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How Interactive Radio Can Improve Feedback and Accountability

By Wayan Vota on June 19, 2017

Farm Radio International’s Listening Post is a methodology for collecting real-time, unfiltered feedback from farmers through a multi-channel platform linked to radio. The Listening Post model was initially developed as a pilot project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help agricultural development actors ensure their initiatives are responsive and accountable to farmers.

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Exploring the Potential for Interactive Radio to Improve Accountability presents the findings of a 12-month long research project to examine the possibilities of new digital technologies like interactive voice response, along with radio, to facilitate adaptive management processes through rapid feedback to help ensure that agricultural development projects are farmer-centered, and meet the needs of those they intend to serve.

The research demonstrates that linking a mobile-based crowd-sourcing tool with radio is effective at ensuring engagement from a large number of farmers.

  • The radio stations offer a simple way to recruit participants from among the regular listeners of farmer radio programs.
  • The radio stations tend to be trusted sources of agricultural information among farmers, increasing motivation to participate.
  • The radio programs offer an easy way to close feedback loops by disseminating information about actions that stakeholders are taking in response to feedback.

The Listening Post faced many of the same challenges documented by organizations utilizing similar tools:

  • It was difficult to incentivize stakeholders to adequately respond to farmers.
  • Competing motivations between extension officers, farmers, funders and partner organizations made it difficult to collect high-quality information that was usable and actionable.
  • An overarching focus on developing and implementing the technology and engaging a large number of farmers meant that many of the processes and mechanisms for effectively using the data collected and for responding to what farmers were saying weren’t fully developed.

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Five Lessons Learned

Despite these issues, there is significant evidence that the Listening Post model holds potential to act as a conduit for civic action if the correct stakeholders are engaged from the outset, if mechanisms for analyzing and disseminating relevant data from the platform to partners, local stakeholders and farmers is further refined, and if stakeholders ensure farmers can effectively use the technology.

1. Effective Partnerships are the Key to Success

The Listening Post needs to attract the already converted, i.e. partners who have enthusiasm for the value of feedback from the beginning and are willing and able to lead the process. Partners need to sign onto a Listening Post knowing that they will be responsible to citizens and to varying degrees accountable for making adaptive changes and responding to major farmer issues or challenges. The design phase for a Listening Post could include stakeholder mapping to help identify all of the potential actors and partners, and to determine who should receive the data, what kind of data, how it will be used, and how this will happen.

2. Communicate Clear Objectives to All Stakeholders

Clear objectives and aims of a Listening Post should be communicated to farmers and partners throughout the process. For farmers, information about why their feedback is being solicited and how their questions and concerns will be responded to is essential to retaining motivation and enthusiasm to participate. For partners, they need to know what types of data they will receive, how often, in what form, and what the expectations are in terms of responding to farmers.

3. Offline Processes Need to Support the Technology

ICTs and digital platforms are tools for solutions but not the solution in itself. ICTs are enhancers and facilitators, but still require an off-line structure to be successful. Ensuring the technology is integrated with on-the-ground interventions is crucial for success. Traditional extension services still have much to offer, and are trusted agricultural advisory services in many parts of Tanzania. A frequent observation from the case studies is that farmers still prefer to receive information through personal contact.

4. Data Quality is as Important as a Robust Platform

There needs to be a greater understanding of what kinds of questions will elicit what types of responses, the difference between open and closed questions (quantitative vs. qualitative types of data) and how they can be used. There should be a process where one question leads to the next stage of inquiry, continually refining information throughout the course of the LP.

5. User Testing Can Identify Problems and Mitigation Strategies

Technological difficulties could be mitigated by having simple instructions sent to farmers with the IVR prior to the first poll or as an introduction to each poll. Demographic trees that segment data according to the type of respondent could help identify the “ideal” respondent from the non-ideal one (e.g. a farmer from a non-farmer, or a woman from a man). User testing is integral to the design phase of a Listening Post to help identify possible technical difficulties prior to launching the model.

Seriously, if you’ve read this far, you should join us at ICTforAg and MERL Tech.

Filed Under: Agriculture, Featured
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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One Comment to “How Interactive Radio Can Improve Feedback and Accountability”

  1. Wayan: Thanks for highlighting a research approach that uses missed calls as a way to interact with farmers. It’s always struck me that missed call marketing is a great example of understanding how people use the technology they own and adapting ICT4D to that usage pattern rather than trying to change behavior.

    On the for-profit side, Facebook and others are making use of missed call advertising and this company seems to have built a growing business around the concept in Africa: