Barbara Gruber is a fantastic journalist who has worked with Deutsche Welle for more than 20 years. She’s currently the Program Director for Deutsche Welle’s traineeship program, the DW Akademie, in Africa, and is on the management team for the newly published Podcasting MethodKit. The MethodKit itself is the result of years of research and the expertise of dozens of industry experts from around the world. We spoke with Barbara about the development of the MethodKit, what she’s learned about the global podcasting community, and how her team is working to make podcasting education more accessible.
First off, please introduce yourself and what you do at Deutsche Welle?
My name is Barbara Gruber and I’ve been with Deutsche Welle for 20 years now, and the past 10 years with the Deutsche Welle Akademie, which is the journalism training and media development division of Deutsche Welle. And there I’ve been working in lots of different positions, but the latest one that I currently hold is our Lead Program Director for a new program, which is called the Podcast Training. And there we work with aspiring podcasters in eight different countries across Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
How did your team first get the idea to partner with MethodKit?
We started off seeing a need for podcast training in Africa. So we started by first doing in depth research of the region and our target countries, and speaking to a lot of podcasters and learning designers and also media partners we have there.
We then developed an initial curriculum, but then we very quickly saw that, in addition to the curriculum, we also wanted to have a training tool that we use specifically in these trainings. And I had been following MethodKit, the Swedish training organization, since they launched 10 years ago. And they make really interesting training tools called MethodKits for all sorts of topics.
And they didn’t have a MethodKit for podcasts yet. So I thought, ‘oh, that would actually be a perfect match. It would give us the opportunity to create the Kit together with our network and with our learning expertise.’ Then I contacted the MethodKit founders and they very quickly said, ‘yeah, that’s a great match. Let’s do it!’
So what exactly is a MethodKit?
The MethodKit is a set of 61 cards which map the shared language around podcasting. So we brought these two organizations together, MethodKit and the DW Akademie, as well as 20 podcast experts from all over the world, because we really wanted to focus specifically on this shared language of podcasting. We wanted to make sure that the MethodKit reached as many people as possible. So the language had to be accessible.
And each card, it’s very simple. It consists of a logo, a headline and a subheading, which are meant to trigger conversations and discussions and ignite ideas and imagination.
Trainings are often very structured and linear and rigid, but the MethodKit has a different approach, not giving answers, but – to use a kitchen analogy – giving you all of the ingredients for a podcast, and letting you be your own cook. Ultimately we think that every podcaster is the best cook themselves.
The user can choose which cards are the most relevant to them, how much they want to use and in what combinations – the journey is up to them.
What was the gap you were trying to fill when your team started developing the Podcast MethodKit?
Podcasting is booming all over the world, obviously mostly in Europe and in the US. But what we saw is that in the past two years, it’s also really grown in the region that we are working in, in Africa. There are media houses that are setting up podcasting desks and podcasting departments. There are podcast production firms that are taking up work. There are more and more innovation hubs setting up podcasting studios. And also a lot of our partners are interested in learning about podcasting. So it’s a really exciting time because it feels like it’s just emerging in these countries.
There is a real sort of hunger and need for podcasting training. That’s why we thought, ‘okay, this is the right time to come in and develop – in a collaborative, iterative approach – these training offers.’ And at the same time, it’s really interesting to see that there are still a lot of people who don’t know about podcasting.
In the places where we work, obviously there’s still a huge issue around data costs and internet access. So you need to think about how this affects the length and accessibility of the podcast itself, and what sort of platforms can be used for distributing a podcast. Podcasters around the world experience different realities. This is why we tried to make the MethodKit as accessible as possible, in as many languages or contexts as possible.
And the MethodKit is both a physical deck of cards and also available online. How has the format of the MethodKit influenced its potential user market?
On the one hand it’s a physical thing, but it’s also available digitally. Obviously our main target audience were the ones that we work with through our trainings, but since we launched in October we’ve had lots of people from all over the world download the Kit, who are not affiliated with our trainings. It’s been downloaded in 60 different countries! So there’s definitely an interest in the digital format from a wide global audience.
We’re working on ideas of self-guided learning modules as well, and alternative ways to train people. We’re seeing how people can learn the skills outside of our in-depth six week training courses. Our main target audience, when we started the project a year and a half ago, were media houses who wanted to start podcasting, but when we reviewed our program and our offers with experts from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, they were also saying, ‘you need to make this accessible to individual podcasters, not media houses only, but independent content creators.’
Now we’re working on broadening the target audiences and making it accessible. And I think that’s why the MethodKit is already the first step to opening up, and also making it available in other languages is super important in order to reach more people.
What was that research process like?
It’s important to understand that we went about the development in two stages. First, we developed the MethodKit in English with the help of 20 experts from all over the world.
We knew we wanted to have around 60 cards, but we didn’t want to influence the experts with our own suggestions or assumptions. So we asked them to do so-called ‘brain dumps.’ We said, ‘When you think about podcasting, what are 60 terms that are particularly relevant to you?’
Once they sent us their brain dumps, we started comparing and contrasting and patterns emerged. We then started clustering and structuring, and then we went back to these people and redid interviews. So I think we went through 30 iterations before arriving at this set of 61 cards.
And then we translated the MedthodKit cards into 12 additional languages, languages where podcasting is still in its total infancy, for example, in Amharic or in Moray, the language they speak in Burkina.
There were some cards which were particularly difficult to translate into certain languages, in order to localize and contextualize the cards themselves. Even though arguably podcasting is still at the very beginning, I know that making a contribution to get this discussion going and providing this tool for people in their own language is important.
And you mentioned the MethodKit is also available in Ukrainian. How does it enable people to start podcasting at especially critical times, such as during war or other crises?
It was very interesting to see when we first spoke about doing the training in Ukraine, a year ago, our country lead for Ukraine said podcasting in the country was not that big.
I think the war pushed podcasting forward, because of the flexibility of being able to listen whenever and wherever and it’s a comparatively cheap medium. We were all surprised that when we had the open call for participants, we were actually bombarded with Ukrainian colleagues with great podcast ideas.
I don’t know whether the MethodKit itself makes a difference, but I think what’s clear is that in terms of crisis, people have an increased need for accurate, relevant information they can trust to make an informed decision.
Also, it’s really interesting to see that podcasting, as we’ve seen with the Corona crisis, has increased. When you look at how podcasting developed during the Corona crisis, it is really interesting to see that first it dipped when people stopped commuting and were working from home. Once the listening habits of people adjusted, podcasting boomed.
I mean, obviously in Ukraine at the moment, I don’t think there is any sort of information on, or data on the use of podcasting and how this has changed during the crisis. But, the anecdotal evidence of what we’ve heard from our colleagues on the ground is that podcasting and the interest in podcasting has increased in the past months since the war started.
This aspect of being able to dig deeper, to provide context, to put things into perspective, that’s where podcasting can be very strong. And I don’t know how it is for you, but, during the Corona crisis podcasts were essential for providing me with a framework, and keeping me mentally healthy and up to date with news.
My colleague always says, ‘audio is the format closest to your own thoughts.’ I quite like that. It shows just how important audio is. And being a radio journalist myself, I’m quite excited about the format having such a comeback through podcasting.
How did you build the international network of experts who helped to develop the MethodKit and translate it?
Deutsche Welle Akademie has existed for decades, so we’ve got a great network of people. But obviously podcasting is new. So I think it was a combination of media partners who are interested in going into podcasting and who knew podcasters. And then we also did a lot of research into the different regions in which podcasting production firms or media houses are doing innovative work in the field.
At that time I was living in Australia, so I contacted the ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. We had Puma podcasts in the Philippines, SOWT podcasts in Jordan, which is a very big and visible podcast production company in the MENA and the Arabic speaking world.
In Africa, the three big countries doing most podcasting are South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. So there, we identified in South Africa, Sound Africa and Volume – two big podcasting organizations. And Nation Audio in Kenya. And then we had contacts through Deutsche Welle in the US and in Latin America. And here in Germany we worked with Pool Artists.
So it was a combination of contacts that we had spoken to during the research phase for our curriculum development, and then people who were recommending other people. It was great to see how one connection generated the next.
We’ve been very fortunate to work with fabulous colleagues also in the translation process – who then connected us with more people in their network. For example, the Bolivian colleagues connected us to Mexican colleagues and so we’ve been very fortunate to work with a great network.
Podcasting is a very nice ecosystem. People are very kind and love sharing and are a bit less cutthroat than traditional media. We’ve been very fortunate to work with great colleagues around the world.
What have been some of the biggest differences between different user communities around the world? Did anything surprise you regarding the different communities?
One thing that really surprised me was that in many regions, YouTube is the main way that people discover and listen to podcasts.
In the little academic research on podcasting in Asia and Africa, YouTube consistently scores top, in terms of discovery. And that’s something where you’re just like, ‘Wow. I would not search for podcasts on YouTube, but then again I’m not the target audience for these shows.’
I think we still have a lot to learn and we need much more research and for us as an organization, we need to systematically share our learnings with the industry.
Where do you see the MethodKit in five years? What impact do you hope it will have?
We love podcasts and we see podcasts as a great tool for storytelling and for giving new, underrepresented voices a platform. We advocate for freedom of expression and access to information. So I think we as a team see podcasts as a great tool to support that.
What we’d like to do with the MethodKit is to contribute to, nourish and encourage new podcasts and to improve existing podcasts and especially in markets where podcasting is still in its infancy. Making the MethodKit available in more languages and encouraging the production of podcasts in languages other than English is a goal as well.
And that’s great to see how we are being approached by large organizations for help with their trainings as well. And also people who are offering to translate it into their own languages. They want to use it for their consultancies or their training offers. We are starting to get feedback from users too – it was great to hear that when the MethodKit was used in Cambodia at the beginning the participants were shy, but the cards helped them to open up. We’re keen to see how it will continue and grow.
Lastly, what is your favorite sound?
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I love that question. I’m married to an Aussie, and I just spent three years in Australia. I must say I love Australian birds, and I was thinking about whether I prefer the magpie, the magpie is a bird that I love the sound of the magpie, but the most beautiful and the most exotic one is the Kookaburra.
So, I would say it’s the sound of the Kookaburra.
Someone was asking me when we left Sydney six months ago, what I was going to miss the most. And I said the smell of spring and sort of jasmine and Jacaranda and the sound of the birds.