Our approach (and why we follow it)

Free Press Unlimited believes that everyone has the right to reliable information. Information that enables you, as a person, to take control of your own life. Whether that means ‘knowing where to run to if your village is attacked’ or ‘knowing how to challenge the government about the lack of sewerage in your neighbourhood’, it is extremely important that this information is independent and that you get it on time.

Access to information, independent media and freedom of expression are crucial to citizens and social organisations that want to combat poverty and inequality in their society. Conversely, media need these organisations, so they know what is going on. What are the important issues for their readers, listeners and viewers? By reporting independently on them, and making public debate possible, media can contribute to positive change in their society.

This brings us to the main goal of Free Press Unlimited: a diverse, professional information landscape consisting of independent media and journalists that drive (social) change in their society.

Firmly focused on this main goal, we have carefully thought about the best ways to achieve this. You will find the result in our Theory of Change. That is in fact our answer to the question: what do we want to change and what steps are needed to achieve that? Which intermediate goals are logical and smart? And which activities bring those goals sustainably closer?

In 2017, we further refined these activities and extended the instruments with which we support our partners. After all, Free Press Unlimited works with local partners who must do their work in widely differing circumstances. One needs training, the other financial support, and yet another is best served by practical or physical help. Free Press Unlimited provides as much customized support as possible. That is what makes our work so fascinating, but also challenging and intense.

Three goals are crucial

You do not need (and probably don’t want) to know every detail of our Theory of Change. What you do need to know to understand our work, are the three goals we wish to achieve on the way to our main goal. Three issues are crucial to ensuring local media can fulfil their important social role. These are:
1. Journalists must be able to do their work. This requires, among other things, proper legislation that guarantees their safety and the freedom of expression, and that (government) information is accessible.
2. Media and journalists must work for the interests of the population, act as its watchdog. It is therefore necessary that they have the right contacts – and cooperate where appropriate – with other social players, such as media organisations or stakeholder groups. Media must reflect the diversity in society.
3. Media professionals must be properly educated, so they can deliver the quality to which their audience is entitled. Media must be able to be and remain independent of government or major donors.

Free Press Unlimited has developed a broad spectrum of activities to bring these ambitious ‘intermediate goals’ closer. You will find examples of these in this annual report, under ‘Our work’. We also explain precisely why we chose these activities.

This is how we measure the effectiveness of our work

In all our projects and as an organisation we monitor and evaluate where we stand in relation to our goals. What has already been achieved and where do we need to do our best or look for other ways to realise our goal? Is our Theory of Change still relevant? This is how we learn valuable lessons about what does and does not work. And because we continuously assess the effects and results of our work, we can provide sound accountability to our supporters and donors. This process is known as MEAL and consists of the following: monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning.

How do we measure the effect of our activities? We use ‘indicators’ for all our projects, to systematically record how we score on a variety of themes. For example, we look at whether social organisations are committed to the safety of journalists. And whether media call the powers that be to account, for instance by telling stories about corruption and abuse of power. The strength of these indicators lies in the fact that they measure the effect of projects everywhere in the same way. All these indicators taken together show whether we are achieving our goals.

What our stories teach us

However, indicators only tell part of the story. The Most Significant Change method helps us dig deeper. We ask our project-participants: what is the most important change that this project has brought about in your life? The answers to that question give us good insight into the actual effects of our activities – and how we can improve them. In 2017, we also taught our partners how to use the Most Significant Change method to gain more insight into the effect of their work.

In 2017, among others, we applied the method to the Speak Up Zambia project. Free Press Unlimited has been working here since 2011, and, with partners, has trained more than 400 citizen journalists. In Speak Up Zambia, funded by the European Union, citizens and journalists learn how they can monitor their local government’s public expenditure. That way, they can hold politics accountable. ‘Now I have the courage to face high-level people, because the training taught me to speak with confidence. We also learned to rely on facts and not on opinion,’ says one citizen journalist. In addition, they were trained to record their own stories and those of other slum dwellers using their mobile phone.

Thanks to Most Significant Change, we learned that the citizen journalists from the slums had significantly more influence when they worked for established media – in this case, community radio stations. Because of that, they received more respect and appreciation from their community, and people approached them more frequently with pressing issues and exclusive knowledge. Of course, it cuts both ways: the radio stations gained a very strong source of information, straight from the slums. The importance of the training for women was evident from the Most Significant Change stories. ‘The most important change is that the training motivated me to never underestimate myself just because I happen to be a woman.’

Reaping the results

In 2017, in Somalia and Pakistan, we also experimented with the Outcome Harvesting evaluation method. The main advantage of this method is that it also measures results that we could not anticipate in advance: a bonus of sorts, one that may certainly be important to the partners and the project.

Together with our Somali partners, we investigated the (intermediate) results of the programme No News is Bad News. Five partner organisations spent three days on the question: which behaviour has changed thanks to the activities in this programme? They wrote down all the results, presented them to each other, updated them, and together they analysed what the programme had delivered up to that point. This produced an impressive picture.

For instance, prior to 2017, there was no journalism curriculum at universities in Somalia and Somaliland. Therefore, there were no clear goals, content and requirements for what a good journalist should be capable of. Our Somali partner Media INK developed such a curriculum, based on that of UNESCO, together with Hogeschool Windesheim, the universities of Mogadishu and Puntland, among others. Ten universities in Somalia provided input and no less than five universities (instead of the planned three) now train their students according to this journalism curriculum. The University of Hargeisa set up a faculty of journalism, based on this same curriculum. This way, the programme contributes to a more professional journalism sector in Somalia and Somaliland.

Another fantastic result was the changed attitude of publishers. In 2012, when Media INK started its first trainings, media did not allow or hardly allowed women to participate in journalism training. The percentage of women was stuck at 0-5 percent. Now that has risen to 35 percent! Editors-in-chief who three years ago saw no potential in female journalists, are now eager to employ these persistent, determined hard workers. Was that (partly) thanks to Media INK and Free Press Unlimited? Yes, according to the partners: Media INK continuously worked to convince media managers and the parents of the female journalists of the importance – and the safety – of the training. And Free Press Unlimited provided a project approach in which female journalists were given extra attention.

With these outcomes in hand, we and our partners can check if our Theory of Change is still in line with reality: does the desired change indeed happen as we anticipated, or should we revise our strategy? For the partners, Outcome Harvesting provides even more. Potential donors want to know who they are dealing with: a partner who can show well-structured results is in with a better chance. And that is precisely what our partners learn during the Outcome Harvesting. Not unimportant for media organisations that want to become financially independent.