Cape Town study week inspires JILeaders participants to innovate in new ways



JILeaders participants at the end of a successful intensive study week at Workshop 17 in Cape Town

UCLan’s Journalism Innovation and Leadership Programme participants have spent an intensive study week in Cape Town, learning how to solve problems and test new ideas via a five-day design sprint. 

Led by a team of innovation experts, the 20 journalists from organisations across the UK and the African continent used design thinking to produce a range of solutions to the question of how to engage Gen Z audiences in news.

They were joined online by seven additional JILeaders participants who were unable to travel to Cape Town, including journalists from the UK, Fiji, Georgia and Africa.

The group challenged themselves to think differently, placed the user at the heart of their innovations and worked in teams to develop prototypes, which they then presented to a group of young people from Cape Town for feedback.

Jacqui Merrington, JILeaders participant and UK-based digital transformation specialist, said: “This is not just a journalism course. It’s a community of inspirational change-makers from across Europe and Africa with whom I’ve just been lucky enough to spend the week in Cape Town.

“A week design-sprinting, innovating, testing, learning, imagining, interviewing, problem-solving, Post-it noting our butts off, sketching, laughing, playing games, listening, talking, sharing and questioning ‘how might we…’ do journalism differently and better and engage with young audiences in a sustainable way.”

Read Jacqui’s summary of learnings from the Cape Town sprint in her journalism innovation newsletter The Happy Journalist

The intensive study week was led by Dr François Nel, head of the JILeaders programme, with UCLan visiting faculty members Laurens Vreekamp, a journalist, design thinker and founder of the Future Journalism Today Academy; Sarah Hartley, a journalism entrepreneur and experienced news executive; Jeremy Clifford, JILeaders head of mentoring and founder of Chrysalis Transformations, and audience development and editorial consultant Ed Walker. 

Netherlands-based Laurens, who has led design sprints with a range of major organisations including Google, said: “It was truly inspiring to work with such a diverse group of journalism leaders, coming from wildly different backgrounds and continents, and have them all embrace the uncertainty that comes with the Sprint process. To see Zimbabwean and Irish folks build paper prototypes with Somali and Kenyans to user test their ideas with a variety of South African youth, has been just extraordinary to observe.

“It was a privilege to be there when radical and fresh ideas came to fruition for solving current and – so it became clear – universal challenges in journalism.”

The JILeaders programme also organised a Forum, in collaboration with South Africa’s Media24, to explore the biggest innovation challenge facing the media industry today: How to balance relevance and environmental responsibility in the era of A.I.

Speakers took part from across the globe and included JILeaders programme leader Dr François Nel, current participants and visiting faculty, as well as journalists from Media 24 and Hermann Wasserman from the University of Stellenbosch. The forum was supported by Google News Initiative. Watch the replay.

Find out more about the JILeaders programme.

Feedback from the JILeaders community

I had the most enlightening time in Cape Town with the Journalism Innovation and Leadership cohort – Christina Nyirenda-Chimuka, general manager at Jester Media, Zimbabwe

Wonderful to meet my mentees in person, some of their class cohort and fabulous faculty in Cape Town last week Observing their ‘sprint’ was inspiring. Hearing more of their innovative ideas was encouraging for the future – Paddi Clay, Journalism Training & Development, Johannesburg

I came home richer than I left – with new ways of thinking, methods of turning ideas into action, memories of walking along the Cape of Good Hope and of creasing over with uncontrollable laughter, and new long-lasting friendships – Laura Davis, editor, Stored Honey, UK

Being part of this global cohort of media executives has not only shaken up my professional and personal life but continues to provide a platform to tackle some of media’s greatest challenges. The discomfort of new learnings, exemplified by Laurens Vreekamp’s intense design sprint teachings, is undeniably rewarding – Ivor Price, editor-in-chief, Food for Mzansi, Cape Town

It was amazing to be in the same room as (almost!) all the course participants – who flew in from Europe and Africa. And it was a delight to properly get to know the people behind the names and faces I’ve spoken to on Teams calls for the last 12 months – Harriet Rose-Gale, head of features, SWNS, UK

A week design-sprinting, innovating, testing, learning, imagining, interviewing, problem-solving, post it noting our butts off, sketching, laughing, playing games, listening, talking, sharing and questioning ‘how might we…’ do journalism differently and better and engage with young audiences in a sustainable way – Jacqui Merrington, digital transformation specialist, UK