Reflecting on seven months of accelerating engaged journalism

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The first Accelerator event with grantees in Madrid, December 2018

The Accelerator was officially launched in April 2018 with a team of three (me, engagement lead Ben Whitelaw, and project manager Madalina Ciobanu) all in position by early June 2018. During the first couple of months we had the benefit of summer and, with many people in Europe spending their days out of office and more likely in the sea, we were able to prioritise our efforts to design and develop the details of the programme before starting ‘delivery’ in September.

We have found ourselves hitting the ground running since September, in order to deliver a lot of objectives and achieve significant milestones. And so it feels only right that, a week before I go out of office and fly to summer in the southern hemisphere, I take a moment to share what the team has achieved and learned and how our reflections can help us achieve our goals for next year.

Importantly, I also want to share our processes and approaches to our work, not only to be transparent but so others establishing similar grant programmes can also gain insight and ideas.

What we’ve achieved… by way of 32 weeks and seven days

May

  • Produced a reading list, which the team used early on to get inspiration about resources, understand more about engaged journalism organisations and projects in Europe and the US, gain intelligence about studies and academic research, map key stakeholders and events, and bookmark interesting reads

June — July

  • Developed a detailed 18-month programme plan and budget to ensure the team can effectively plan, allocate resources and meet key deadlines
  • Undertook intelligence-gathering activities, including phone interviews, a survey and in-country visits, for us to understand more about and map engaged journalism organisations in Europe, what the challenges are for news organisations taking an engaged journalism approach, and what the gaps are in relation to current support for these organisations (including resources, financial investment, network-building and business development support)
  • Produced the ‘Accelerator story’ presentation for the team, and others, to use to refer to and talk about the programme

August — September

  • Developed strategies so to ensure the different strands of the programme (grant funding, events, resources, peer-to-peer network, mentorship and coaching) are delivered with purpose and rigour, and so we can effectively evaluate the effectiveness and impact of each strand, and the wider programme, at programme completion, in December 2019. Including: the Accelerator impact framework, a newsletter strategy, a methodology for determining criteria and shortlisting applications for the Closed Call and Open Call for grant funding and the website launch plan
  • Produced the Engaged Journalism in Europe database, which highlights 70+ inspiring engaged journalism organisations in Europe
  • Published our findings from the intelligence-gathering activities that we carried out in the summer
  • Produced application documentation for the Closed Call and Open Call including the Call for Applications document, application forms, and diversity and inclusion form
Engaged journalism accelerator grantees in Cardiff
Our closed call grantees at our roundable in Cardiff, October 2018

October

  • Launched the Engagement Explained newsletter, which you can sign up to receive in your inbox every fortnight for step-by-step guides, insights and the best examples of engaged journalism in Europe
  • Grant funded four engaged journalism organisations via the Closed Callin September: Greece: Solomon: awarded €45,800 | Spain: Maldita.es: awarded €45,800 | Ukraine: Tvoe Misto (‘Your City’ Lviv): awarded €47,800 | UK: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism: the Bureau Local: awarded €53,800
  • Delivered the roundtable for Closed Call grantees in Cardiff, UK, where grantees met in person for the first time and had the opportunity to find out more about each other’s objectives in the Accelerator, as well as what they can learn from each other
  • Launched the www.engagedjournalism.com website, where there are details about grant funding and grantees, case studies, a reading list and how to sign up to our network and newsletter
  • Developed progress & impact templates, which grantees are using to define what impact they want to achieve, how they will measure progress, to determine what challenges they might face and how they will mitigate these challenges

November — December

  • Developed further strategies, including: an Open Call promotion plan, the content and resource strategy, and a community framework
  • Secured an initial pool of mentors for the Closed Call grantees to work with across the following areas: business development, project management, managing and implementing tools and frameworks for a ‘slow media’ publication, and digital strategy, impact measurement and delivery
  • Delivered the kick-off event in Madrid, Spain, for 30 invited participants including the grantees, engaged journalism practitioners from Europe and the US, representatives from civil society/community engagement organisations, academics and researchers
  • Ran two live video Q&A sessions, which applicants to the Open Call joined to have their questions answered and learn more about the different strands of the programme
  • Received 128 Open Call applications from across 30 countries, which we are currently shortlisting. Good luck, everyone!
Engaged Journalism Accelerator event post its
An ‘open space’ session at the Accelerator kick-off event in December, Madrid 2018

Key things that we’ve learned

Presumption is the mother of all…

We’ve been reminded that we can’t assume or presume anything. We’ve learned to ask people a lot of questions rather than assuming that people will provide us with information that we need.

One particular example was where we didn’t think to ask if anyone needed a visa to attend the October roundtable in Cardiff. And indeed, one participant did and we had to work very quickly to help them attain a visa in time. Subsequently, we included a question about visa requirements in the Open Call application form, so we can be better prepared for the future cohort of grantees.

Quality over quantity

We’re scaling back on the number of core events that we’re delivering. We originally planned on 10 but we’re now planning for five, with a few prospective smaller and also ‘virtual’ rather than face-to-face events.

We’ve made this change to our programme delivery to better reflect the needs and availability of engaged journalism practitioners. And because our team of three simply doesn’t have the capacity to deliver 10 major events across Europe in 18 months, while we also want to deliver other programme objectives to a great standard.

Reflect, review and refine

We’ve used hindsight to our advantage. We were a newly-formed team, running a newly launched programme, in an organisation none of us has worked in before. Navigating our way through the last seven months has inevitably meant a need to use different tools, methods and processes, and also different ways to communicate. Not least because we’re working with colleagues and practitioners across Europe, from different cultures, who speak different languages and work in different time zones.

Therefore, each time we know something hasn’t gone as well as it could, there have been differing expectations, or we’ve missed a deadline, we take the time as a team to have an open discussion, and put in place a plan and actions so we’re more effective for next time.

It’s only as I finish this post that I realise just how much the team has produced in seven months, how we can improve and what we’re excited about for 2019. I think the Accelerator speaks volumes already, and that we are creating something significant, robust and impactful for not only engaged journalism but for wider journalism grant funding and acceleration in Europe. I hope you think the same.

In January, I will be sharing our New Year goals and ways that you can contribute and get more involved with — and get more out of — the Accelerator. Lastly, Ben, Madalina and I wish you a safe and relaxing festive season.

This post was first published on Medium.

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