Grants/Election Liberia Project

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Election Liberia Project

Applicants: Syracuse University Newhouse School of Communication
Affiliation: US: S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, New School University, Center for Democracy and Development; University of Massachusetts Boston, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication,, News21,,  Liberia: University of Liberia, Cuttington University, Liberian Media Center, University of Liberia, Front Page Africa Communications, New Democrat Newspaper, Radio Veritas, Star Radio, LMIPDD, Center for Media Studies and Peace Building, Liberian Women Media Action Committee, Liberian National Election Commission
CC affiliated? No
Contact: Ken Harper
Coordinator: Ken Harper, Michael Keating
Project Start: 2011/06/01
Project End: 2011/12/31
Download budget Discussion

Describe the project you are proposing as clearly as possible in just five sentences.

The purpose of the Liberian Election Project is to provide for the information needs of the Liberian people in what might be the most important election in the nation's history, the presidential elections of October 2011. The Liberian media suffers from a chronic shortage of resources and trained personnel, and large portions of the public remain disconnected from critical debates on national issues. This project aims to help by bringing together teams of American and Liberian journalists, who will go out into the field together to develop stories revolving around the Liberian election as well as other topical issues such as tourism and culture. This information will then be distributed through local media, print, radio, a multi-formatted website, and a roving multimedia van. Our mission is to strengthen the knowledge and technical skills of the Liberian media for covering elections, to enhance the political awareness of Liberian citizens and increase their probability of informed voting, and to develop a set of tools that can be an asset in future elections in other countries.

Detail the tangible project output (e.g., paper, blog post, written materials, video/film, etc.; this would be in addition to the final written report that successful grant recipients will be expected to deliver to CC at the conclusion of the project).

The key deliverables for the project will be cross training on election related methods and technologies for the local media and other Liberian and American institution project participants; a multi-formatted website which will be available to the citizens of Liberia, to the Liberian Diasporas and to interested international observers, be they journalists or government officials; and a multimedia van which will provide Liberian citizens with educational election-related multimedia materials and create an interactive space around the election and election procedures.

The stories would be told using a wide range of media, including radio, still image galleries, video, multimedia, print, in-depth text stories, short text features, and motion graphics. The website will have both a low- and a high-resolution version. The low-res version will be primarily text and low-res photography with external links to video sites on YouTube and elsewhere, very much in the style of The high-res version will be a full multimedia experience that will have all the user features that should be expected (quality graphics, hi-res video, podcasts, news ticker, forums, blogs, links to phone texting systems, and tweets.)

The Liberian Election Project’s Multimedia Van has several purposes, which include carrying reporters into the field to collect the stories of Liberian citizens, providing educational election related multimedia materials, and creating an interactive space around the election and election procedures. The van will ideally have loudspeakers on top that will play music and make announcements. Remaining fully aware of security issues, as the van rolls into town a spokesperson speaking Liberian English, the local language, will announce the arrival of the van and call for people to gather at a public spot where a crowd can be accommodated, perhaps in the parking lot of the local rural radio station. The speaker will introduce the project team members, who will each give an introductory talk about their role in the project and their experience in the election process in America, emphasizing the importance of elections and taking control of one’s own country. The team will then show a video about the election process with the key message that everyone who is eligible should vote. The team will then present information that has been supplied by each campaign on each of the candidates. After these presentations, the team will fan out and interview people in the town about the issues that are most critical for them and their community, and what feedback they would like to give to the politicians. This material will then be uploaded to the project website and shared with other media outlets.

Describe the community you are targeting. How would the project benefit the community?

The Liberian Election Project targets both Liberian journalists and the Liberian citizens, while ultimately reaching a global audience.

The Liberian media have very little election-coverage experience. Without outside assistance, it will lack the ability to perform the basic tasks of the media during a major election, which include covering the campaign, investigating campaign promises and money flows, reporting on the election process itself and evaluating its outcomes.

The election process will undoubtedly present a range of issues and criticisms that the Liberian people will want resolved in the campaign debate, not the least of which concerns large-scale corruption, the lack of progress in improving employment opportunities, and what to do about the recently issued Truth and Reconciliation report recommendations. Furthermore, the Liberian rural population's detachment from national issues has helped fuel the past civil war.

With the combined resources of Liberian and American media, academics, professionals and NGOs, we will have the ability to bring inclusivity to all segments of the population, educating them about the election and offering them a public voice.

The regional user (West African) is broken down into two sub categories and may have restricted access to the internet and a low literacy rate depending on location and social class. In the city, the distribution types will include print, radio, and a low-bandwidth website through audio, text and info graphics. In the rural areas, the information will be distributed via the multimedia van and radio through audio and video.

It is anticipated that the main foreign users of the website will be journalists, Liberians living abroad, researchers and international NGOs and corporations with projects in Liberia. Ultimately, the website will become a major source of communication between the Liberian media and its international partners who can use the site for training />

What is your relationship with the community you are targeting? Why are you the best individual/organization to lead this project? Do you have prior experience in related projects?

Members of the project team have been working in Liberia on media and governance issues since 2006 and many strong, trust-based bonds have been forged. These bonds are deemed a critical success factor in the process. The value of the project in Liberia is already being praised.

These are the words of Thomas Kamara, the publisher of The New Democrat newspaper and one of the leading voices calling for media reform in Liberia:

“The media here are still underdeveloped, partly as the result of the war and other factors. The training and access aspect of the project, amongst others, will be interesting. I am sure you know the Liberian media landscape. Patronage journalism will proliferate as elections close in. Having a balance will be very helpful, and I think your project can help. This election will be key to democratic continuity and peace.”

We believe that because the project is university-based, it will not be perceived as a threat by contesting political parties. Co-managed by Ken Harper and Michael Keating, the project team is a confluence of unique talents suited to help develop a more democratic media in Liberia, with both expertise in multimedia technologies as well as a depth of experience with international, and specifically Liberian, development.

After a varied career spearheading the evolution of digital media, Ken Harper is now Assistant Professor of Visual and Interactive Communications at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where his main interest of research and creative work is Liberia.

Michael Keating an expert in the area of media and business development with over twenty years experience as a management consultant and corporate executive. Michael worked in Macedonia on the development of a national digital media strategy and has also completed economic development projects in the Czech Republic, Russia and Romania.

Since 2006, Michael’s focus has also been on Africa, primarily on developments in Liberia. His research and consulting interests are on the question of how to create sustainable media businesses in developing and post-conflict societies and how the media segment can best serve positive social outcomes in conflict-prone societies. He has conducted country risk studies in Nigeria and Zambia as part of his consulting activities and has also conducted specific sector studies in areas like cocoa production, mining and telecom.

The project team will be drawn from professional associates and students from leading centers of media innovation including the Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University and The University of Massachusetts at Boston's Center for Democracy and Development.

Widely regarded as one of the nation's top schools of communication, the Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University is engaged in industry partnerships and ongoing curricular development that prepare students and faculty alike to take a leadership role in addressing the issues of today's rapidly changing media landscape. The Newhouse School embraces virtually every known form of information dissemination--from print, broadcast and online journalism to advertising and public relations to photography and film. Faculty members come primarily from the profession and consider teaching a top priority. Students are among the best in the country, having secured a place in the class through a highly competitive admissions process. Upon graduation they become part of a large, loyal and highly accomplished group of alumni-individuals who are literally shaping the future of public communication across the globe.

The Center for Democracy and Development is dedicated to advancing democracy, rule of law, and economic and social development in post-communist, transitional, and developing areas abroad. Working with local partners, CDD focuses on strengthening local government and civil society, promoting viable, independent media, helping judiciaries become more effective and more transparent, assisting in conflict reduction and promoting greater educational and economic opportunities. CDD works through educational exchange and training programs through on-going partnerships with foreign Universities, courts and judicial associations, development agencies, NGOs, citizens groups.

How will you measure and evaluate your project’s impact - on your main participants? Other contributors? On the larger community?

Traffic statistics from the website will be calculated by Google Analytics. The website will be turned over to an appropriate Liberian organization that can keep it as an archive of election-related matters and modify it for other development projects (e.g. news hub, cultural content, tourism, economic development, foreign investment).

Objective: To strengthen the knowledge and technical skills of the Liberian media for covering elections

The project trainers will provide cross training for the local media professionals, as well as Liberian and American institution project participants. The effectiveness of this training will be assessed through pre- and post-project questionnaires that inquire about multimedia and editorial reporting skills prior to and following workshop participation. Additionally, a reporting team and editorial board consisting of various project partners in the US will monitor the quality of reporting via the website and evaluate content, providing feedback when needed.

Objective: To enhance the political awareness of Liberian citizens, thereby increasing their probability of informed voting.

A multi-format website directed at multiple constituencies will be developed and its effectiveness measured through Google Analytics metrics on visits and length of stay on the site. Success of enhancing political awareness will also be determined by the growth in the number of website comments and the general feedback regarding the stories that are produced as the project progresses. A self-assessment tool will be placed on the website so that individuals are able to respond to questions about their political knowledge and awareness prior to and after visiting the website. We will monitor usefulness as it relates to the media through the media distribution rate to third party media organizations such as the BBC, The Associated Press, News 21, and Deutsche Welle.

During the election season the multi-media van will circulate in and out of Monrovia and teams of American and Liberian journalists will go out into the field together to develop stories revolving around the Liberian election as well as other topical issues such as tourism and culture. These stories will be told using a wide range of media, including radio, still images, video, multimedia, print and motion graphics. A central focus will be on the sharing of storytelling and technical abilities between the Liberian and American teams. The success of this effort will be determined using anecdotal information, and statistics regarding the villages reached and voter turnout from those regions will be maintained.

Rural radio will also be used as an assessment tool. In May and in October, citizens will be interviewed by radio stations about their awareness of this project.

Objective: To develop a set of tools that can be carried beyond the election, to be modified for multiple purposes.

A Board of Directors is being established to manage the website content and multimedia van activities once the project has officially ended. Representatives to this Board will be from organizations such as Ceasefire Liberia, Front Page Africa, Radio Veritas, Unmil, University of Liberia, the New Democrat, Liberia Media Center, and Star Radio. Several individuals have already expressed interest in continuing these efforts upon the completion of the project, so the goal is to finalize the transfer of tools to this motivated group and monitor the progress made.

One year later, if these tools remain in use and content of a similar quality is being added, the project can be considered a success.

How many participants do you expect to be involved in your project? How will you seek and sustain their involvement?

Approximately 100 individuals have expressed interest in participating in the proposed training sessions. These include both American and Liberian journalists, journalism graduate students and professionals.

Describe how your project will benefit Creative Commons' mission to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons".

There will be multiple avenues of content distribution to maximize the impact of our efforts. In that spirit we plan to release the full-resolution video, still images, graphics and multimedia under the Creative Commons Attribute License through both a public web portal and on CD/DVD (for local broadcasts). This model offers the public and other media outlets the most flexibility in obtaining and using our content with the only stipulation being they credit the project and creator of the material.

The website will be accessible to users free of charge.

Describe what technologies and tools your project will use. What kinds of technical skills and expertise do you bring to the project? What are your technical needs?

The Liberian Election Project will utilize a variety of technologies and tools in the gathering of high-quality journalistic content and the publishing of that content through the multi-format website and multimedia van. A central focus will be on the sharing of storytelling and technical abilities between the Liberian and American teams.

To produce this content, including multimedia storytelling to info-graphics to web programming, fluency in a variety of sophisticated audio and video equipment, software, and editing expertise is crucial. Members of the Executive Board and multimedia coaching team bring an impressive array of technical expertise to this project, and cover the board in their skill set. Editors and designers from major national news publications, award winning photojournalists and documentary filmmakers, innovative web programmers and developers; they are the leaders of the field, each with a passion for challenging the status quo and bringing a voice to the unheard.

To manage information we will be using the open source CMS Drupal in conjunction with the SMS crowdsource platform.

What challenges do you expect to face, and how do you plan to overcome them?

Logistics and internet connections will be two of the largest issues to deal with in Liberia. We have great local partners like the United Nations and two universities offering support getting around the country and having access to their internet connections.

How do you plan to sustain your project after the Creative Commons funding has ended? Detail specific plans. How do you plan to raise revenue to continue your efforts in the future?

The Liberia Election Project’s journalism training and initial assistance will be primarily technical and logistical in nature. This training will be provided for current working journalists who will remain in the area, not a group of outsiders that will abandon these efforts. We are working with the understanding that this project will be 100% in Liberian control by the election.

The development team will also work with the Liberian partners on various forms of financing for the site, which should not be a burden to maintain. The website will become a major source of communication between the Liberian media and its international partners who can use the site for training purposes (webcasts, on-line seminars, distance learning) and also as a site for types of reports that would not normally show up in the local Liberian media. We also hope it will become a feature of journalism training at the Mass Communication department of the University of Liberia.

Ultimately, we are determined to post our results so that others may benefit from our experience, and our core team will be a valuable asset in future elections in other countries. We believe that this concept is one that can be applied in election situations throughout the world, and while this project will not supplant local government responsibilities, it will provide a template for any locale that is dedicated to educating and turning out the electorate.

How can this project be scalable, or have a scalable impact?

This project is built to scale according to funding. We currently have a per trainer total cost of $8685.

What resources and support do you expect Creative Commons to provide to your project to ensure its success (if any)?

This project can be successful with financial or in-kind donations such as a dedicated server.

The project's total budget request is $360,325. We are seeking funding from multiple external sources, and any support from Creative Commons would be extremely beneficial, allowing us to bring another trainer and supplemental equipment.

Describe how your organization currently communicates with its community members and network partners. (100 words)

This is a project in it's infancy but we have already established a solid network of Liberian academic and media professionals from large institutions like the University of Liberia to small media production houses such as Liberia Media Initiative. We also have partnered with Ushahidi to reach out to the community via SMS.