Author: 
Yvonne Orengo
Nicola Harford
Publication Date
May 1, 2013

This 62-page report shares results from the Village Voices for Development (VVD) project in Madagascar, designed to use radio as a tool to empower and enable citizens to learn about, understand, and act upon their rights to information and freedom of expression. The project was implemented by the Andrew Lees Trust in partnership with Andry Lalana Tohana (ALT) (see Related Summaries at the bottom of the page to find out more). The purpose of this report is to share the key findings after six months of broadcasts in 2012 - in particular, to: document the design and evolution of the pilot project; feed back the outcomes to participating stakeholders; inform the donor community about the impacts of the VVD project; and provide lessons and perspectives to assist a proposed scaling up process.

The pilot phase of the VVD project was completed between February and August 2012. The evaluation assessed citizens' access to the programmes, as well as their understanding about and ability to act on their human rights to information and freedom of expression. It also evaluated changes in responsiveness of decision makers to citizens and any changes to the implementation of services in response to the needs of the communities. The evaluation report outlines the following key findings:

  • Media engagement: The project evaluation sought to understand how much citizens were able to access and engage with the media, and to hear and debate the VVD programmes. Although there are several methods used by villagers to access information, radio is the predominant media source for the project's intended group (47%). Radio is the source of all national and local news, weather warnings, and general information; as such, radio represents a vital link to the outside world for many isolated, rural communities. At the outset of the project, 75% of listening group (LG) respondents reported that they debated programmes together in their LG group following a radio broadcast. Unlike the LGs, there was no structured listening in the non-listening groups (NLGs), and there was no shared radio provided by the project which would ensure regular participation in group debates. There was a significant shift in relationship with the media, as VVD activity engaged citizens in programme production - providing feedback to producers, and calling in to phone-in programmes: 45% of citizens in LGs called in to live VVD radio phone-in debates, whereas only 10% had previously had experience of speaking on the radio. Live interaction with the media changed dramatically during the VVD project. After six months, all of the LG members and 14% of the NLG respondents had interacted with the media; almost half (45%) of the LG respondents said they had spoken on the radio during the VVD phone-in programmes broadcast over the six-month pilot period (of these, over half were women). The ALT VVD team observed from the monthly feedback sessions they conducted with listeners that it was not until the third month of programming that listeners really began to fully appreciate what the VVD project could do for them - the dialogue facilitated by VVD resulted in the public dissemination of all fees and free services for health care at the hospital via the radio and on notices posted on the hospital walls. Moreover, citizens were driving the VVD radio programme content with their questions, influencing development debate and catalysing action through their demands for information and service provision.
  • Human Rights, Rights to Information and Freedom of Expression: In order to educate and inform both the team and the beneficiaries, the project engaged a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) trainer and a local southern-based rights organisation, Trano Aro Zo, at the start of the project to work with the team to increase the knowledge and understanding of human rights in the intended groups. At the start of the project, 75% of the LG members declared they knew about the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. However, only 35% of the respondents said they had received any training or explanation of their rights covered by the Charter. At the end of the pilot phase of VVD, 80% of the LG respondents said they had received training on the UN Charter and their human rights. The 20% of VVD participants who said they had not been trained were not available during the designated workshop days. 90% of the LGs and 73% of NLGs drawn from the wider community said they had learned something new about their human rights; 68% of NLGs said they had learned this new information via radio. At the end of six months of listening to VVD broadcasts, which included phone-in programmes and direct dialogue between villagers and decision makers, the knowledge and comprehension about human rights had shifted. Included in this new understanding of rights was that listeners in LGs and NLGs believed that decision makers were obliged to answer their questions (66%), which increased levels of citizens' confidence. On rights to freedom of expression, the LG respondents also stated they felt things had changed. On freedom of expression, 85% of the NLGs responded with varying degrees of clarity on the subject.
  • Confidence and Ability of Citizens to Act on Their New-Found Rights: When asked at the start of the project if it was easy for them to access information about local development policy and projects from decision makers, over half of the LG respondents (55%) felt that this was not easy. After six months of participation in VVD, there was an overall increase in confidence to demand information directly from decision makers, with 5% of LG members who now said they felt very confident to demand information, 56% confident, and 20% reasonably confident, 5% only sometimes confident, and 15% lacking in confidence. After six months of VVD broadcasts and the initial training on human rights, almost two-thirds of LGs (64%) said that decision makers must respond to questions when asked. Almost the same response emerged from the NLGs, where 68% stated that decision makers were obliged to answer their questions. In the LGs, it is the men who appear more confident to demand information. This may be due to the fact that women still do not feel equal in Androy, and, traditionally, Antandroy women have been marginalised. What is particularly noticeable in many of the responses is the impacts that awareness of rights has had on women and their relations with husbands and family. This increased awareness of women's rights may in part be attributed to the initial training, which included a film focused on women's rights. The VVD project did not have an explicit agenda to address gender issues in Androy. However, the fact that radio acts as an "egalitarian" force (as mentioned by VVD listeners) means that women who would normally rely heavily on male elders in order to access information were instead able to access it directly via radio and thereby circumvent customary and hierarchical barriers to communications. Interestingly, after six months of VVD broadcasting, members of the NLGs appeared more convinced of gender equality (95%) than members of the LGs, where 30% of the women did not agree that they had the same rights as men.
  • Responsiveness of Decision Makers to Citizens' Information Needs: The evaluation found that 86% of decision makers believed that VVD acted as an effective facilitator for communicating with citizens and clarifying development topics. Indeed, perception about access to decision makers shifted significantly during VVD, with reliance on the Chef du Fokontany /Fokonola meetings (village meetings) diminishing from 68% to 32% by the end of the pilot and with notable positive shift towards citizens accessing NGOs directly from 3% to 15%. Additionally, 67% of intended listeners were satisfied with the answers they received from decision makers via VVD broadcasts. This reversed the situation at the start of the project, when 65% of citizens in LGs felt that mechanisms to access decision makers and subsequent responses were inadequate.
  • Implementation of Local Services in Response to Citizens' Needs: A notable example of impacts on service provision was the improvement in relations and services through the public debate about hospital services. The VVD programmes enabled both citizens and the Head of the Hospital service to address allegations of corruption which were negatively impacting access to health provision in Ambovombe. Citizens in VVD LGs demanded information about which services were free. This led to radio programmes in which hospital charges were publicly broadcast: A simple but highly transparent act of information sharing through mass media which reduced the opportunities for exploiting the non-literate economically poor and sick who need to access free maternity and other health services in this region.

The results of the research have shown that there are lessons to be learned from the project; the following suggestions were made:

  • Some villagers were unable to participate in phone-in programmes due to lack of ownership of or access to mobile phones. For those who did have access, many complained that the phone-in programmes should be longer in order to meet all the callers' questions. An increased frequency of phone-in programmes would help to alleviate this frustration. Due to the small level of funding and the project being in a pilot phase, only a limited number of communities were able to participate in LGs and therefore in direct programme production. Given that all the results suggest higher levels of comprehension and media engagement occurs through participating in an LG, it would be desirable to scale up the project to include more existing LGs, create new LGs, and expand into other regions.
  • Decision makers must manage the impacts of these demands so that they can respond realistically and ensure that the relationship of trust is not broken - managing expectations and service delivery will be key to the success of the public debate, as will ongoing transparency and openness.
  • Radio stations were concerned that their equipment and personnel were not sufficiently functional to sustain the programme broadcasts. Both stations experienced technical problems that impeded their full broadcast capacity. Radio Rohondroho felt they lacked a reliable and sufficiently powerful transmitter to reach audiences across the Androy. They also need a computer and partnership with telephone operators.

The longer-term goal of the VVD project is to scale up into other regions and enable local partners to learn and develop the capacity to deliver VVD programming. The ALT team has already experienced some realities of scaling up the project for the European Union (EU)-funded national elections communications programme which commenced in December 2012. Key issues have included: access to appropriate editing equipment in the field; time constraints to work with both communities and partners; scaled down methodology; lack of radio LGs in many areas; inexperience of local partners to work with radio/media; highly stretched field teams and resources; vast geographic distances; and highly restricted remit for programme content. In scaling up VVD, and in order to ensure the application of the full VVD methodology, a serious funding commitment over a realistic period of time would be required.

Source: 

Email from Yvonne Orengo to Soul Beat Africa on June 20 2013; and Andrew Lees Trust website on June 20 2013.