Africa's Voices is a twelve-month pilot project developed to harness the reach of radio and the spread of mobile phone use to gather citizens’ opinions on governance and development issues. Every month, partnering radio stations across Africa ask their listeners a question about local issues, to be answered through SMS. The information is collected and sent through to the project initiators, the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at the University of Cambridge, for analysis. The information is then shared with the radio stations for future programming from a continental perspective.
According to the Centre of Governance and Human Rights, radio programmes across Africa encourage their listeners to participate in discussion on development and governance issues over the phone. But listeners’ voices are confined to local or national levels. Africa’s Voices is working to fostering citizens to engage in discussions about policy related issues that concern them to put local communities’ opinions in a continental perspective. In doing so, the project hopes to enrich radio mediated discussions between audiences, leaders, and stations in Africa, provide an opportunity for continental dialogue, and offer cross-country comparative scientific analysis of first hand information on citizens' opinions on core development and governance issues. As part of the pilot project, 20 radio stations, from 10 different African countries, are expected to be involved.
The stations receive the question responses through Frontline SMS and Freedom Fone, open-source software tools for managing SMS communications with limited internet access. The data is then sent to CGHR in Cambridge to produce textual analysis and comparative statistics to feed-back to the radio stations and be incorporated in subsequent programmes. These results will then provide a basis for pan-African broadcast on the quality of public goods, the expectations of African citizens, and the performance of their leaders. Radio producers can engage governance actors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and leaders in the discussions with their audiences to give their own perspectives and to respond to these views. According to CGHR, results and analysis will shed light on differences and similarities between countries, underlining failures, achievements, and as such possible causes and solutions to fundamental governance and development problems.
The first quarter of the project was devoted to establishing a baseline for Africa’s Voices, to identify obstacles and develop solutions, and to offer training to radio stations through a guide and individualised support. The initial partner stations are located in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. As of early 2013, questions have explored opinions on threats to food security (Poll 1), banning the use of plastic bags (Poll 2), Presidential term limits (Poll 3), and universal primary education (Poll 4). During the second quarter, the project is focusing on testing ways to increase audiences’ participation in selected radio stations through the use of incentives for the stations and solutions to lower the costs of SMS. Radio stations in Senegal, DR Congo, South Africa, Angola, and Tanzania will join the project in February 2013 and plans are underway to extend Africa's Voices to radio stations in other sub-Saharan countries during 2013.
In the third quarter, a panel of respondents will be developed in partnership with You-Gov Cambridge, to enhance representativeness of samples and allow insights on political and social opinions of clusters of individuals. A fieldwork trip to Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique sponsored by the muts Memorial Fund (University of Cambridge) is also planned during the third quarter, designed to monitor the implementation of the project in the radio stations and researching the impact of the project on radio stations and local communities. A full evaluation of the project is planned for the last quarter, looking at the impact of Africa's Voices on the empowerment of journalists, radio stations, and audiences, and on local and central governments' accountability and responsiveness.
The pilot is designed to offer the opportunity to develop and test new technological refinements, and there are plans to develop a mobile platform where respondents can register with basic sociodemographical information and give their answers to Africa’s Voices questions. A technological improvement already discussed with Africa’s Voices partners (FrontlineSMS, and Freedom Fone) consists of a cloud solution allowing the messages to be instantly uploaded and accessed by the CGHR team, avoiding storing the SMS in the stations computers.
Centre of Governance and Human Rights, Frontline SMS, Freedom Fone, You-Gov Cambridge