Video by Katie Burnham
At Farm Radio International we work to share knowledge with small-scale African farmers and make sure their voices are heard. Radio is a really effective way to reach a large audience, but it is essentially a one-way communications tool. So how do make sure that we’re helping radio stations to engage with listeners in an actual conversation?
Radio and mobile phones are the most powerful communications tools in Africa. And they are stronger together than they are alone.
Combining radio with other technologies is all in a day’s work at The Hangar, our radio and ICT innovation lab in Arusha, Tanzania.
Working in partnership with our friends at VOTO Mobile with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the team at The Hangar developed a web-based application for gathering and analyzing feedback and questions from audience members via mobile phones. It’s called Uliza, Swahili for “to ask.”
Uliza was designed to encourage participatory radio by making it easier for listeners to engage with radio stations and for radio stations to visualize and interpret audience feedback. It utilizes VOTO Mobile’s interactive voice response (IVR) system and the ubiquity of basic mobile phones to enable a two-way conversation.
IVR technology connects people with computer programs through voice commands and keypad inputs. And it’s a very powerful way to connect small-scale farmers with the radio stations that serve them, and to help those stations serve them better.
With Uliza, farmers can access important messages and alerts, vote on poll questions, leave messages, and request the delivery of specific information. For example, in our orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) project, Uliza connected farmers looking to source OFSP vines with local vine suppliers. If a listener responded “no” when asked if they knew where to access vines, the system would be prompted to provide the location of local OFSP vine sellers.
Uliza presents data from listeners visually, making it easy for broadcasters to interpret the information and use it during broadcasts. They can air comments left in voice messages, share listeners’ questions with on-the-air experts, integrate audience feedback into on-air discussions, and get feedback on radio programs.
In this way, Uliza is supporting a continuous feedback loop that makes farm radio better for its listeners. And that’s what it’s all about.