InnovateAFRICA: Digital Fact-checking and Watchdog Projects Win $1 Million


A pan-African fact-checking network, citizen science in Durban shantytowns and a graphic journalism hub are among the latest winners of seed grants from innovateAFRICA, the continent’s largest fund for digital journalism experimentation.

The 22 winning digital projects will receive $1 million in funding and technology support from innovateAFRICA, which is managed by Code for Africa as part of ICFJ's wider data journalism initiative in the region. (I direct Code for Africa as an ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow.)

A team of expert judges chose the winning digital journalism and civic technology ideas from 736 applications from 49 African countries. We’ve selected some of the brightest innovators in this space to experiment with leapfrog technologies, but the real focus is to help teams build real-world solutions to real-world problems that can immediately be adopted and scaled by mainstream media companies and civil society.

“We need the media and other civic watchdogs to provide the checks and balances needed to help us navigate an uncertain future,” said Ory Okolloh, a contest juror and the Omidyar Network’s director of investments for Africa. “It has therefore been fantastic to see not just the superb quality and range of entries, but also the diversity of ideas and collaboration that innovateAFRICA has fostered across the region.”

After further refining their implementation plans and budgets, the winners will receive between $12,500 and $100,000 each, along with engineering support from Code for Africa’s civic technology labs across the continent. Global experts at the Media Development Investment Fund and Global Editors Network will serve as mentors to the winners.

The winning projects will explore ways to use new technologies such as drones, sensors and satellites to produce real-time reporting in difficult-to-reach places; harness artificial intelligence (AI) and web robots (‘bots) for improved newsgathering and audience engagement; and improve visual storytelling in Africa, combining cartoon illustrations with viral video techniques, along with data visualizations and immersive storytelling.

“These projects represent exciting new approaches to tackling the challenges that face today’s media, both in Africa and around the world," says Jerri Eddings, a juror and an ICFJ senior program director. "The increasing threat of fake news is particularly troubling because it undermines the free flow of credible information that underpins modern societies. We need innovative solutions to such problems, and it is heartening to see that innovateAFRICA has surfaced so many creative ideas for facing these challenges.”

innovateAFRICA runs alongside a $500,000 companion fund, impactAFRICA, which makes story grants of up to $20,000 for journalists to get out into the field for pioneering digital reporting projects. impactAFRICA has just announced its second cohort of 13 grantees.

innovateAFRICA’s partners include Omidyar Network, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the French Cooperation Institute (CFI), John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), the Global Editors’ Network (GEN) and the World Bank.

The grantees are:

afriBOT, by the European Journalism Centre & The Source (Namibia + Zimbabwe): “We will build an open source newsbot to help African news organizations deliver personalized news and engage more effectively with audiences via messaging platforms.”

africanDRONE, by WeRobotics & UnequalScenes (pan-Africa): “We will establish Africa’s first drone journalism hub, in Tanzania, as the basecamp for the continent-wide africanDRONE community of certified drone journalists, mappers and storytellers.”

ATLAS, by Quartz Africa / Atlantic Media (pan-Africa): “We will bring Quartz’s chart-building and data visualization platform, Atlas, to newsrooms and organizations across Africa for free, and will build a database of Africa-focused data sources and visualization templates to make data journalism more accessible.”

Blast Tracker, by Sophie Tremblay (Tanzania): “We will establish Africa’s first investigative sensor journalism initiative, installing underwater microphones along Tanzania’s coast to track and map explosions from dynamite fishing in real-time, supported by camera drones to speedily identify and track boats involved in the explosions.”

‘Bot Starter-Kit, by (pan-Africa): “We will develop an easy-to-use sensor journalism starter-kit for small to medium sized African newsrooms, that will include hardware/software, to help journalists establish their first ‘citizen data’ projects.”

#CartooNews, by AfriCartoons (pan-Africa): “We will digitize the existing AfriCartoons archive of 1,000s of news cartoons and will redevelop our existing fan base of 400,000 people on Facebook to supply African online audiences with ready-made and bespoke graphic content: editorial cartoons, comics, animations, caricatures, illustrations, and line-drawn infographics.”

CHECK, by PesaCheck & Meedan (Kenya + Tanzania + Uganda): “We will implement a cloud-based workflow system and collaborative workbench for the regional PesaCheck fact-checking network to improve news verification in three East African countries.”

CitizenScience, by Open Data Durban (South Africa): “We will create a citizen science network in Durban’s shantytowns that uses air and water quality sensors to boost data-driven science journalism and real-time civic activism, through a network of clubs at schools and civic labs for adults.”

DollarStreet Africa, by Gapminder Foundation (Kenya + Nigeria + Tanzania): “We live in a globally connected world. But we do not understand it, and it scares us. DollarStreet will expand its use of photos as data to show how people on same income level live very similar lives across Africa and the globe.”

ENGAGE, by the Engage Video Group (South Africa): “We will use our proven expertise at creating viral audiences around social video to build an African version of Buzzfeed/Vice that combines hard-hitting journalism with video-first formats.”

FOI Portal, by mySociety and Article 19 East Africa (Kenya): “We will launch East Africa’s first online portal for Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in Kenya to help journalists and citizens use new access to information legislation to create high-impact public interest stories.”

FRONTLINE, by African Defence Review (South Africa): “We will transform the well-established African Defence Review (ADR) into an African version of that uses satellite images and other digital ‘open intelligence’ sources to shine a light on African war zones and the murky economies that fund conflict.”

Graphic Journalism Hub, by ONA Systems (Tanzania): “We will establish Africa’s first Graphic Journalism hub for visual storytelling, using graphic novel / comic animations, to produce news as mobile-optimised social video and graphic novels for multiple African media partners.” Hospital Helper, by Health-E News (South Africa): “We will create South Africa’s first geo-data tools and journalism for checking the safety / health rating of your local hospital or clinic, based on official government audits or inspection results.”

InfoFinder, by AfricaCheck (Kenya + Nigeria + South Africa + Senegal): “Africa is awash in unverified data. We will further develop AfricaCheck’s ‘info finder’ tool by expanding the number of pre-verified data sources to help media and the public to check claims.”

LiveWire, by Grass Root Nation (South Africa): “Mainstream media is out of touch with grassroots communities. We will build on our popular petition and community mobilization tools to create a crowdsourced ‘PR Wire’ service that alerts mainstream broadcast and print media about mass events (pickets, marches, protests) by grassroots communities.”

MembaO, by Code for Sierra Leone (Sierra Leone): “We will build West Africa’s first data-driven platform that uses parliamentary records and investigative research to strengthen citizen oversight of elected politicians and Parliament itself.”

MeshNews, by Outernet & DataZetu (Tanzania): “Much of Africa is still offline. Outernet will harness satellite and radio technologies to broadcast digital news and interactive data journalism content to rural audiences in Africa who don’t have traditional Internet coverage.”

NewsBot, by Atchai & Star (Kenya) & Punch (Nigeria): “We will pioneer rapid-deployment news gathering tools using Facebook / SMS based chat-bots, that will help journalists quickly collect opinion data and eyewitness accounts through polls and surveys.”

Overlay, by Paul Watson (formerly of Storyful) (pan-Africa): “We will tackle fake news and ‘post-fact’ information in the news reportage by creating a journalist-sourced verification information network integrated directly into social media platform timelines.”

OpenGazettes, by AfriLII & the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (Nigeria): “Government gazettes are a goldmine of actionable information. We will liberate Nigeria’s gazettes by digitizing and turning them into structured searchable data for free access by journalists, activists and business users.”

DECLARE, by Media Monitoring Africa (South Africa): “We will create Africa’s first interactive site for journalists and media organizations to disclose their interests to help combat conflicts of interest and to help fact-checkers identify credible media professions in their fight against fake news.”