Knight International Journalism Fellowships

Kenya: Driving citizen engagement through data-driven stories on health and development


Award-winning journalist Catherine Gicheru is an ICFJ Knight Fellow who is working to transform media coverage of health and development issues by introducing new digital and data-focused tools at Kenyan newsrooms. The goal: to drive media coverage that helps citizens access better care and services and that gives them a voice in decisions about public policies and government spending.

Gicheru has already achieved important results. With her help, the Nation Media Group hired its first data editor and The Star hired its first dedicated health reporter, innovations that will enable both publications to produce deeper, more engaging data-driven content. Gicheru regularly mentors Kenyan reporters, encouraging them to include more data and visual content in their stories. She worked with The Nation health reporter to produce interactive stories, which included the first maps produced in-house by the newspaper. The stories highlighted important health issues, such as high teen HIV and abortion rates and community-based treatments for tuberculosis patients.

During her Fellowship, Gicheru has steered improvements in the Dodgy Doctors app, which allows Kenyans to check the credentials of their doctors. In response, the Kenyan government has launched its own initiative to make it easier for citizens to find out if doctors are properly licensed and trained to dispense the treatments they offer. The Dodgy Doctors tool was first developed by technologists working under the guidance of ICFJ Knight Fellow Justin Arenstein in collaboration with the Nairobi-based Star newspaper.

The vehicle driving this transformation is Code for Kenya, a civic and data journalism technology hub that brings much-needed tech expertise to Kenyan newsrooms. During her fellowship, Gicheru has expanded Code for Kenya, which builds data journalism tools and embeds technologists into newsrooms to help them incorporate these tools into their editorial work. She is also helping to grow the Nairobi chapter of Hacks/Hackers, the global movement that brings together journalists and technologists to develop tech solutions to news challenges. Through Code for Kenya and Hacks/Hackers, Gicheru leads events such as multi-day data bootcamps, masterclasses and meetups that build journalists’ digital skills.

Gicheru’s work is part of the Code for Africa data journalism initiative, led by a team of ICFJ Knight Fellows, to harness data in new ways to empower citizens, and improve government accountability and public services for people to lead healthier, more prosperous lives.

Before becoming an ICFJ Knight Fellow, Gicheru was founding editor-in-chief at the Star.


Among the projects Gicheru is leading:

Dodgy Doctors: Reports of people masquerading as doctors used to be common in Kenya, but “Dodgy Doctors,” a tool developed by Code for Kenya in partnership with The Star, now lets patients send an SMS or check online to see if the doctor is properly registered. Because of Gicheru’s leadership, the use of the tool has increased tenfold. Following the success of the tool, the Kenyan government has directed all boards and associations that register medical health practitioners to start similar services, further enabling the public to identify licensed doctors.

WAZIMap Kenya: First developed by Code for South Africa, WAZImap provides journalists with easy access to census and demographic data visualizations that they can embed in articles. The Kenyan version is the first to provide health data on maternal care, HIV prevention, vaccinations and children’s nutrition. Reporters can explore data on a local level and can generate interactive charts showing side-by-side comparisons of data for different areas. Code for Kenya and its media partners will soon release an initial series of stories on maternal health, youth unemployment and education.

PesaCheck: It is rare for journalists in Kenya to fact-check budgets, but PesaCheck aims to show local reporters that evidence-based reporting on financial issues is possible. Launched by Gicheru in partnership with the International Budget Partnership - Kenya, PesaCheck is Kenya’s first fact-checking news service. PesaCheck uses stories, infographics and data visualizations help Kenyans understand complex public finance issues so they can make informed decisions and actively participate in the budget-making process.

GotToVote: This web and SMS app helps citizens to find their nearest voter registration center and confirm their registration. Code for Kenya first built the app for the country’s 2013 elections. With Gicheru, they have relaunched it for the 2017 vote. In the leadup to the elections, Gicheru is working with local newsrooms to publicize the tool and find election trends to report. Since it was first launched in Kenya, GotToVote has been also used by hundreds of thousands of citizens in five additional countries, two of which adopted it as an “official” voter registration tool.