Josh: Hi, I am Josh Powell, I am the CEO of Development Gateway: an IREX Venture. I’ve been with DG for about 12 years and am based in Washington, DC.
Vanessa: And I am Vanessa Goas, COO of DG. I have been with DG for 15 years, and I am based in Miami, Florida.
This is “Data… for What!?” The Development Gateway podcast. We have several seasons on different topics in production; but in our first season, we are going to talk about our new strategic plan, how it fits with our past work, the thought process behind it, and where we hope to go in the next few years.
Joshua Powell: In this episode, we had three separate conversations between DGers and folks from IREX. We talked to Nina Oduro and Vanessa Baudin Sanchez about the youth sector. We talked to Aminata Camara and Becky Ward about education, and to Amy Kilroy and Tetiana Karas about media and disinformation.
Vanessa Goas: So historically, Development Gateway’s bread and butter, so to speak, has been in aid management and public financial management, more recently in some sectors like agriculture and public health, and also in advising institutions and data strategy. What does it mean for Development Gateway to be working in these new thematic areas?
Joshua Powell: I think it's exciting. One of the things that I think we've always done well at DG is learn new things and build really deep and meaningful partnerships. And, so whenever we enter a new sector and new thematic area, we never try to become the experts in that space. We we learn about agriculture, we've learned about health. But more importantly, we identify the right partners who have decades of experience in that space.
And then we bring the things that we do best. We bring data, we bring technology, we bring deep stakeholder engagement and participatory processes. And, and we help to kind of marry that with that thematic expertise. And so I think we really expect the same. The biggest difference here is that in our partnership with IREX, we've identified a strategic partnership that we can work even more deeply with together to really kind of understand the thematic areas, understand the needs, and to to build new ideas out together, not just married to one individual project or funding source, but something that's really kind of strategically embedded in what both organizations are doing.
Vanessa Goas: Yeah, I think what's really exciting about the partnership with IREX is that we're able to lean on, literally, decades of experience that they have in some of these sectors where they've established really, really strong relationships with government partners, local implementers, other institutions. And I think that means that we're going to be able to bring our own expertise into the partnership and into new programming and to be able to really multiply our impact in these sectors.
One thing that's really exciting about our partnership is that I think IREX takes a really similar approach to partnership building that we do. They don't find local partners just as like a checkbox to satisfy a funder, but they really look for partners who share similar values, share similar culture and are really focused on implementing the mission. And I think that that fits very well with how we have been looking for local partners in recent years as well.
Joshua Powell: I agree. And I think also one of the things that I think is a core competency of both organizations is creating good and strong partnerships with government, in particular, and being able to strengthen leadership, being able to strengthen the use of data, evidence and information. And so I think these are ways that it's really a really perfect fit.
Vanessa Goas: Yeah. And I think it's noteworthy that both IREX and Development Gateway have several very long-term relationships with certain governments. And I think it shows the amount of trust that they put in both Development Gateway and IREX.
Joshua Powell: Let's kick things off with our discussion on data in the education sector. I spoke with IREX’s Becky Ward and DG’s Aminata Camara. Aminata and Becky, can you please introduce yourselves?
Aminata Camara: My name is Aminata Camara Badji, I’m Regional Program Lead at Development Gateway.
Becky Ward: I'm Becky Ward, and I'm a senior technical adviser in the education practice at IREX. And so that means that I manage a portfolio of education programs as well as providing some support to any business development and program design efforts. And data's often an integral part of that. So I'm really excited for the conversation today.
Joshua Powell: How would you at kind of a high level, describe the current education data landscape in a lot of the countries where we work?
Becky Ward: Looking at the big picture, I think there's definitely recognition that you can use data across the education system to make decisions on education policy and practice and make sure that education policy is responsive and evidence-based. So because of that, you know, we're definitely seeing that data is an integral part of multilateral and major donor programs in education, and particularly the development of education management information systems or EMIS.
But I would say that there are definitely lots of challenges in getting there. So there's the kind of typical infrastructure and technology gaps, and there's technical skills gaps around data collection and analysis. But I think probably the biggest challenges that we see around, you know, the kind of challenges around data. You say this is this the softer issues around data and there are political implications of using data, how you manage data informed decisions. And that's something that IREX has been really focused on developing training specifically for leaders in some of these and some of the softer issues.
Joshua Powell: IREX had a blog piece come out about what types of information leaders need in making decisions in the education space. Could you talk a little bit about the types of decisions that these people are taking and the types of information ideally that they would have access to to inform that?
Becky Ward: I think it can be quite helpful to think about the kind of input data, on the one hand, and then more output and outcome oriented data on the other. And so traditionally there's been a focus on input data. So that's things like expenditures on education, infrastructure, resources, teachers and these can be useful for kind of policy and planning decisions around resource allocation and maybe for advocacy.
And, you know, one example of this would be work that we're currently doing in Jordan around teacher supply and demand. And so we're supporting the government of Jordan to project future demand for teachers so that they can kind of manipulate the supply of teachers and in particular geographies or subject areas or by gender. And then on the other hand, we've got kind of outcome data—so student learning outcomes.
And this is really important that continuous enhancement of learning and also of the kind of management accountability and holding education system leaders to account for the results of what we hope to achieve through education. So that's more like data on retention, progression attainment and student learning outcomes, whether that's kind of cognitive abilities or soft skills or employability.
And I think probably the other type of data that's also really useful is contextual data. And again, I think we've got a really interesting example from work that we're doing in Jordan at the moment around understanding perceptions of the teaching profession. And that's quite useful for a government to know because they're using that data to inform the design of campaigns designed to bring high quality people into the profession. So that can be quite useful as well.
Joshua Powell: Perfect. Thank you. And Aminata, you know you've led a lot of Development Gateway’s work in in health and agriculture and other sectors. What are some of the skills and methods and things that you're excited about applying in the education space?
Aminata Camara Badji: At DG, we are really well known for our expertise in developing innovative I.T. tools that help stakeholders, including country and local governments, development partners, civil society, and communities to collect, access, and visualize data. So usually before building any tools you take time to understand the context, challenges, and opportunities facing the stakeholders that is preventing them to make conscious decisions. So if I think example of education, I think one is the DG added value is the development of the system and tools to improve educational system through better evidence-based decision-making.
So our implementation of technology has successfully proven that when stakeholders have access to up-to-date and easy to understand data, it's facilitating informed decisions over time. And we know that parents, teachers, and governments all want to give children the best education possible, right? And I think these actors need data information to guide the ethos. And one thing I would like to emphasize is that a few years ago in Kenya, we have implemented a project called Open Schools Kenya.
And for this project, one of the main goal was to allow parents, teachers, and government to have access to information on the record of more than 1000 schools. So this allowed them to compare services of different institutions, to see photos of the school, and leave some comments on the page of a school. And this is important because it was possible to start this dialog between parents and school administration decision-makers, and it can show that this is important to ensure that this link is important and key.
And it's always not really easy to get information to everyone, especially in those areas where sometimes access to electricity or the internet is quite difficult for some community members. And also, they can also not understand how to use a platform, for example. And this is where DG’s approach is really important, because we make sure to include all stakeholders from the beginning, from the outset project and also they are also involved throughout implementation process.
And most importantly, I think one of our main added value of training has been to include CSOs because they are the main organization that can be a mechanism or a tool that can relay that information in a language or methods that are easy to understand and also reusable by all the stakeholders. These are our main strengths and added value we have been able to to test.
And some of our results have proven that when you include stakeholders from the outset, when you share an easy to understand information is really important and key for people who are using the information and also for decision makers.
Joshua Powell: Thanks, Aminata. I'm glad you brought up the Open Source Kenya project. I think one of the things that was really interesting in that project was taking a combination of official data coming from the government with citizen generated data, particularly in kind of the informal dwellings and and being able to see where are the gaps in the official data, where was information out of date, where were schools just not captured in the official data.
I can't remember exactly how many, but I believe there are a few hundred schools that weren't captured in official data that parents were sending their kids to, and they didn't necessarily have information on things like was a school lunch provided, you know, what was the ratio of teachers to pupils and so forth. And so I think in addition to these, this kind of more centrally driven national government engagement, I think there's a lot of scope and opportunity for local level and kind of community driven engagement around the education data and obviously something, as you said, that's that's central to people's lived experience and to their priorities for their families in their homes.
I want to pick up a little bit on something you said earlier, Becky, in terms of inputs and outcomes, I think just this last week, the World Bank released a paper on the silent crisis of learning loss. And one of the things that struck me, in addition to the obvious crisis that's been happening throughout the pandemic, was also that for many countries, they were really relying on models and on on kind of estimates, and they weren't really able to use hard data from EMISs or from other country level systems. I'm wondering if you could say just a little bit more on the real barriers is at a country level, but then also for cross-country comparison.
Becky Ward: One of the characteristics of the educational data landscape is that there is some kind of tension and some conflict between these kind of globally-driven metrics. For example, you know, the kind of UN sustainable development Goals and some of the global indicators, measuring skills in math and science. So that are OECD Pisa it is is another example of that type of metric. And actually the buy-in to those indicators globally is not that great.
I think around 23% of countries reporting into SDG 4, and it does set up this kind of conflict between what's almost perceived as kind of a top down, almost colonial approach to educational data, which puts a high emphasis on kind of really methodologically rigorous collection of data. And then more localized data, which is maybe kind of methodologically imperfect, if you're looking at it through that lens, but is oftentimes way more useful for teachers on the ground.
And so I think there really is space for advocacy for that kind of ground up approach to collecting data. But then I think also to the question, if some of the challenges that education systems are facing in collecting education data is that, you know, I think that there has been a recognition that we need to move away from input data towards better data on learning outcomes.
But the first challenge is, you know, kind of defining what those outcomes are. And oftentimes in education, getting consensus on that can be incredibly political because, you know, you're kind of shaping the next generation and, you know, there's tension in these debates. So should education be secular? Is it religious? Does it enshrine values of diversity, equity and inclusion and all the things that we might like to see. That there can be a lot of time dedicated to having these debates about what we should be measuring without actually getting over the hurdle and securing the agreement and figuring out how we do actually do that measurement.
I think there's also been recognition that it's not just about cognitive skills. And so we're talking much more now about kind of 21st Century, soft or transferable skills and employability skills, maybe even things like student well-being. And so it's quite a kind of complicated, busy space full of things that are really not easy to measure and exam national exams,
they're not a great proxy for measuring all of these things that we want to know about. And then I think, you know, another challenge is that this shift to your more outcome focused approach and, you know, tends to go hand in hand with a shift away from input control based on input indicators towards accountability for outcomes and results.
And in a system where that hasn't existed before, that certainly puts education leaders in a really vulnerable place. You know, certainly that being told that they're accountable for something that they've never had to provide data on before. And so you can hit a lot of resistance in the system. It's not something that teachers or district education leaders are going to welcome with open arms. And so all of these soft issues, again, really need unpicking even before you get to the technical questions of how do you actually go about collecting the data.
Joshua Powell: The digital development community has tried to disrupt education for a long time, going back to one laptop per child and and beyond. Obviously throughout the pandemic there has been a need toward a shift for more digital approaches, whether that's through education delivery or whether that's on their kind of management. On the data side, you know, Aminata, outside of science in terms of, you know, some of the ways that we're seeing kind of digital technology shifting in the education space. And then, Becky, same question to you.
Aminata Camara Badji: I will always focus on how we can bring information at all levels, especially at local levels, at community levels. For example, at DG, we usually we are working with people who somehow master the use of I.T. tools. But I think one of the most important thing we that can be interesting for us to focus on will be to see how we can bring this tool or how we can modify it or how we can adapt our our knowledge and our experience to the community level.
We have some time, for example, to work with communities, radio stations to pass on information that is also available on our website. And I think the use of cell phone with SMS or calls are also an option that would be interesting for us to explore, to get information to people as soon as possible. And this will allow those communities, I think, to be on the same level of information and to also have their voices heard and to ensure that their needs are taken into account.
And each point we need to really make sure that what we are saying is differently understand by different type of actors, even though we know that technology is evolving really quickly, but we need to step back and see how we can adapt these capabilities at the community level with our experience and with this new approach that we are having with IREX it’s very important to see how we can really diversify our skills and also how we can reach more and more people, more and more citizens. So they are also able to come into the game and also make their voice correct.
Becky Ward: I almost want to kind of put a positive spin on it because I do think that COVID has has presented some opportunity for for kind of the digital shift in education. I mean, I think one example, we did some research in in Kenya during the pandemic in hard to reach communities and their use of distance learning approaches, including that that was kind of technology enabled.
And there were, you know, inevitably all of the challenges that you might imagine around Internet access and connectivity. But there were also some really kind of positive takeaways, too. And so, you know, the shift to digital learning away from the classroom. And again, Aminata, after they were referencing things like SMS, use their laptops and tablets, too, but primarily, you know, kind of fairly low tech digital options.
But it had still kind of fostered a deeper engagement between learners and their guardians. So parents or guardians were kind of forced into their world of learning at their children and and in a way, enable parents to kind of have a better understanding of their child's progress and even enable them to plug some gaps in their own knowledge, kind of building their own confidence as a parent in their ability to to support that learners.
And then I think the other really kind of heartening finding was that students themselves perceived this kind of digital learning outside of the classroom to increase learner autonomy and to increase collaboration between them and their peers, because they kind of, you know, organically came together to support each other. And they felt that that was really kind of exciting and fun.
So I think, you know, amidst all of the trauma of COVID and the disruption that it caused, there is some really kind of interesting highlights about what digital education can do, even in hard to reach communities. And I hope that we're able to it to kind of learn from that. And then from a data perspective, I think one of the things that really excites me is that, you know, virtual learning environments or digital learning technologies are often got really great analytics built into them.
And so I think there's a really kind of great opportunity to support teachers, to use that data to better understand their learning journeys and their students. So, so that's really exciting, too. And I think, you know, more generally, we were really positively surprised, I think, by how much we were able to get done remotely. You know, it was really tough, but we still managed to engage with ministries of education.
We still managed to engage with education institutions. And so I hope that, you know, after we get over this kind of hump of digital fatigue, I think we're all feeling because we've been working remotely so much that there has been kind of, you know, a sustainable meeting of the needle in terms of people's comfort level with technology. And you know, we know from research prior to the pandemic, but it was that kind of technology phobia that was a real barrier in rolling some of these things out. So maybe we've just been kind of nudged over that bump because of the pandemic, and we'll be able to kind of take that forward in a more positive way. So I do think that it creates lots of opportunities for us.
Joshua Powell: Aminata, what are you most excited about trying and learning together with IREX through this partnership?
Aminata Camara Badji: When we received the news of this partnership, I was really excited because IREX has a really solid experience in the education sector, and it is a sector that I really like and I hope that by mixing or bringing our skills and expertise, we will be able to implement a really deeper project. When I say deeper, it’s like for me, the community aspect is really key when it's about project implementation.
And I think working with IREX and learning about what IREX has been doing for years and also trying to also adapt the processes with our processes I think will be really key. And I'm really excited to see how we can work together, implement projects together and also make sure that all our projects will be able to be applied at community level and also all these added value would be also interesting for decision-makers.
And one thing that I am really looking forward to is that this upcoming or one of our upcoming project with IREX can be a starting point for DG to explore more strategies or more ways to reach more people at all levels, and also being able to also which people usually we are not working with and the that that of our targets. So I think these are the main the main expectation I'm having with working with IREX.
Joshua Powell: Becky, for you, what excites you about working together with DG?
Becky Ward: I would actually mirror a lot Aminata’s points there, but you know, obviously from from the other side. So I'm really excited that you've primarily developed data systems outside of the education sector. So I think there's loads that we can learn from, from, you know, kind of reflecting across sectors and it's something that maybe we don't do enough because we're kind of in our little education silo.
And I think I'm just really excited by the sense that we're on the same page about what's important for developing effective data systems. So this really kind of holistic approach that's not just about developing the technology infrastructure and the protocols, but primarily about the people who use the systems. And, you know, Aminata, you've said again and again how important it is to engage the stakeholders from the very beginning.
So, you know, I'm really excited to be working with you all and the experience you bring to really take the time to understand the actors in the system and their needs and their fears and what we need to do to build the buy-in and the utility of the system. And then, you know, developing lean systems that don't have frustrating redundant data and genuinely kind of creating the space for reflection and action so that we're not just collecting data fed for data's sake.
And then I think, you know, a couple of specific opportunities that I'm really excited about are new program in Kosovo where we are supporting the private sector to better articulate their skills needs and to lead the development of new workforce development initiatives. And we're working with you, at Development Gateway, to do some data mapping there in the kind of labor market information space to understand the data that's there, how it's used, where it's redundant, and then working with our local stakeholders and partners to develop efficient and useful data that will inform the better matching of skills provision and the skills that the labor market needs.
So, I think that's a really exciting opportunity. And then also building feedback loops into the system so that we've got data that tells us whether we're moving in the right direction and actually improving the skills that are available for young people. And then I think the other opportunity that I'm excited about is the potential to digitize an institutional capacity assessment tool that we have in the higher education sector.
So it's called the high cap, the Higher Education Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool. And I might get your advice on an alternative name that might be a bit more a bit more snappy. But at the moment, that is a really effective tool that we use with universities around the world to help them understand that their performance development needs but is not currently digitized.
And it's something that I think can be much more effective if we go down that route of integrating it into the university's kind of digital systems, managing performance and quality and continuous enhancement. So I think that's a really exciting opportunity to see where we can learn a lot from from you all about how to do that effectively.
Joshua Powell: Becky and Aminata, thank you both so much for taking the time to talk about how we can support better decision-making in the education sector and ultimately improve education outcomes.
Joshua Powell: Now, let's go back to my conversation with Vanessa in the studio.
In the conversation about media, I was just really struck by the challenges to effective government regulation, whether that's at a national level or whether that's regional.
And really the need for smart and nuanced approaches and context-driven approaches to be able to combat disinformation. It's not something that can really be fully relied on the platforms to do themselves. It's not something the government can do themselves. I think there's a really clear role for civil society. There's also a really clear role for technology and for data science to be able to support new approaches to combating disinformation.
And I think that there is also a need for strengthening traditional media in ways that can build trust in those institutions and that can move at a more rapid pace that's more appropriate for addressing the speed of disinformation through social media.
Vanessa Goas: I think this is a great example of where IREX’s kind of long term experience and our innovative approaches in terms of digital solutions and data can really come together to achieve something really important.
Joshua Powell: Thanks, Vanessa. Let's now turn to the discussion on media and disinformation with IREX’s Tetiana Karas and DG’s Annie Kilroy. Tatiana and Annie, will you please introduce yourselves?
Tetiana Karas: Hello. My name is Tetiana Karas. I'm working as a senior program manager for Ukraine's Learn to Discern Project. What we're doing, we're introducing critical information consumption skills to different audiences. Right now, we're actually working with quite a big range of audiences. We have more than 3,500 school teachers for parts of our program and who are introducing our lessons that we've developed to introduce critical information consumption skills in the school curriculums.
We are working with higher education; we're working with decision-makers, journalists; and also we're looking into joining new audiences, involving them in our project for people that are currently internally displaced because of the war and also some of the refugees.
Annie Kilroy: I'm Annie Kilroy. I'm a senior associate at Development Gateway. I have a background in data analysis, so I work on a lot of things data: data, interpretation and visualization. And I most recently worked on a joint project with IREX to develop a proof of concept for a dashboard that will visualize various indicators on the media and business enabling factors for media in a particular country.
Joshua Powell: So what are some of the pressing and emerging challenges that the media are facing in terms of combating disinformation?
Tetiana Karas: If you would look into the landscape of information, it was changing dramatically throughout the past year. You would see from public opinion surveys how the attention to, for example, more traditional media channels, like TV in Ukraine, has been dropping and social media becoming more and more popular among citizens to get information and to get news and at the same time, while we have the media with its standards, with journalistic standards, with particular requirements, with legislation that is framing those things, we have on the same time social media, that is like a bomb that can explode at any moment where there are lots of different messages. Narratives are being spread so quickly and so dramatically that it's hard to prevent and spreading at the same time. Because it is also a confirmation bias when people from their own community are getting some particular information for a while that is trusted that they know from others, and at the same time, disinformation narrative is being introduced into those smaller groups and small chance of this out there. Especially currently right now during the war, what we have mentioned, the number of information that is consumed by social media and messaging apps. Here in Ukraine, there is also messaging apps is one of the important sources of information. I'm sure that you've heard of Telegram, and the Telegram has channels and basically those channels can be launched by anyone. On the one hand, we have official telegram channels that are launched by the government. And there you could take some trustworthy information. We have some media telegram channels. But at the same time there are a lot of channels like, I don't know, Typical Kyiv, like who is managing this channel? What types of standards are introduced in those channels? Whose posting this type of information? Like there–unless there is an official link to the source, no one knows what information comes from.
Basically, right now that is the main challenge when we are talking to information consumption because people want to look into the information that is short and is a consumable. That's what especially happened since the full scale invasion in Ukraine. We did a short pole, and there are two most popular types of information people want to get. These are short text messages and also videos up to 10 minutes.
And this is something you are getting on social media right now, not only traditional media. And lack of an ability to verify that information, I think, that's one of the big challenges that they have right now. And if you're talking about generally media and traditional media—TV channels, let’s say—there is a big issue of influences and ownership. Also there are some public opinion surveys, the types of the media people are consuming, of course, is influences their opinions.
And for example, in Ukraine, people were more vulnerable to disinformation if they were consuming pro-Russian media. That's something that brings us to the thought that independent media is a solution. But that's where like the whole new scope of challenges is open, basically.
Annie Kilroy: Totally agree with everything you're saying. I think maybe just to expand, there's especially with social media, there is intentional sharing of misinformation and then there's like accidental proliferation of disinformation.
You find something interesting and then you share it with a friend. And that's just kind of how the social media apps are literally made to do that. Some of the other things that we're seeing is that social media, the algorithms, and the advertisements, and the suggested links and stuff like that will progressively get you to more and more extreme content as well.
You know, is this intentional or is this accidental and just kind of, you know, due to ignorance and naïveté? And then there's also traceability like you talked about. You know, where is this information coming from? Those problems have been really exacerbated with social media and it leads to all kinds of crazy effects on elections and uptake of public health initiatives.
And I think the big problem, at least from a “what can we do about our perspective,” is that there's a real lack of government regulations on on any of this, right. You know, whose job is it to say or find out what is untrue, you know, is that the role of social media? Is it the role of the original source? Does the government have any sort of role to play? And be acting as some sort of clearinghouse? And that brings up a whole host of other issues. This social media in particular, I think is really changing the media landscape and bringing up some really interesting questions. And some are age old with new problems. Others are definitely new. The accidental spreading of disinformation is kind of a new challenge that we're still everyone is still kind of struggling to to grapple with.
Joshua Powell: So you've both already touched on some of the ways that social media and digital technology are making the job of media harder. What are some of the things that the media could do better in leveraging digital technology to combat misinformation?
Tetiana Karas: You know, I think an example that we have right now with Ukraine and that's quite an interesting trend—which is both challenging but at the same time, provides more space for media to develop—it's looking and moving also their communication to social media because since the format has changed that is something that people can do. They can basically go on Telegram.
I mean, in our reality now and read Radio Liberty there or the president's office channel. And these are the way also to promote materials roles for traditional media through those channels as well. For example, in Ukraine, our national public broadcaster that was reformed several years ago, one of their main goals especially during and after the election in 2019, they were pushing this whole new digital platform that is developed.
So, basically they were opening their new YouTube channel. They started their communication and like active communication regionally-based throughout the country. I think it's important to go to to the person who is basically consuming—directly to consumer—and things and this high speed reality, people want to consume the information quickly. That's probably the easiest thing to do. But at the same time, we have to consider and look to an effort that would help people select the—I mean, I will somehow weirdly right channels when I'm saying right I’m not saying about providing people what they have to consume—but just to give them awareness about that there might be malign influence, that there might be disinformation spread and how to basically try to tackle this.
Annie Kilroy: I think that's a really good point because, you know, we touched on government and some sort of like regulatory body and we touched on the tech providers and social media outlets themselves. But I think you bring up a really great point about this—if this is the way that our society is going in consuming information rapidly, then we, as a society, we need to be able to be smart consumers of that information.
If it’s something that we demand, we need to have the skills and kind of tools and things like that to be able to understand the misinformation. I think it's unrealistic to expect that technology providers and the private sector, who are truly ultimately influenced by the bottom line, to really be the one that makes a significant change and the misinformation campaign.
And I touched on, you know, I think that there's definitely areas where the government can come in and or some kind of oversight body and civil society organizations are also great for this as well. Having some kind of accountability mechanisms for misinformation and things like that. But I think ultimately you're absolutely right in that we need to to bring this down to the consumer of information and then really show people how to be smarter consumers of of information and better aware of disinformation and knowing how to discern what is true for themselves.
Joshua Powell: So I want to talk a little bit about data. You know we've established that there's a real challenge for consumers of information to establish what's true and what's factual, and sometimes that's even the case with news stories or things that are, you know, fairly objectively verifiable. What are some of the ways that we see data being used, ideally for good, but perhaps manipulated in social media and in other traditional media as well?
Annie Kilroy: Data has been very interesting here. We have data on these media outlets and the kind of information that's going out there. And then there's also data that's contained within these kind of misinformation and misleading sources, right. To to kind of differentiate from the two for a minute, the data consumed and contained within various media outlet pages and things like that.
I think we're we're seeing that with this proliferation of media outlets and consuming information, it's really it's getting a lot harder to kind of trace the data and information contained within these misleading or unfactual news sources. It's getting really hard to understand where that data is coming from. And I think we're seeing also increasingly—and there's a problem it's been around for forever—but, you know, people are misusing statistics and people are misconstruing data and using what might actually be facts to kind of spin their own angle on it. And that ultimately results in more disinformation on it’s own.
Again, the proliferation of data, proliferation of social media outlets and news sources, and then rapid fire exchange of information. And I think it's really critical to understand where that information is coming from and to, again, be a smart consumer or a smart platform that can understand where that data is coming from. Digital media providers and even, you know, social media platforms and things like that they're starting to kind of understand how critical traceability really is in combating misinformation, but I'm just not sure that we're totally there yet on getting the full traceability and that kind of transparency. I think what has been really going on in terms of data more recently is, is they kind of push to understand what is the financing model of a lot of these media outlets as well.
There's been a big push to understand…for example, we worked on this on this proof of concept. And Serbia, we found out that there's been like, I don't know, 50% increase in the number of media outlets in the country in the last five years. And so that's kind of a red flag. You know, why is this this huge increase?
I mean, we can understand with the age of digital and COVID and things like that. But once you dig into the numbers of how old these media outlets are and where is their funding streams coming from, and what kind of bias might they be leaning towards? You can kind of get a better picture of like, hmm, maybe this isn't a legitimate source. So I think we're getting there. Again, it it all comes back to traceability and how far down can you trace the source of information, but also the media source itself.
Tetiana Karas: And I totally agree with you in terms of traceability and looking into the data from different angles so I mean, all those approaches and especially financial models that are applied to basically promoting some of the thoughts or narratives through social media also, and especially through Facebook.
It's reminding me about one example. When we had presidential elections in 2019, Facebook has already opened a database on political ads in the US and was testing it in Ukraine at that point. So we were trying to look into who and how is paying for Facebook ads and how they were basically promoted and what type of narratives were distributed. And when we were looking into some of the some of the things as well were hidden under political ads.
So I think that at this point, the political ad was either not allowed in Ukraine or there was some tricky way that Facebook was trying to prevent this information being spread and how some of the malign actors were smartly hiding it. So, basically, there were lots of videos even on their sponsored ads that were on their cover picture had some absolutely random thing. But as soon as you are scrolling, they're touching there, there was an actual different video that was aiming at blackmailing an opponent or like doing some other—spreading some other false narrative towards disinformation. But at that point, it was also important for observers to understand who is pumping which amount of funds into political advertisement and into different social ads.
So, I think that's opening databases and like basically showing the data to activists, to social media experts, to civil society, that's also an extremely important step to do. Because it's important to make people accountable and also to make sure that there will be some policy or some actions introduced if people are not following that accountability. If data is misused, for example, or if information is shared strongly.
At the same time in terms of the controlling body, I'll bring up the example of the elections because I think like with data, it's one of the you know, it's in the short period of time and there is a lot of information within that short period of time. So in Ukraine, we have this oversight by the National Security and Defense Council that was monitoring, basically, the news episodes and looking into how information is performed.
And there is a very clear regulation in terms of how public research has to be explained to citizens, basically during the elections, especially. And there were a lot, a lot of manipulations noticed by this oversight body related to this. So it's about talking on pieces of information. It's about only highlighting the data without talking about methodology.
And of course, if you would take a wrong sample, you would not ask questions rightly. And when you are presenting it and interpreting it, you can get to very different results, like “Are you ready to move to the moon?” And you would say, “Yes, like the trip is coming very soon.” So, to sum it up, basically data is a very important sector for us to look into the quality of information that is out there and also to try information spreader by accountable. The role of the government in this case—shaping the role of the government is, in this case, very challenging.
We had a lot of discussions both in Ukraine and the countries in the region about legislation that may be focused on like, for example, disinformation or misinformation and in particular regulation of this. But that's extremely challenging, because that is a topic that may be misused. And in case a different power comes that has a malign intent, it may prevent freedom of expression and it may also create a lot of damage.
I think that it's accountability, it's talking publicly about the challenges that are there, and raising awareness of citizens about the challenge, that's probably three things that we can use to to make sure that data is not misused and used correctly.
Joshua Powell: Working in media and disinformation is new in Development Gateway's new strategy. IREX has a long and successful history of supporting independent and quality media across the globe and in Ukraine, specifically. What are you each excited about learning together and doing together over the next few years?
Tetiana Karas: I think that you raise a very important question about independent media. And in this particular situation in Ukraine, independent media has a lot of challenges in front of them because, I mean, there is lack of funding in general, in the cultural media area, and there is definitely a big need to go and to support it. And at the same time, those citizens who would potentially supported it, they are also donating a lot on different needs within the country.
It's crucial to work towards and develop this strategy that would help deliver an effective information campaign and also an effective intervention, not necessarily information campaigns to help raise awareness and also raise support for independent media. And that is something that would be truly interesting to explore and see and I definitely believe that that would be a very good space for for a common research and discussion. Because that's basically a combination about value and quality information and being a conscious user of that information and also basically being able of or being aware that if I am not contributing to this process, I might not get this information
and that's how it brings me to instability, to potential threats of disinformation, and how I might be manipulated by an enemy. And so I think this really opens a door to look into what are the most effective ways and strategy to raise awareness about independent media and support them.
Annie Kilroy: I spend a lot of my time and my job focusing on on data use and making sure the data is useful and usable. And a lot of that is data literacy, understanding what data you're looking at. But I'm really looking forward to this IREX partnership and taking that kind of a step above, right. We're talking about digital literacy and media literacy and how do you really not just understand this kernel of information, but understand all the other factors that might be contributing to it. So, [I’m] not a super expert in media, but I’m excited to learn a lot more in the coming years and seeing all the great work that you guys are doing in this space.
Joshua Powell: Thank you, Annie and Tetiana for your time and for your insight.
Joshua Powell: Our final discussion in this episode will focus on the youth sector. When it comes to youth, understanding scope of the opportunity and of the challenges is key. We have a massive global youth population, and in many of the countries where both DG and IREX work, youth make up the majority of the population and that creates many opportunities in terms of adoption of digital tools and approaches in terms of engagement with government and civic participation. But it also creates challenges in terms of education, workforce participation, and skill development. So there's quite a bit of work to be done there. Picking back up with Vanessa…
I mean I think with youth, just really understanding just the scope of the opportunity and of the challenges. And we have a massive global youth population. Many of the countries where we both work, you know, youth make up the majority of the country's population. And that creates many opportunities in terms of adoption of digital tools and approaches, in terms of engagement with government and civic participation, but also creates challenges in terms of education, workforce participation, skill development. So there's quite a bit of work to be done there now.
Vanessa Goas: Yeah, and I think it's interesting how Development Gateway has had some touchpoints with youth across the many sectors that we work in, but just how gratifying that work has been to be able to see through the next generation taking on tools like data science and data analysis to become sorta the next generation.
DG had a really interesting touch point with the sector in recent years via an MCC PEPFAR project through the Data Collaboratives for Local Impact Program and project was called DCDJ and was implemented in Côte d'Ivoire.
And via this program, we had the opportunity to work with a local organization to train 86 data fellows. And these fellows were placed in different institutions. They used their data science skills to advance the mission of these institutions. And then once the fellowships were done, many of them were hired on by these institutions to become their full time data scientists and others went on to careers in the public sector, in the private sector, in Cote d'Ivoire and elsewhere. I personally found that working with youth via the DCDJ project was extremely personally gratifying because it's really exciting to see somebody advance their careers in a really a new way for them. Before this program, from what we understood, there wasn't really a data science curriculum in Côte d'Ivoire that was available to them locally, at their universities, and in French. So it was an exciting thing to see them get jobs, to bring new expertise to organizations that had never used data science before, and to really like advance the idea of data science.
Joshua Powell: The other thing that was really kind of exciting about it was seeing how quickly those youth were able to actually embed within government, civil society, you know, health facility, you know, other other agencies and actually make a difference really quickly and see their skills respected and valued and in many cases you get hired on. So I think it just shows the scope of the opportunity for youth in embracing kind of digital technologies and data skills in many cases, in what can otherwise be a really challenging employment environment.
Now let's turn to my discussion with Development Gateway’s Vanessa Sanchez and IREX’s Nina Oduro. Vanessa, do you want to take a moment introduce yourself?
Vanessa Sanchez: My name is Vanessa Sanchez. I've been working with DG for a few years now, and I'm actually based in Dakar, in Senegal. And I oversee the Development Gateway’s operation in West Africa and in Francophone Africa.
Joshua Powell: And Nina, please tell us about yourself.
Nina Oduro: I'm the Senior Advisor on youth and leadership. I work across IREX programs on youth development and support programs on leadership development, ensuring that our approaches on youth are adequate and really responsive to the needs of youth today, as well as measuring across our programs.
Joshua Powell: Nina, what do you see as some of the opportunities, particularly within digital, and how are youth engaging with digital tools in new ways?
Nina Oduro: I think when you look at youth development, it always changes, right? Young people are consistently changing because the world is always changing. And I think it's important for organizations like IREX, DG, and others to continue to assess the needs of young people. And right now, when we do that, we find that digital and data is truly at the forefront of young people's needs all around the world.
The reality is that digital transformation, technology, rapid innovation is happening all over the world at a faster pace than we could have even imagined. The tech world, especially when you talk about computers, smartphones, the use of platforms and devices, we're talking about it in many various capacities. So from education to the workforce to personal lives, right? So there isn't much escaping.
And for young people with access, we find that digital technology and data are interspersed. You can't really take them apart. So the idea of consuming information comes a lot in the digital space. But what young people are watching. In our Learn to Discern curriculum, we know that young people consume massive amounts of information that all actually do, and data is part of it. So really recognizing that data is important to understand, to collect, understand, use for the decisions that they make is really critical for, I think, young people to thrive in the society we live in now.
Joshua Powell: Vanessa, what are some things that you've seen in our work or other partners that you found impactful in supporting that desire to engage in politics and service delivery in the culture and change that they want to see?
Vanessa Sanchez: This is a question that I ask myself. How do we involve young people more in the political scene or institutional scene, which when I see in Senegal and in other parts of West Africa, we don't see a lot of young people being engaged, whether we're talking about civil society or even in the government. When I see it in other countries and I see how we have some young people being involved. This is something that I've seen really growing in Nigeria, for instance, where you have all those young women and men like creating their own, whether it's a startup or, you know, an NGO and really trying to be involved and get invited to some events.
I just think that this is the trend that we should be really engaging into. And when you say youth, you say digital, you say social media, you say Facebook. So really a target. A target, but a target also that should see the importance of data and the importance of evidence because because they're young, they will be faced with you're too young. How do you even know what you're talking about? And the best counter argument for that will be so basically prove whatever you say with a set of evidence and proof and say, yes, I know what I'm talking about, because my advocacy or my argument is actually based on data from the field.
Joshua Powell: Vanessa, even if young people are not always engaged, it's not because they're not interested. I think there is a strong interest from youth to be able to engage. So what are some things you've seen in our work or in the work of other partners that's impactful in supporting that desire to engage?
Vanessa Sanchez: I think it's it's not that they're not interested, but I do think that at some point their interest is needs to be amplified because at some point they may be interested. But even if you give them like on the on the silver plate, I'm not sure that they will know what to do and how to really go about this. And so the interest is there. They do voice their opinion on some things that happen, whether it's in other countries or, you know, in Senegal or in neighboring countries. And they really voice strong opinions about that. But then then, then what what do we do about this? Like, what can you guys do about this? So like, for example, climate change, a lot of young people are actually very interested in the effect of climate change and the way the environment is changing. And when you complain, it's too hot. Like the answer that comes right after is, of course, the whole world is coming to an end because of climate change effects and stuff. And where do they get that information from? And maybe media, maybe discussions within school or whatever. But the gap between, yes, we're interested and what are some actionable, concrete steps that we can do or that we can take.
I think this is where we realize the gap a little bit. And for me, everything digital and technology can really be used to be able to like fill in that gap and tell them, well, we can help and we can help you set some goals and achieve some of those goals. And data and technology should be at the center of that.
Joshua Powell: Nina, as governments adapt to better serve youth populations, what are some of the changing or unique expectations that youth have for digital governance?
Nina Oduro: I think this is something that we are all grappling with now. How is governance responsive to the needs of young people and the digital space that has emerged over time and continues to be the way in which people kind of connect easily with what's going on in our governance spaces. And now we have direct access, not just to the vast information that media may give, but also direct access to our decision-makers, those people in leadership and those people in government.
To me, this is a vast opportunity and shouldn't be seen as something that is detrimental or something that we should be afraid of. Young people using digital technology and people in government, you know, using digital technology creates a stronger connection and provides us quicker, faster information. I think that while that is an opportunity—what some of the issues are: accuracy, right?
Being quick to talk about something doesn't mean that it's always correct. Being quick to share something doesn't mean that it's always useful for advancing societies around us. And I think for young people have to be responsible in not only thinking about what they consume, what they share to shape our government spaces, but also being able to be responsible for their emotions, right? I think emotional capacities to understand what's going on, but respond in a way that's effective and builds upon what's happening in our governance space, is critical so that we don't incite violence or anger. On the leadership side, I think this is an important space for our leaders in those spaces to see young people as assets and as partners in shaping the policy that they're making and bringing them to the table.
There's no better opportunity than to use the digital space for that, where we are able to engage with people quicker and in different places. And I think young people have more opportunity than ever with access to digital technology to shape governance in a way that is responsive only if our leadership and people in power actually listen to them and involve them. IREX has a number of programs on governance that leverages technology and digital technology and really enhances what young people are already doing.
One of our programs, the Mandela Washington Fellowships, works across young leaders in sub-Saharan Africa that are already impacting governance spaces. And these young people are coming to the United States, learning from each other, learning from education spaces on how to actually better improve what they're doing. And one of the stories, I really appreciate and love from this program is we had a young person that participated in the program, went back to their country, and they were actually faced with a challenge, a challenge they were trying to get on a plane, they had a disability, and the plane had no disability accommodations in their country.
And so they couldn't go to the destination where they're going to. Immediately, this young person uses digital technology, connects with their peers from the program and other leaders in the country. Young leaders in the country, and they advocate for change. Within months, there is a policy made for these planes to have accommodations. This is, to me, like a prime example of how digital technology, youth leadership, and people in government that may or may not be youth can be shaped positively to make change.
Joshua Powell: I love that example. What are what are some of the barriers that you see? You know, what are some of the things that might prevent youth from being able to as completely or effectively leverage, you know, changes in data and digital technology?
Nina Oduro: I think there's one that we have to always mention in a conversation like this: that not all young people have access to technology in digital spaces or the access to education that enables them to use data effectively. And I think that is also an area where any organization that is looking at supporting young people in this space needs to come with frameworks, support systems that enable young people that don't have access to better be able to use what they have.
Now, digital technology, without a device, it's hard to be able to leverage digital technology. But the other aspect of it is that data and information. You don't need a digital device. You may receive information from someone that got information from a digital device, but as the recipient of maybe a third recipient of that information, how do I use that information?
Data is information and every young person needs to be equipped/able to leverage information to drive their own lives in a positive way. So I think definitely looking at those without access and how we can better engage, support and help them learn how to navigate a space where even if they're not the one touching a digital device, they are equipped to leverage the information that is received on a larger scale.
And then I also mentioned the responsibility aspect, right? We really in the space of not just working with young people but enabling them to lead, and that comes with a lot of responsibility to be able to use information accurately, access digital information safely, and be able to use it effectively. So that safety acts like this didn't very big. When you were talking about data in digital spaces, we as an organization and any other organization is responsible for ensuring digital safety. There cannot be something that is left to anybody else. And we need to be advocating for more policy to be able to protect young people, especially those under the age of 18, to be able to navigate digital spaces effectively, access accurate and safe information to be able to lead their own lives.
Joshua Powell: Vanessa, what are your thoughts on the digital divide and how can we engage with and support youth using digital tools as well as accessing and supporting youth who may not have access to power, connectivity, or the ability to afford the cost of data?
Vanessa Sanchez: It's very common in the sectors we work with to see some projects or some programs that involve a purchase of equipment. For example, whether we're talking about laptops, we're talking about smartphones, etc., etc. But at the end of the day, sometimes I ask myself: “Do we think about the aftermath or do we think about how is this going to be sustained when the project is over?”
This is one problem. The second problem, we're talking about young people. So they're going to be young and there is nothing wrong about that. But sometimes also when those equipment are put at their disposal, they use it for something else. They use it to surf the Internet. They use it to go on YouTube. They use it to go on Facebook.
I mean, they cannot be blamed. I mean, this is also part of being young and staying informed. When we give equipment to those young people and we're trying to have them use technology and data to improve, whether it's lifestyle or with their condition and whatever. I think the capacity building component should also include a capacity component on digital innovation. How can it help? But also what could be like the potential danger, which I think is not included to the best of my knowledge. Or it's starting to be included more and more as far as like data sharing, like everything about data confidentiality, everything about data ownership, those are concepts that are unknown to a lot of young kids actually, but they're really important.
Joshua Powell: What are some of the things you're excited about trying together and doing together? Nina, I'll start with you.
Nina Oduro: Everyone is grappling with this issue of how do we better support young people to navigate this space safely, effectively and for progress in the world? And I think working with DG enables us to truly do this in a meaningful way that is informed with expertise that is essential to get to the solutions. And then the idea of engaging young people.
I'm really excited to partner with young people in this partnership to ensure that their experiences, their voices are incorporated. But also that they see themselves in the solution. Oftentimes when we leave young people out of the solution, where we're actually unsuccessful, and that is my theory, because when they see the solution, they feel like it's an outside solution and we tend to then have a lot of problems having them really own it and do as we believe is best. So we need to engage the young people. So I'm really excited to see how we can work with young people side by side, work with them on strategies, work with them on solutions for all the things I name and including from safety, to access, to responsibility.
Joshua Powell: And Vanessa?
Vanessa Sanchez: I think what will be very excited for me is for those young people to know that they can make a difference. So there is a way of making a difference. And maybe because they're young, you know, they're going to go out in the street and scream and break things and find that's a way of expressing themselves. Okay. But I'm sure there are better ways to get to the goal if your goal being, of course, a better, better living standards for you, for your family, better economic opportunities as well and so forth. And I think that if we manage to to let them know and to confirm that even if you're young and even if maybe the environment or the political scene give you the impression that, you know, you're not a good fit in there because you're too young or others so forth; don't just do what you what you have to do and know that you can make difference.
And there are ways that we can support you and make sure that whenever you know, whenever you make a point and you can back it up with evidence, it basically speaks for itself. But you know what we know in a nutshell, really, the part of that that is that is going to excite me the most is to confirm that they can indeed make a difference and that we can help.
Joshua Powell: Vanessa, I'm going to tell my niece and nephew that [Uncle] Josh got their mom to admit that they might have a point. (laughs)
Vanessa Sanchez: Don't say that. Actually, I told them that. I tell them that. Sometimes when they talk, they have very interesting views. And for them to be able to listen to me and to be able to listen to my views, I'm obliged and forced to say, you have a point. I agree. I do not disagree with what you said, but did you think about this, this, and that? And they get to and know that I also have a point as well.
Joshua Powell: Well.
Vanessa Sanchez: It's a strategy.
Joshua Powell: Youth and adult dialogue starts at home, so.
Thank you, Vanessa and Nina, for your time and your insight.
Vanessa Goas: Special thanks to all our guests. This podcast was produced by Analisa Goodmann with support from Lindsey Fincham. Our theme music was created by Mark Hatcher. Learn more about Development Gateway on our website, DevelopmentGateway.org or through our social media.