Journalists from North Rift Kenya turn to local data to explain lag in development
Journalists practice sorting and filtering World Health Organization life expectancy data using Excel.

Journalists practice sorting and filtering World Health Organization life expectancy data using Excel.

With a new nose for data-driven storytelling, journalists at a data journalism workshop in Eldoret, North Rift Kenya turned to familiar headlines: “7 people succumb to killer brew in Eldoret and Red flag raised as drug abuse hits Eldoret schools, colleges.

The journalists had questions:

  • How many arrests related to illegal alcohol production have been made in the region over the last few years?
  • How do people die from home-brewed alcohol anyway?
  • How is alcohol production and distribution  regulated and audited?
  • How many cases of drug abuse by minors have been reported by schools and hospitals?
  • How many students have dropped out of school due to drug use at secondary and university level?
  • How do rates of illegal alcohol production and drug abuse compare in other regions of Kenya?

Many of the journalists in the room had covered this very topic before, but without exploring the data that could put the issue of drug abuse into context.

For four days, 14 journalists from North Rift Kenya came together for a data journalism workshop hosted by Twaweza Communications, funded by Hivos (Service Delivery Indicator Programme) and led by Internews data journalism trainers Dorothy Otieno and Eva Constantaras. They came together to investigate how to produce more in-depth stories on health and education topics through data journalism.

“It was clear that the journalists knew what a good story is because they easily identified the gaps and weaknesses in the stories they reviewed. The data sourcing and analysing skills they gained in the workshop will enable them to do evidence-based stories that address the gaps and hold their county leadership accountable,” said Dorothy Otieno. contributed free Pro accounts to participants who went on to produce their own data visualisations following the training. The distance from Kenya’s open data community in Nairobi makes it challenging for journalists from rural areas to produce data stories after such workshops because of access to data, trainers and editors, who provide the training, mentoring and support needed to produce data journalism.

Even more important than the technical skills for finding, scraping, analysing and visualising data, journalists saw the potential for data to enrich their day-to-day reporting by getting beyond the headlines to underlying issues preventing progress in health and education in their communities. They critiqued stories in the media, learned search techniques for finding data and questions that are useful for verifying data integrity.

Four journalists did go on to produce their own independent data visualisations and won free Pro accounts.

Rael Jelimo (@RJelimo) a correspondent for the Standard newspaper, analysed data on education levels to calculate the average rate of secondary school graduation in the region. She chose a story angle that highlighted the constituencies that were doing especially well or poorly, simplifying the numbers for her audience. She is also carrying out investigations into county procurement procedures for pharmaceuticals.

Also a correspondent for the Standard, Michael W. Odhiambo (@mowesonga) explored the same data but focused in on his county and the constituencies within it. He found that one constituency was Ralph Lauren Kids pulling up the average for the entire county and the rest lagged behind. He is currently looking into whether the public budget for maternal healthcare is adequate for the treatment of complications such as fistulas.Though exciting, producing the stories is also daunting. “Data journalism is very interesting but I think there is still so much to be learnt,” he explained. “I intend to apply data journalism to attain higher standards for accuracy and corrections in the watchdog role as concerns bringing third parties to accountability.”

Caleb Kemboi (@drkemboi) a journalist with Thomson Reutersexplored a dataset that measured basic literacy and numeracy skills among school-age children. His visualisation focuses on the lowest performing constituencies in the region. His current investigations seeks to identify the reasons behind the school drop out rate among girls in the North Rift Region


Joshua Cheloti (@CeejayCheloti) is a radio journalist with Biblia Husema Broadcasting, a radio station in Eldoret. Cheloti is committed to human interest reporting. He said, “Before the training I feared stories involving data, but now I enjoy such stories as I can professionally analyse the data and use it to come up with a radio story that can easily be understood by my audience.” His visualisation identifies a correlation between hostile environments and poor performance on numeracy and literacy exams. His next investigation looks at rising cases of chronic diseases in North Rift and the funds and facilities to treat them.


Each of the 14 participants will develop one data-driven story over the next month with a special focus on simplifying numbers, understanding the source of the data and putting breaking health and education stories into context using data. They will also participate in a follow up training to see what questions their own investigations raised and which data they can use to develop health and education beat reporting.

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