Donor feedback on GFMD’s concept for a media development policy Hub - (Sept. 2019)

(Last updated by Tom Law - Feb. 19, 2021)

The full report can be downloaded below. A slightly abridged version is available on the rest of this page.

Please note that in this document, IMPACT's working title was the MediaDev Policy Hub.


In August 2019, the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) contracted an external consultant to conduct a series of independent consultations regarding a new GFMD initiative to create a centralised research, analytical, and innovation centre that empowers international funders and their partners in designing and evaluating effective media development and journalism support initiatives.

Tentatively called the MediaDev Policy Hub, the initiative aims to gathers leading experts to confront the evolving challenges of the media and information landscape, leverage lessons learned from decades of past media assistance, and ensure that future assistance remains responsive to concrete local needs with tangible benefits for citizens and audiences. The hub aims to supplement the expertise of donor agencies and philanthropic organisations, strategically maximise limited resources in the funding of media support, and catalyse results towards stronger, healthier, and more sustainable media and information systems.

As part of the hub’s design and development process, GFMD sought the input of key members of the donor community on how the hub could best serve their research and analysis needs. This document presents a summary of findings and recommendations organised around major themes that emerged through the consultations, such topics, tools, and formats, along with a few issues for further consideration and additional recommendations.

Overall, the consultations found that participants welcome the idea of a one-stop-shop policy initiative, with particular interest in an online resource centre, greater opportunities for offline discussions, and a help desk to which to turn for dedicated assistance. Participants believe that the initiative should focus on providing concrete and tangible examples, models, and other practical tools and emphasised the importance of it remaining independent from any specific actor or agenda. Among the subjects of greatest interest were the possibilities for supporting financial viability and options for exploring self-regulation.


The idea for the hub in part flows from earlier research commissioned by GFMD, on Recipient Perceptions of Media Development Assistance (January 2019), which found that in ranking the greatest challenges respondents faced in the provision of funding from a policy (rather than procedural) standpoint, the majority (58%) cited a lack of donor strategies as the leading concern, followed by low donor understanding of journalism support and media development (53%), and poor alignment between the sector’s needs and donor priorities (50%).

As noted in the study:

“The survey responses reflect interviewee input in expressing long-held concerns that many donors still struggle to understand what media development is and why it is important. While some interviewees believe understanding has improved in recent years – including a shift away from the instrumentalisation of media to achieve other development goals – many note that frequent staff turnover, the rarity of specialised staff, and a lack of dedicated strategies can complicate the prioritisation of journalism support and media assistance, particularly in the face of rapid changes in market dynamics, technological advances, and political uncertainties.”

Among the areas for possible improvements in the planning of media assistance, participants in the January study recommended an additional focus on research and learning, including

“the importance of building an evidence base – to help promote understanding of the sector and demonstrate the impact of support – as well as further insight into what works, what doesn’t, and what shows promise. These interviewees would like to see not only stronger articulation of success stories and lessons learned, but other opportunities to honestly examine failure and to creatively explore new approaches, strategies, and solutions.”

Significantly, these issues were primarily raised by international organisations, rather than by regional or national-level organisations participating in the study.

The effort to create a MediaDev Policy Hub dovetails with a similar initiative by BBC Media Action, called the Media Development Lab, a practitioner/research collaboration bringing together international media support actors with academic and other research institutions. The lab would be hosted by BBC Media Action for the first two years of its operation, with GFMD responsible for a policy component.[2]

The idea for the hub also reflects similar efforts in other fields, such as the Sustainable Development Goals Help Desk.

Methodology and limitations

The consultations for the MediaDev Policy Hub involved semi-structured interviews with 20 participants representing a range of bilateral donors, multilateral actors, private foundations, and other stakeholders (another nine were contacted, but were unable to participate). Most interviews were conducted via phone or video conferencing platforms, with a small handful conducted in person.

The majority of participants represented the international or regional contact points from their respective organisations, with a few representatives from local offices in the field.

Almost all reflected Western, and primarily European, perspectives, with a limited number of voices from other regions. Many have long engaged in media development, with lesser numbers more recently entering the sector.

To encourage open and honest conversations, participants were promised anonymity. This document thus does not directly attribute particular feedback to anyone interviewee.

Overall concept and general principles

The consultations found that participants welcome the idea of the policy initiative and believe that GFMD is well-positioned to take this leadership role. A number of participants noted the value of GFMD’s proximity to the media development community (and the community’s knowledge and experience), though many also underscored the importance of ensuring that GFMD does not come under pressure to follow or promote the agenda of particular members.

Authority,” “credibility,” and “independence” emerged as common terms in this discussion.

The strongest overall recommendation was that the initiative should be practical and actionable; it should provide concrete and usable steps, models, tools, case studies, success stories, best practices, new ideas, and industry trends that demonstrate how and when specific approaches to media assistance can and do work.

Participants believe that the focus of the initiative should be clear and narrow (that is, not general, generic, or vague) and discuss solutions and not just problems.

Among key terms, participants recommend that the approach be kept “light,” “dynamic,” “iterative,” “flexible,” and “responsive,” with a focus on “digestible,” “plain language.”

Participants emphasised that they would like to see examples, evidence, and inspiration across countries and contexts, with lessons learned and critical factors detailing what can lead to change and under what conditions. This includes the ability to adapt recommendations to local dynamics, as well as the need to remain consistently up to date in the face of rapid changes.

Issues of interest

By far, participants identified business and financial sustainability and viability and standards and practices for self-regulation as the most important subjects on which they seek practical and proactive models.

Other common issues included:

  • How to navigate capture, repression, and other forms of control (e.g., via taxes, audits, licensing, distribution, advertising)

  • How to address disinformation/misinformation and echo chambers (and whether media literacy is an effective approach)

  • How to understand consumption patterns, grow audiences, and expand reach

  • How to move past training as the focus of assistance

  • How to measure impact

  • How to rebuild trust

(For a fuller list of areas of interest, see Appendix A.)

While most participants were clear on the subjects in which they were interested, they were split on the value of also including a regional focus, often depending on whether the respondent themselves worked at an international or regional/national level.

Many participants preferred a purely topical approach and welcomed a comparative perspective in line with international norms and standards.

Others cautioned that implementation can be very country-specific and underscored the importance of understanding contextual factors (for example, despite the tendency of some stakeholders to focus on the digital landscapes, many participants remain cognisant of the ongoing importance of community radio in the locations in which they work.

Others noted the limitations that many media face in environments where online payments are not an option).

A few also noted that some regions can be more insular than others (such as Latin America) and thus prefer examples from similar countries, though there was also some acknowledgement that those focused on a single country or region can sometimes lack a more global perspective, implying that even those who are not interested in a wider approach could perhaps still benefit from one.

A number of participants emphatically reminded of the importance of ensuring that local voices, particularly from the Global South, are included throughout the initiative.

Tools and formats

While on the whole participants tended to express interest in similar issues, there was far greater diversity in the recommendations for tools and formats. Three general areas emerged as possible approaches (with less clarity at this stage as to whether they should be separate, parallel, or sequential steps): the collection and curation of resources, a convening and coordinating capacity, and an on-demand help desk service.

Many participants expressed interest in having access to a “library,” “portal,” “repository,” “gateway,” or “go-to place” that either provides an overview of existing information or directs users to available resources. Among the recommendations for content included an initial orientation and general mapping of issues (e.g. primers); in-depth and technical resources, guides, manuals, and checklists (e.g. to gauge compliance of draft legislation with international standards or to assist with building a policy position); and a country-by-country mapping of players, including potential partners, donors, implementers, policy-makers, and change-makers. Some participants believed that there wasn’t necessarily a need for new information (that is, that GFMD didn’t necessarily need to conduct its own research), but rather a need to catalyse what is already there: to aggregate it, synthesise it, translate it (figuratively and literally), communicate it, and disseminate it.

Preferences for the format of content varied, with a number of participants acknowledging that inclinations can be very individualised, depending on how a person best absorbs information. While a few participants believed that conventional reports still have value (a position more often expressed by those with more technical backgrounds), many participants (including those newer to the field) recommended the exploration of shorter and more creative approaches (though many also acknowledged the potential cost implications of more innovative options). Among the ideas raised included blogs, policy briefs, thought pieces, podcasts, video tutorials, and visual formats (such as infographics), along with hybrid approaches, such as online presentations that accompany the release of reports, to provide opportunities for discussion with authors and peers.

In addition to more standard research and analysis, many participants expressed the need for additional opportunities for the face-to-face sharing of knowledge and experience (though a handful believed there were already a sufficient number of conferences).

These participants recommended that GFMD take a larger/more proactive role in not just encouraging various forms of coordination but in taking the concept of coordination further. That is, rather than focusing on the understanding of problems or outlining who is doing (or spending) what, they say, the next step in coordination should promote joint brainstorming, planning, and action.

Among the ideas suggested by participants is an annual coordination meeting for the media development community, as well as smaller gatherings, e.g., bringing together various stakeholders (media, civil society, government) in a particular region or media actors confronting specific similar challenges across regions.

The emphasis on coordination mirrors findings from the January 2019 GFMD study, where 55% of respondents expressed a desire for stronger coordination between donors and the journalism support and media development community (the second-highest recommendation for improving planning processes, outranked only by a desire for higher funding levels), along with a wish for greater consultation with media and journalism stakeholders in-country. The study’s concluding recommendations thus prioritised strengthening “communication, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration at all levels (international, regional, and national/local):

  • Between donors and the media development and journalism support community.

  • Among donors, including donors and their own colleagues in other departments, agencies, ministries, or branches of government.

  • Within the media development and journalism support community.”

Among the suggested approaches, the study recommended:

  • Holding annual meetings for donors and implementers at the international, regional, and sub-regional levels.

  • Conducting joint needs and impact assessments in recipient countries.

  • Encouraging opportunities for co-design between and among donors and implementers.

  • Creating dedicated pathways for local organisations to access decision-makers.

  • Building networks with allies in civil society, academia, and the private sector.

Lastly, a smaller number of participants suggested the value of having a tangible, on-call help desk, to which donors could turn at times of design and decision making. Such a help desk would serve as a flexible, rapid response mechanism, by request, on short notice, with a quick turnaround. More concrete parameters did not emerge through the consultations, but conceivably, the help desk would comprise an individual, or individuals, who would be responsible for answering phones and emails and providing tangible answers to particular questions, either on the spot, or within a few days. This could include gathering resources on a specific topic, conducting a mapping of stakeholders in a specific location, offering input on draft legislation, providing models for specific forms of assistance, or giving feedback on program design and strategies.

For further consideration

Despite the positive reception by participants to the idea of a hub, many noted that the initiative is ambitious and offered a few words of caution as it moves forward.

Among these, some participants reminded that media assistance should remain cognisant of its place in the market and thus realistic about the limitations of donor funding in the face of commercial and state-sponsored spending. Although stakeholders wish to see that media support can and does work, in many instances political and economic forces will remain greater than any particular donor approach. This is all the more so when many donors still prefer to focus their support on specific partners rather than on transforming the landscape as a whole. It is thus important to manage expectations that any model or other recommendations suggested by the hub may not necessarily yield the results that one might hope. This includes a need to ensure that the information provided does not over inflate successes or reflect a promotional approach.

Some participants further reminded that many of today’s challenges, especially in the digital space, are highly technical, requiring cutting-edge expertise and resources. Even the biggest and best media players (new, traditional, and otherwise) struggle to address these challenges, while many others are fighting for their basic survival. It is thus important to remember that no one actor has clear answers at the moment; nor is there any ideal approach, specific template to follow, or one-size-fits-all model.

Moreover, while most participants believe that GFMD is well-positioned to lead such an initiative, some expressed concern that GFMD may not yet have sufficient presence or resources, or that it could be vulnerable to the risk of being pulled in too many different directions by a wide variety of stakeholders that may have many different interests and at different points in time. Some note that similar initiatives have been attempted before, or that others hold similar ideas now; a few wondered how this initiative would differ from them. Many raised the question of the relationship between GFMD’s planned hub and efforts to create an international fund for public interest journalism. Though there was no one point of view on this last matter, some suggested that the hub could perhaps help inform the direction of the international fund – or could be funded by it.

The consultations were only able to lightly touch on the subject of other funding options. A number of participants did express interest in financially supporting the initiative, though some noted that they would like to see that other donors are interested and that they tangibly benefit from the approach (e.g. through a pilot and proof of concept). At this early stage, there was less insight into the possibilities of for-fee models for the future, though more than participant noted that in some instances procurement procedures could pose some challenges for contracting.

Additional recommendations

Given the ambitious nature of the initiative, this study recommends starting with a few concrete efforts, and then sequencing more complicated pieces at later phases. Among these steps, the author would recommend:

  • Establishing an advisory body or similar mechanism with the explicit goal of protecting the independence of the initiative, to potentially include donor representatives (public and private), academics and think tank personnel, industry professionals, social entrepreneurs, civil society actors, and non-affiliated experts.

  • Creating a staffing plan that identifies who would be responsible for different pieces, such as curating the online resources and serving as a dedicated point of contact for the help desk. The plan should also include building a database of experts who can provide on-call supplemental assistance when needed, for example, for responding to specific technical questions or other targeted requests.

  • Designing an outreach strategy that accounts for substantial differences between various stakeholders – donors at headquarters and in field offices, governmental donors and private philanthropies, long-term actors and new entrants, local partners and official counterparts – and ensures they are aware of the hub and empowered to take advantage of its opportunities. The strategy should include periodic consultations with stakeholders to encourage ongoing engagement and ensure that the hub remains responsive to changing needs and interests, along with deliberate efforts that ensure voices from the Global South are reflected and respected throughout the initiative. At a more advanced stage, this would also include how to reach out to in-country governments and other decision- and policy-makers.

  • Starting with pilot products that respond to initial input, such as a practical guide on demonstrable approaches towards financial viability and a first annual coordination meeting.

Appendix A: Fuller list of areas of interest

(in no particular order)

  • Options for state subsidies

  • Monopolisation of online space

  • Audience research

  • Indicators of success

  • Public service broadcasting

  • Community radio (e.g., sustainability of)

  • Media literacy (and effectiveness of)

  • Resource diversification

  • Role/necessity of “professional” media

  • Elections

  • Rationale for media development

  • Why media matters

  • Definitions of internet freedom

  • Digital security and circumvention

  • Comparative analysis of donor approaches

  • De-oligarchisation

  • Sustainability in small markets

  • Cyber affairs

  • Analysis of legislation

  • Collaboration between media and civil society

  • Alternative distribution models

  • Strategic litigation

  • Interdependence with other sectors, such as art and culture

  • Consumption patterns

  • Libel

  • Codes of conduct

  • Data analysis

  • Comparative investigative journalism

  • Behaviour change

  • Enabling environments

  • Platform accountability

  • Algorithms

  • Ownership of data sets

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