Tuesday 21 Nov 2017
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Public Participation PDF Print E-mail

Civic Journalism and Public Participation:

Some Critical  Issues And Some Project Learning So Far


Many projects under-estimate the amount of training, input and encouragement that people need to get into new habits of participation in a context of passivity generated by the hang-over from apartheid and by the overwhelming poverty of most African communities.

With Iindaba Ziyafika, we discovered that we needed think much more about how to get people inspired to participate, and how to give them, at scale, skills to get involved and stay involved. We are not trying to get some public participation going only once, nor get “communication across social fault lines of language, race, class and age” to happen occasionally.

 We’re trying to systemically retool a group of peoples’ set of communication choices, by giving them sustainable skills. This means not just a ‘once-off’ training of school children, but changing the culture in schools, by creating, firstly, school based media, dialogues between learners and parents and teachers. For other youth, it means helping to create media literacy, and an deeper understanding of how power works in society. It also means looking at agency and a sense of empowerment and how to foster this.

Transforming civic life: how do we recognize what is different and better?

 The Iindaba Ziyafika project also aims to shift levels of participation in both news creation AND in enhancing and uplifting the lives of people in Grahamstown, one of the poorest areas in South Africa. Specifically, in addition to trying to create “a new kind of local newspaper, one using new technology
to communicate across social fault lines of language, race, class and age,” the project sets out to: “produce a more vigorous local dialogue, a community truly in conversation with itself ”. Moreover, the project is hoping to contributing, in however small a way to: “a more representative, shared and participatory ‘public space’ that will result in better, more democratic decision making in the communities”. The project has specialist designed questions to see how we can guage or measure the current level or quality or quantity of local dialogue, to be sure that Iindaba Ziyafika plays some role in making ‘more vigorous’ as well as how participatory and representative is local politics
and the ‘public space’ currently?

Opening of the Citizen Journalism Newsroom

 Doing all this won’t be easy, and these are only an early set of ideas of how to establish some baselines. We also need to remind ourselves that our project has a youth focus, so we may confine some of our base-line creation just to young people in Grahamstown, or focus exclusively on the less resourced and less developed areas of town. It is tempting to try and get a ‘bigger picture’ but that might just not be possible.

Of course, there will be other measures, such as how many stories are being contributed by Grahamstown residents to the Grocott’s Mail via cell phone, or how many people are accessing the website because of cell phone alerts. We need to figure out those baselines too, as well as proper ways of measuring the uptake of the new tools we disseminate. By doing all this, we hope we will have some chance of knowing not only if the news has arrived, but whether its arrival has made any difference to the lives of people!