One of Tanzania’s largest news organizations pioneers the country’s first “health data desk”
Mwananchi Communications builds a team, infrastructure, and skills to make information about health sector issues accessible to the public via data-driven storytelling.
Mwananchi is one of Tanzania’s largest bilingual news outlets and is owned by Africa’s second largest media conglomerate (the Kenya-based Nation Media Group), with a national audience—including in the target communities in DREAMS districts where Data Zetu works. Mwananchi sets the agenda for public discourse as well as innovation in journalism. This makes it the ideal ‘amplification’ channel to pioneer data-driven storytelling in East Africa’s second largest economy.
Data journalism—that is, finding, using, visualizing, or sharing evidence to inform reporting—is an effective way to communicate compelling messages to audiences. Empowering citizens with knowledge about health sector issues, such as maternal health, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, and others helps them to hold leaders to account while participating in healthier civic dialog.
eShangazi (“eAunt”) is a chatbot that invites users to chat with a robot who provides sexual health information and resources. Users can SMS, Whatsapp, or Facebook Message the chatbot; in Tanzania, Facebook Messages are completely free, so there is no additional cost to access this information.
Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) told Data Zetu partner Code for Tanzania that there was a gap of skilled staff capable of accessing, cleaning, and visualizing data quickly and cost-efficiently in ways that tell actionable stories. They also cited the challenge of poor digital infrastructure to be able to produce digital data stories. Cost restrictions also applied; Mwananchi couldn’t afford to buy proprietary data visualisation tools.
On top of all this, while management showed appetite for data-driven journalism, editors did not immediately appreciate its value and reporters weren’t willing to change their approach as long as the status quo was acceptable.
Code for Tanzania helped MCL develop and use the Mwananchi Health Portal and The Citizen’s Health Portal. These efforts pioneered Tanzania’s first data-driven news site dedicated specifically to the health sector. In Mwananchi’s case, the Afya Yangu page is already integrated into Mwananchi’s main website, as part of the media group’s core news offering.
The efforts also included the integration of various digital health tools that make data about health sector issues accessible for users like journalists and citizens.
Mwananchi’s Afya Yangu (“My Health”) portal contains health data-driven stories and links to digital tools.
Code for Tanzania helped senior management at Mwananchi align data journalism with wider corporate priorities. This enabled Mwananchi to pledge its own budget and personnel towards the project. Data Zetu then built enabling technology inside Mwananchi, to fix its CMS constraints, while also building free external (open source) tools to offer fast and cost-effective data analysis and visualisation.
To ensure meaningful and ongoing use of these resources, Data Zetu supported the creation of a data journalism desk, which involved data journalism trainings delivered by Code for Tanzania’s Media Fellows as well as micro grants to journalists to catalyze early storytelling use cases.
These efforts culminated in a Mwananchi data portal—an online hub of data-driven storytelling. With this prototype effort deemed an initial success, Code for Tanzania continued working with both MCL properties to create a specialized data journalism health desk within both its Swahili (Mwananchi) and English (The Citizen) news websites.
These health portals include links to various digital tools, developed or curated by Code for Tanzania, that help visitors see health information that’s relevant to them, such as discovering fair prices to pay for medicines, locating registered pharmacies, or chatting automatically via Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger about sexual and reproductive health resources.
Outcomes and Impact
While we are able to measure online engagement with the content, with Google Analytics indicating over 840,000 website views and over 30,000 social media engagements, the most significant impacts are the systemic changes in the newsroom itself. The health portal is set for launch with 8 feature length exclusive data stories which can only be found on the websites. Stories like these are also published by Data Zetu in a monthly digest.
Writers and Editors also had a positive response to data training:
“We have been running the Health pullout for some months now, and we had already been utilizing data in our stories. But this training will help us to take things to another level, there are guidelines and steps to writing and editing good features data stories. I think most of us we will be using these methods now.”
– Janet Otienno, Features Editor at Mwananchi Communications
A majority of respondents reported that they see the training as a beneficial component to their every day tasks as journalists and editors. They also saw the hands-on approach of the training to be of effective as each participant left the training with one feature length data driven story.