Case Study

Design Research for Opportunities in Kenyan Media

How independent media in Kenya can fulfill its role as public watchdog during a time when civic space is shrinking.

map of kenya

While playing a vital role in ensuring government accountability, media never works alone: It’s part of the “accountability ecosystem,” along with citizens, civil society, and government actors (among others), all of whom influence and pressure each other in the messy pursuit of good governance. That’s why a systems approach is necessary for media development. Understanding this, Omidyar Network engaged Reboot to conduct a landscape analysis of Kenya (where a vibrant media ecosystem is facing deep-seated challenges to its independence), and to identify opportunities and challenges for independent media to advance good governance. To do this, Omidyar asked Reboot to first establish a foundational knowledge base about Kenya’s media ecosystem—traditional and new, institutionally supported and citizen­-driven. Reboot collaborated with local journalists to conduct design research, holding semi-structured interviews with 73 journalists, editors, freelancers, experts, academics, CSO staff, and citizens. We shared our findings and recommendations in an interactive online report: Strengthening Kenyan Media seeks to spark conversation and investment in the media, as a core partner in the shared work of social accountability.

Kenya’s media is frequently cited as one of the most vibrant and commercially successful of sub-Saharan Africa. State control of the media first began to loosen in the 1990s; most dramatically, the new constitution adopted in 2010 explicitly enshrined freedom of the press, spurring optimism that strong, independent news sources would be able to more effectively serve Kenyans and hold the powerful to account. Yet the media ecosystem today is struggling under economic and political pressures that undermine its independence. These include the need for sustainable business models, as the private sectors moves its advertising online, as well as the threat of government attempts to stifle public criticism and media scrutiny.

“Media needs to create strong solidarity networks. Politicians are very good at isolating and attacking media houses.”

—Media columnist, Kenya

Given these challenges, Omidyar Network, which has long supported innovators in independent media throughout the world, wanted to understand how it could better support and help advance public interest journalism. Building on our previous partnerships, Omidyar engaged Reboot to conduct an analysis of the Kenyan media today. Our goals were to clearly identify the challenges and opportunities facing journalists and media actors, to recommend interventions specifically for Omidyar, and to encourage the broader media development community to engage in conversation and investment in strengthening Kenya’s independent press.