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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


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Africa’s Voices began as an applied pilot research project in 2012-13, drawing on and informing research insights from two Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR) projects - Politics and Interactive Media in Africa (PiMA) and New communications technologies and citizen-led governance in Africa. The overall aims were:

  • Enriching radio mediated discussions between audiences, leaders and stations in Africa
  • Enhancing a continental dialogue between radio stations and audiences from different African countries
  • Offering cross-country comparative scientific analysis of first hand information on citizens' opinions on core development and governance issues

Consultation and research using radio and SMS

Every month listeners of partner radio stations were asked a question and invited to give their opinion by SMS. Answers were collected and compiled using a free open-source software tool, FrontlineSMS:Radio, that was tailored to the needs of radio stations. Anonimised data was manually exported to CGHR in Cambridge for qualitative and quantitative analysis, and fed-back to the stations in insightful ways.

A continent-wide project

The vision for Africa's Voices was to amplify local voices at higher scales. From Lusaka to Niamey, from Kampala to Maputo, what do citizens think about waste management, education or electricity supply in their area? How do they evaluate public service delivery? What are their political and social priorities? Africa’s Voices is a continent-wide project. Radio stations from 10 different African countries, were expected to be involved in the pilot phase of the project. Any radio station or organisation interested was welcomed to join.

An enhanced public debate

The project was not limited to collecting opinions: working in collaboration with radio stations allowed for the results of audience polls to be incorporated into subsequent programmes. Results and analysis provided by CGHR academics shed light on differences and similarities between countries, underlining failures, achievements, and as such possible causes and solutions to fundamental governance and development problems. These aim was that the results could then provide a basis for innovative pan-African broadcast, on the quality of public goods, the expectations of African citizens and the performance of their leaders. Radio producers could engage governance actors, citizens, NGOs and leaders to give their perspective and respond to these views, enhancing accountability mechanisms and reinforcing the role of local radio stations as major venues of public debate. The pilot only partially met these ambitions, but along the way it unearthed conditions for success and challenges to overcome in any future venture aimed at these goals.

How does it work?

Collaborative topic and question generation

CGHR coordinated a participatory generation process of audience questions. The process aimed to build consensus on priority topics to be addressed in the pilot phase that were interesting and relevant to the different audiences and that allowed for a fruitful comparison of the SMS data collected. Stations and implementation partners contributed and prioritised their most important preoccupations and CGHR helped to formulate common questions.

Citizen polling through radio and SMS

In each partner station, a monthly question was be asked regularly by producers. SMS answers were collected through FrontlineSMS:Radio, possibly read out and commented on in real time during radio shows, and exported to CGHR in Cambridge at the end of the month.

Analysis in Cambridge

Researchers in Cambridge conducted quantitative and content analysis of audience data sent by the radio stations, with the aim of producing findings on public opinion trends across different countries on core development and governance issues. While such trends were not possible with limited pilot samples, the process unearthed new methodological innovations for such objectives. CGHR sent basic figures and easy-to-use information about the pilot results to all partner stations and implementation partners.

Feedback for listeners

Some pilot stations used this comparative data and analysis in their programmes, underline common trends in Africa around a specific governance and development issue and situating their local audiences in the continental landscape, emphasising the fundamental character of an issue when interviewing leaders about it and questioning them about the situation of their country compared to others.

Archived content July 2014. The research team involved in the original applied research pilot (2012-2013) were:


Dr Sharath Srinivasan

Sharath directs Cambridge University's Centre of Governance and Human Rights, partnered with FrontlineSMS to create and research FrontlineSMS:Radio. He researches and teaches on African political development, peacemaking, and new communication technologies and citizen-state governance relations. He is a Fellow of King's College Cambridge, and David and Elaine Potter Lecturer in Cambridge's Department of Politics and International Studies. He has a longstanding interest in Sudan, where he previously worked. 

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Dr Claudia Abreu Lopes

CGHR's post-doctoral Research Associate on the project “New Communication Technologies and Citizen-led Governance in Africa”. Claudia leads research on Africa’s Voices, collaborating with FrontlineSMS, YouGov, IBM Research Africa, radios stations in Africa and development partners. This pilot project tests new methodologies for public opinion and audience research through the combined use of mobile phones and interactive radio. Building from this pilot research, Claudia is helping to shape CGHR's longer-term research agenda in this increasingly important subject area. Claudia holds a PhD in Social Research Methods from the London School of Economics (LSE). Her research interests focus on socio-cognitive mechanisms in the field of social representations and on methodologies that bridge people’s outlooks and actions to their social and political context. Before joining CGHR, Claudia was a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Social Psychology at the LSE and a Research Consultant at the BBC Media Action.

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Dr Florence Brisset-Foucault

During 2011-12, CGHR's post-doctoral Research Associate on the New Communication Technologies and Citizen-led Governance in Africa research project. Now, as a Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, Florence continues to lead the development of outputs from CGHR's case-study research into the impact of new media and communication technologies on forms of governance and political participation in Africa. Florence holds a PhD in political science from the University of La Sorbonne, her dissertation explored repertoires of criticism and imaginaries of citizenship in contemporary Uganda through the analysis of open radio debates (ebimeeza). Her interests lie in political imaginaries and processes of State formation in Africa, and she works on a variety of topics with a focus on East Africa. She is a member of the Association des chercheurs de Politique africaine (ACPA) as well as the Groupe d’initiatives et de recherches sur l’Afrique (GIRAF). 



Moses Maina

Moses holds a post graduate diploma in Project Management and a bachelor’s degree in Community Development from Kenyatta University. He joined CGHR in August 2011 as a research assistant on a project examining the impact of new media and communication technologies on forms of governance and political participation in Africa. On the Africa’s Voices project, he is coordinating radio stations in Kenya and Malawi. Prior to joining CGHR, Moses worked for the German International Cooperation (GIZ) where he supported research on sustainable disposal of animal wastes among the urban & rural poor. His passion for governance and democracy issues developed at the height of post election violence (PEV) in Kenya 2008 when he saw the poor, the marginalized and the voiceless suffer ruthlessly without having anywhere to share their plight.



Emil Graesholm

Website Coordinator and Research Assistant with the project on New Communications Technologies and Citizen-Led Governance in Africa. Emil graduated from the University of Cambridge with a BA in Politics and worked with CGHR through his final year dissertation entitled "New Media and their Impact on Governance and Participatory Politics in Kenya," looking at the effect of ICT use in informal networks of the Kibera slum and ICT as a tool for formal integration into political processes pursued by state and NGO agents. The dissertation was published in May 2012 by the Journal of Politics and Society. Emil contributes to the Centre's development, to the Africa’s Voices project and is responsible for updating the website. He completed a M.Sc. in International Relations at London School of Economics before taking up a position with the Danish Ministry of Defence.

Africa's Voices Volunteers

Sam Sherman (BA in Politics, Psychology and Sociology, University of Cambridge)

Daniel Andrew Macmillen (BA in Politics, Psychology, Sociology, University of Cambridge)

Elena Georgalla (MPhil Development Studies, University of Cambridge)

Eva Namusoke (PhD student in History, University of Cambridge)

Celeste Macauley (MPhil Development Studies, University of Cambridge)

Rainbow Wilcox (MPhil Development Studies, University of Cambridge)

Aniek Woodward (PhD student at King's College London, King's International Development Institute & King's Centre for Global Health)

africas voices script

The original advisory group for the Africa's Voices pilot research project (2012-2013) included the following faculty at Cambridge. They all continue to play formal and informal roles with the spin-out entity.

Dr Sebastian Ahnert

Royal Society University Research Fellow in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

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Dr Anne Alexander

Buckley Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge

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Dr Alan Blackwell

Reader in Interdisciplinary Design at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory and co-director of Crucible Network.

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Dr Harri Englund

Reader in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

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Dr David Good

Lecturer in the Department of Psychology and Director of Education at the University of Cambridge.

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David Good

Dr Pieter van Houten

Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge.

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