Colmena: The open-source software is a global solution for local media | Middle East/North Africa | DW | 28.05.2024
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Middle East/North Africa

Colmena: The open-source software is a global solution for local media

The Colmena software made waves with community radio at a recent event in Morocco.

Khaoula Derfouf’s goal for her community media organization is straightforward: "To include as many single moms as possible."  

Derfouf helps run the feminist association 100% Mamans in northern Morocco. Like other community radio stations, it runs on a shoestring budget and basic equipment. 

The organization trains unmarried mothers as media workers, a strategy proven highly effective in fighting gender-based violence in Morocco while teaching them skills to become economically independent.  

It’s challenging work. Not only does the team have to deal with patriarchal structures and attitudes, but they also face many nitty-gritty tech issues that plague many community newsrooms.  

"Due to financial limitations, our outdated software constantly crashes," said Derfouf.  

Looking for viable solutions, the women of 100% Mamans decided to attend a community media gathering in Rabat in early May hosted by DW Akademie partner Forum des alternatives Maroc. Jumping from session to session with other media professionals, they joined a hands-on workshop for the open-source newsroom app Colmena.  

Local journalists try out Colmena in Rabat

The Colmena app, developed by and for local media, was tested out by journalists from across Morocco

Colmena provides solutions 

Colmena is a digital newsroom co-created by and for community radio outlets under the guidance of DW Akademie and supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). 

The open-source app integrates features like audio recording, multi-track editing and file sharing – all available for free. 

These features are important for 100% Mamans. The women have found that keeping technology up to date is difficult. Software and security updates often fail, which has led them to lose multiple audio and document files.  

"But we can't really move to another program because we lack the necessary training and it’s also really expensive to pay for a license every year," Derfouf said.  

The workshop participants had the chance to explore the app on their own smartphones, receiving tips and tricks from the facilitators, and to check to see if the software can solve their organization’s problems.  

After trying out the Colmena software, Derfouf was thrilled.  

"[Colmena] is very interesting. it offers all the necessary tools we need to produce our podcast, from the first interviews to the last steps before publication," she commented.  

She found a lot of potential in the audio recorder and the editor, highlighting the sound quality. For her, just one thing is missing to increase accessibility: "Let's work together on a full Arabic version!"

Currently, the software is avaible in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Ukrainian, Other languages, including Arabic, are under development.  

Journalists edit audio on a laptop using Colmena

The software is user friendly and is collaborative in every step of the editing process

The software that grows with its users 

The request from 100% Mamans did not surprise Colmena designer Melkizedek Mirasi. He has been receiving demands like this for almost three years – the time it has taken to move from a first proof of concept to a full version of Colmena. Mel, as he is known in his hometown of Kibera in Kenya, is part of Colmena’s UX team and works with DW Akademie’s partner organization

"We made sure several media partner organizations from Africa were engaged in the prototype design process," he said. "Their contributions, through feedback and review sessions, can't be overstated when discussing Colmena's software development success in the past few years."  

A mobile- and offline-first product 

At least two key concepts directly emerged from dialogues with future users. One concept is the "mobile-first" approach, delivering high performance on mobile devices, as this is the main device used by many community journalists in the Global South.  

The second concept is the "offline-first" approach.  

"The need was made clear by community radios in Kenya, who insisted on the tool's ability to work in regions with limited internet connectivity," Mel recalled. "Although unstable broadband connectivity and the high cost of internet are not only a problem in Kenya."  

Mel's approach to the software illustrates the collaborative dimension of software development that involved more than 30 community media organizations from Africa, Latin America, and Ukraine.  

Like 100% Mamans, "all those organizations often struggle to find effective free tools for content production," Mel pointed out.  

Journalists explore Colmena's features

In Rabat, local journalists had the chance to learn more about the Colmena app

Mel has hundreds of ideas of how to improve Colmena and continue its development. 

"However, I also recognize the immediate need to train media partners as catalysts for change," he said. "This will enhance the adoption of the tool among media organizations across the world."  

The workshop in Morocco was only the beginning of the team's goal to reach more community media in need of reliable software. Soon, more organizations like 100% Mamans will connect with Colmena and successfully incorporate the software into their newsroom. 

Colmena was developed by DW Akademie and its partners and is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). 

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