Case Study

Enabling Access to Critical Information in Conflict Zones

How can design help improve information access in conflict-stricken, media-dark regions?


Access to information is crucial to human development the world over, facilitating a climate of awareness and empowering individuals to meet the challenges of their environment. In communities isolated by conflict, information access becomes that much more critical, but can be exceedingly hard to find. This is the case in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where decades of crisis have kept the region in a perpetual state of instability, poverty, and isolation—and without the information communities need to live safer, more productive lives.

Working to change this status quo, Internews partnered with Reboot to investigate the contours of FATA’s current information ecosystem and propose recommendations for how media development practitioners could promote positive change in the region. Conducted entirely by local researchers, the project surfaced new ideas about media development direct from FATA’s residents, a population that has been distinctly absent from international discussions about its own development. The project also led to the creation of a design research guidebook for development practitioners, which has served as a reference for Internews and other organizations.


FATA is the least developed region in Pakistan. Sixty-six percent of the population lives below the poverty line; an estimated 60 to 80 percent is unemployed. Beyond farming, smuggling and illegal drugs round out the region’s core industries. In an effort to defeat Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, FATA has also been the target of United States military operations, which have killed an estimated 3,400 people since 2004  (research conducted in 2013) and kept the region in a cycle of violence.

Yet opportunities for change are on the horizon. The 2013 general election introduced Pakistan’s political parties to the region, granting communities in FATA national representation for the first time. But FATA remains media dark, with variable access to mobile networks and internet, along with tight restrictions on journalists. Recognizing the importance of independent, high quality media to the political process, Internews partnered with Reboot to explore opportunities for improving information access in FATA. Specifically, Internews sought greater insight into how FATA’s communities source, share, and verify information to inform the design of new media development programs targeting the region.

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