Africa's Voices: Using mobile phones and radio to foster mediated public discussion and to gather public opinions in Africa
Dr Claudia Abreu Lopes (Research Associate at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights, University of Cambridge)
Dr Sharath Srinivasan (Director, Centre of Governance and Human Rights, University of Cambridge)
This paper presents the findings from a one-year applied research pilot project, Africa's Voices, run by the University of Cambridge's Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR). Africa's Voices developed out of CGHR's wider research programme on politics, ICTs and interactive media in Africa. That research analyses how audiences interact with radio stations through mobile phones; how different actors including audiences, radio journalists, and governance actors (state officials, but also others such as community leaders and aid actors) perceive the importance of these interactions; and what the practical implications are for public discussion of political and social issues and for governance processes that shape access to and the quality of public goods. With Africa's Voices, the CGHR research team piloted a programme format with local radio stations in eight sub-Saharan African countries with the objective of practically assessing the potential for deploying interactive radio to gather and comparatively analyse opinions of harder to reach sub-Saharan African populations. Besides evaluating optimal modes of working with smaller and more rural radio stations, the research has focused on patterns of audience participation in different formats of mediated public discussions and on the efficacy of different approaches to defining, gathering and measuring public opinion. This paper presents the results of the pilot and discusses them with respect to the abovementioned objectives. The paper also discusses some of the methodological and ethical challenges of using the affordances of ICT and interactive media that make them suitable for gathering and researching citizens' opinion in Africa.