Katine: Guardian does something very special indeed with crowdsourcing

If you have ten minutes today, click along to Katine: it starts with a village. With this project The Guardian is doing something very special indeed with crowdsourcing, interactive storytelling, and journalism itself.

Launched over the weekend, Katine appears to be a new approach to “the annual appeal to focus attention on worthwhile causes during the pre-Christmas giving season”. Editor Alan Rusbridger explains:

“Would it be possible to find a way of dramatising an issue so that it held attention beyond Christmas, even for as long as three years? Of connecting the ideas, goodwill, resources and expert knowledge of 15 million readers around the world and focusing them on one problem? Would it be possible to do all this in a way which avoided the classic trap of creating a temporary oasis in a desert? Of doing something both sustainable and replicable? Could there be a model for using web-based technologies – and the power to link and harness people – that could be developed by other western communities, whether businesses, schools or towns? “

Rusbridger identifies three things that a newspaper/website can do as part of this. The first and third are familiar: raising awareness and therefore increasing pressure; and reporting, contextualising, and analysing. But it’s the second thing that is significant, innovative, and worth watching:

“it can involve a huge community of readers and web-users around the world and find ways of linking them in to what we’re doing. We’ll need money obviously. But, just as importantly we need advice and involvement. Among our readers are water engineers, doctors, solar energy experts, businessmen and women, teachers, nurses, farmers. We absolutely don’t need a stampede of volunteers, but we would like a technical know-how bank of people who are prepared to offer time and advice. We’ll let you know how to get involved as we go.”

In other words, crowdsourcing – but not crowdsourcing as seen so far in newspapers, where the focus is on asking readers to help gather or analyse information for a story: this is crowdsourcing to help address the actual issues identified by the story.

Even more creditable, this is a story which does not normally make the pages of most newspapers, as Rusbridger notes:

“Most western journalists periodically scratch their heads about how to keep some subjects fresh, including poverty and climate change. The big picture is known; the facts change little from day to day. Such subjects are at once the biggest news of our times – and not news at all.”

The website itself – http://www.guardian.co.uk/katine – is impressive, with a virtual village, short films by the GuardianFilms arm, audio, and a number of blogs “where Guardian writers and film-makers, Amref staff and, eventually, the people of Katine, will write about their experience of the project. It will also be a place for debate about the wider development issues Katine raises“. (Interestingly, there is also a clear attempt to paint a fuller picture of Katine than just ‘suffering Africans’, with pieces on local music and style).

The Guardian are making a habit of thinking outside the box with technology and editorial: Islamophonic and Many Questions were refreshing takes on podcasting; and commentisfree did the same for blogging; but Katine, for me, has the potential to be a truly international experiment in taking crowdsourcing to a new level.

But here are my caveats:

  • There is currently no clear link to this promising crowdsourcing element. If you’re going to announce it, allow people to at least sign up for an email alert to tell them when the facility is up and running. Don’t say “We’ll let you know how to get involved as we go” on the expectation that your readers will keep checking back to the website like a faithful dog.
  • On a related note, although the site as a whole has an RSS feed, the interactive map promises to be updated as the project goes on, but asks readers to “please visit now and come back every week or two to follow the updates and get to know your favorite characters, places and stories.” This may be a weakness of Flash, but some creative thinking would surely prevent the need for people to set themselves a reminder.

  • A Twitter/mobile alert would be good to keep the issue on people’s agenda.
  • Finally, some lovely video but it’s not embeddable. If one aim is to raise awareness, then you should be allowing people to place your video on their blogs.

Of course I only say these things because I want this project to succeed. If this doesn’t give you faith in the power of journalism, nothing does.


12 thoughts on “Katine: Guardian does something very special indeed with crowdsourcing

  1. Margaret Stevens

    I have lost count of the number of times I have tried to register and post a comment on the Guardian Katine site during the past 12 hours, without any success. I am getting more and more frustrated. I don’t know if you can help me, please. The comments I want to make are as follows:-

    As an English woman born and brought up in Uganda, which I still visit about twice a year, Teso (the region in which Katine is situated) is my second home. I run TESS, the Teso Educational Sponsorship Scheme, through Teso Development Trust in the UK, while Rev Sam Ediau, based in Soroti, runs the scheme in Teso – please look at our website http://www.tess.uk.net. We have sponsors who enable more than 200 teenagers (mostly girls) to continue with post-primary education, mainly in secondary schools, but also a few in vocational and technical schools and in tertiary education. A few of our girls actually come from Katine parish – I have visited then in their homes. So of course, I am very interested in the Guardian project from all sorts of points of view. But, whilst excited that at last people around the world might really begin to hear and understand about some of the issues and problems of life in Teso, as well as all the positive aspects, I also share many of the concerns already expressed in earlier blogs. This well-meaning project could have disastrous effects, not only for the people of Katine, but also for the rest of Teso. There is no point in repeating many of the points already made so well, especially by Java1930.

    But briefly, some of the points I would like to add (in no particular order) are:-
    1.I agree that it is not helpful or appropriate to talk about Katine as being in the 14th century!
    2.We must recognise how so many of the problems and suffering experienced today by the people of Katine and elsewhere are the results, indirectly as well as directly, of terrible mistakes made by “us” in the distant past and even recent past (whether deliberate or inadvertent, or out of selfishness and ignorance, prejudice and arrogance, whether by individuals or by our Government or by churches)
    3.We must learn from the many mistakes made in the past by colonialists and missionaries and avoid making them again.
    4.We do not have all the answers. And most of our answers are inappropriate anyway. We need to listen to and learn from the people of Katine and Teso generally.
    5.The issues and problems are extremely complex. It takes time and humility to even begin to understand.
    6.Have you been in touch with the various development offices in Soroti (especially TEDDO for the Church of Uganda, SOCADIDO for the Catholics and the PAG Development Office)? This is essential.
    7.Corruption at every level of Ugandan society is what keeps people in poverty. Lemek said “… what is really required is justice, equity, and good governance”. This is far more important than providing bicycles and computers. Have you been in contact with the Teso Coalition Against Corruption in Soroti? This is essential. Unless the culture of corruption is tackled from the start, nothing permanent will be achieved.
    8.“Training”, consultation and on-going support at every level is vital.
    9.Many NGOs will only work with women. Nothing will work unless the women are fully involved and empowered in every way.
    10.£2.5 million is a huge amount of money to pour into one “village”. Have you explored the negative effects this will have not only on Katine but on the rest of Teso? (see markhorley) This “experiment” has the potential to do even more harm than the dreadfully ill-conceived TV series called “Millionaires Mission”.
    11.I find the use of the word “experiment”, with all its meanings and connotations, offensive.
    12.Mistakes are bound to be made again – please make sure that you minimise them as much as possible by listening to the indigenous leaders and development workers of Teso. But the many dangers inherent in this project and the fear of making mistakes should not paralyse us into doing nothing, but make us wary and humble, and ready to listen and take advice from local people.
    13.How are things going to be maintained? Don’t start anything without having a clear strategy for maintenance in every meaning and aspect of the word.
    14.Sanitary pads would make an enormous difference to women and girls, especially when at school, as mentioned on an earlier comment. But far better (environmentally and economically) than importing expensive pads from abroad, buy Maka Pads (made in Uganda from re-cycled paper and papyrus) which have been short-listed in the BBC World Challenge 2007 finals – to make sure they win and get a grant, vote for them now on http://www.theworldchallenge.co.uk .
    15.Please explain what a “village” in Uganda means. It is quite different from what people in the UK understand by a village.
    16.It may help to know how Katine is pronounced – like “cat-ee-nay”
    17.I shall be returning to Teso on 25th November and look forward to visiting Katine again and perhaps getting involved in some way.
    18.Yes, there are plenty of active and committed Christians and churches in Katine, especially Church of Uganda (COU), Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) and Catholics.

    Margaret Stevens

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  9. ged

    Margaret Stevens you have got huge list of comments 🙂 I am with you and your comments some how seems to be valid reasoning

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