an essential role in avoiding duplication or contradictions between programmes funded by different donors and offers a unique opportunity to explore synergies between complementary strands of work.
The GFMD IMPACT report Coordinating Media Assistance and Journalism Support Efforts analyses the scope and focus of media assistance coordination efforts, highlighting common pitfalls as well as best practice models.
A four-page policy briefing that presents a set of major findings and recommendations for practical steps that could be used to inform future coordination initiatives, including in conflict and emergency situations, can be accessed here.
The full report is available here.
Stakeholders suggest that coordination can also help to harmonise or combine efforts to assess the needs of beneficiaries and to evaluate the impact of programming across a wide portfolio of projects. Ideally, then, coordination should involve donors, implementing agencies and local organisations – recipients of the assistance – thereby ensuring that the development community can make optimal use of available resources by determining priority areas and apportioning spheres of interest and responsibility.
Dedicated coordination and information sharing also enable media development actors to address diverse needs within any given media ecosystem and, therefore, ensure that the impact of any one project is not undermined or blunted by endemic weaknesses in the operating environment.
While there have been numerous attempts to coordinate project-based activities on a national as well as a regional level, these initiatives have generally struggled to maintain stakeholder buy-in over a sustained period of time.
Common obstacles to effective coordination include widespread competition between implementing agencies which is driven primarily by mechanisms used by donors to disburse funding. These market forces mean that agencies are often unwilling or unable to share the information which might give their rivals a competitive advantage. Moreover, the donor-implementer-recipient relationship remains top-down and is shaped by shifting programmatic priorities that may reflect political imperatives or ephemeral themes rather than actual needs.
- There is no default template for coordination groups, and most are shaped by the forces of circumstance. Typically, however, they comprise a cycle of scheduled meetings underpinned by shared databases, online groups, and bespoke events.
- All coordination mechanisms studied during the research have embraced information- and knowledge-sharing as their primary focus. Related activities have included mapping past, present, and future projects as well as keeping members informed of upcoming funding opportunities.
- Coordinating bodies have facilitated resource-sharing among their members in areas such as training and fundraising, but the potential for conducting joint needs assessments and quantitative or qualitative research has yet to be fully exploited.
- Several respondents interviewed during the study highlighted the value of collective monitoring and evaluation to track positive changes across media ecosystems, arguing that this would significantly reduce duplication of effort.
- In addition, coordination groups have engaged in advocacy, either by lobbying donors to commit funding to specific initiatives or by mobilising members around priority issues such as reforms to the legislative or regulatory environment.
- Strategic development remains the holy grail of coordination: an ambition to look at the bigger picture and determine how individual organisations can contribute to a national work plan based on agreed priorities and imperatives. However, experience shows that attempts to devise an overarching strategy are impeded by the rigid nature of funding programmes and overlapping agendas within the development community
Sharing information and exploring synergies should be fixtures of the media development landscape in any given country. The positive impact of such activities on value for money, aid effectiveness, and public perceptions of development programmes was recognised across the board and particularly in the context of the fundamental principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.
Clearly, the scale of coordination work will depend largely on the volume of programming on the ground. However, even in those countries that see low levels of activity or have a single dominant programme, there was perceived value in introducing media development as a separate thematic strand in wider coordination efforts.
Based on its findings and conclusions, the study recommends the following:
1. Strong leadership that ensures proper inclusion and full participation
Leadership plays an essential role in keeping activities on track, motivating participants, and driving effective engagement with external stakeholders. In the context of meetings, this extends to inclusive moderation that ensures all attendees can participate fully and that discussions are properly balanced between local and international actors, large and small organisations, and men and women. Leadership organisations should be independent and professional, and they should have sufficient resources to sustain coordination over time. A number of respondents raised the question of whether coordination should be led by donors or implementing agencies. Donor or implementor leadership can be helpful, but in certain cases, local implementing agencies are better positioned to set the agenda since they have greater insight into local needs and enjoy the trust of local beneficiaries.
2. Scope and focus of work, administration, and meeting formats
It is important to define the objectives, outcomes, and structure of the coordination project and meetings, as well as to identify its target groups and core activities. Agile working is about mobilising actors, processes, communications, and technology to find the most efficient and effective way of collaborating. It is about working with optimum flexibility and limited constraints while safeguarding the necessary guidelines and processes. Identifying the right arrangements and frequency for coordination meetings is essential to ensuring buy-in and maintaining stakeholders’ momentum. Ensuring that the coordination group’s functions are not duplicating the work of other organisations or structures is also key.
3. Establishing equal partnerships and participation
Concerted efforts should be made to ensure proper representation from across the spectrum of media development organisations and to maintain a quorum and clear objectives for each meeting. Ultimately, this will involve “selling” the concept to the putative membership and demonstrating its value from an early stage. Local organisations can often feel disconnected from the international development community. In most cases, they have limited capacity and smaller budgets, and consequently, they feel less able to invest time and energy to make sure that their views are taken into account. Introducing effective mechanisms for including and listening to local views, needs, and priorities makes coordination more relevant.
4. An ability to engage
The potential for coordination groups to lead advocacy efforts in transitional democracies should not be underestimated. This requires a joined-up strategy and consensus on the target issues, but a coordination body that unites key local media actors can play a significant role in identifying realistic objectives and mobilising the resources necessary to achieve them. There is an urgent need for substantive discussions on developing national strategies and ensuring proper complementarity between funding programs. In the short term, donors should be encouraged to invest in collaborative research, monitoring, and evaluation. This could act as an entry point for sustained partnerships between funders, implementing agencies, and local organisations receiving the support.
5. A stable and predictable source of funding
Understandably, coordination processes that have enjoyed sustained donor funding or support have outlasted those that have led a hand-to-mouth existence or have relied on the goodwill of participants alone. Stable funding ensures that groups can establish a secretariat and IT assets (including digital platforms). The ability to commission sectoral research on an ad hoc basis can be of significant benefit to all stakeholders, while expert advice on new thematic priorities can help inform and drive working group discussions
6. Sufficient flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and priorities
Coordination bodies should avoid developing complex bureaucracies or onerous operating procedures and act as a catalyst for efficient and effective actions instead. Several respondents recommended using coordination bodies as a platform for discussing thematic imperatives and finding solutions to sectoral challenges. Dynamic groups that are committed to collective problem-solving and can rally individuals and organisations around concrete initiatives will enjoy higher levels of interest and buy-in.
7. Adequate knowledge- and information-sharing platforms
Respondents to the study highlighted the importance of mapping databases and sharing spreadsheets that provide stakeholders with an up-to-date overview of the local media development landscape and empower them to make informed decisions on future projects. A centralised and searchable repository of studies, reports, and legislative documents is also likely to enjoy a good level of take-up.
8. Embracing thematic priorities
A focus on thematic areas or national priorities for media development helps align coordination with sector-level reform or policymaking. Themes that resonate with a broad constituency of local stakeholders and that require urgent action are likely to secure greater ownership and engagement.
About the report: Coordinating Media Assistance and Journalism Support Efforts was produced by GFMD IMPACT in cooperation with the Samir Kassir Foundation’s SKeyes Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom and with support from, and in cooperation with, International Media Support (IMS).
Methodology: The report, authored by Aida Al-Kaisy and Michael Randall, is based on desk research and a series of interviews conducted in June 2022 with key stakeholders who have participated in coordination groups over the last five years. The findings and recommendations were refined and discussed during a consultation process from September to November 2022.
About GFMD IMPACT: GFMD’s International Media Policy and Advice Centre is an initiative that helps donors, funders, policy-makers, and practitioners make informed, evidence-based decisions on strategy, programming, funding, and advocacy for media development and journalism support.
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