We sat down with Mwende Mukwanyaga, a senior data journalist and researcher with Kenyan research organisation Odipo Dev, to learn about how she journeyed into data journalism. When we asked if she identifies as a journalist or researcher first, her response was: “What I identify most with is a creative.” But that’s not all. Mwende is also a photographer, teacher on the weekend, florist, project manager, mixologist and an activist. What can we learn from her creative approach to data journalism?
Creatives don’t wait to be taught what to do
How does Mwende approach challenges and problems? By choosing the road less travelled. “It's not reliable for us to wait for data to be available. We are having to go more and more into the field. And what is happening now is we are having to rely more on qualitative data than quantitative [because] we have very little numbers to work with… So we go to the people.”
“It's not reliable for us to wait for data to be available. We are having to go more and more into the field. And what is happening now is we are having to rely more on qualitative data than quantitative [because] we have very little numbers to work with… So we go to the people.”
This creative approach is demonstrated in Mwende’s approach to field work. Odipo Dev uses ethnography as a market research methodology, one of the creative approaches that they use to create consumer profiles and research is social media. “Studying ethnography using social media has been very [insightful, we] get to see how there is literally no divide between real life and social media life.”
Using innovative solutions is an approach she has used since she was a journalism student. Her final year research project was around social media advocacy and its implications on gender based violence was her first interaction with data in journalism. She quickly realised that data on her research topic was limited and used her personal network of activists to hand build a gender based violence data set using mostly online video tutorials on data collection and wrangling as a guide. She has since compiled a dataset to be used by bots for broadcasting health information at the height of the Covide-19 pandemic, and is currently working on building qualitative and quantitative datasets on cancer and diabetes in Kenya.
Try different and new things/explore what you don’t know.
While studying, she was working part time as a [studio operator] for a sports channel as well as an academic researcher. “I remember at that point I was also, just desperate to know what a journalism career looks like for me you know…?” Working as an academic researcher had introduced her to a variety of data cleaning, data analysis, and data visualisation tools like Flourish and Datawrapper. However the tools themselves did not help in defining the kind of journalist that she wanted to be. On the other hand, the studio work environment coupled with having her equipment stolen from her person led Mwende to decide that studio work wasn’t for her.
In a quest to find out what journalism would be for her, she enrolled in the Top Stories fellowship run by [insert organisation] which introduced her to investigative journalism. When asked what changed her about the training, she refers to an infographic shared by one of the mentors that used an image of military aircraft dropping bombs in collums to represent the number of bombs dropped by each of the recent US presidents. “[He used] no more than 50 words to tell [us] that the Obama administration dropped more bombs. From the visual you've already picked up so much… I think that was actually the first time I made the choice to pursue investigative Journalism.” Soon after her first fellowship she enrolled for a data journalism fellowship run by Africa Uncensored, this fellowship helped her decide that she wanted to focus on using data as part of her investigation and reporting.
“[He used] no more than 50 words to tell [us] that the Obama administration dropped more bombs. From the visual you've already picked up so much… I think that was actually the first time I made the choice to pursue investigative Journalism.”
The fellowship programmes helped her decide what kind of journalist she wanted to be, but they also helped expand her network. She continues to look up to some of her fellowship facilitators as mentors in the data journalism space, but also has the pleasure of working alongside some of them as colleagues at Odipo Dev.
If you are interested in growing your journalism career, and exploring what data journalism is all about, you can apply to one of the ADH fellowship programmes here and also access great lessons about everything from the basics of spreadsheets to mapping data here.
She’s still young and exploring what kind of a journalist she wants to be
When you look at Mwende’s creative approach and journey into data journalism, it is no surprise that within five years of graduating she became a senior data journalist. She does not look at her role as the final destination, she is still discovering how she wants to do data journalism, while exploring the opportunities and possibilities that data presents for journalism, market research and project management opportunities.
If you are inspired by Mwende’s data journalism journey and want to learn more from the journalists in our network, sign up here to receive the ADH newsletter and be among the first to find out when our next training and fellowship applications are announced.