This research project is no longer actively updated or managed.
Research Project

Africa’s Voices

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.