The Listening Post: Consulting with farmers

September 17, 2018
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“What change would most help you, your family, and your neighbours earn enough money and have enough good food for the whole year?” a recorded voice on a mobile phone asks Sara Masanja, a woman from Shinyanga Vijijini, a rural area in northern Tanzania.

“Dial 1 for more support in farming, fishing and livestock keeping; 2 for training and education; 3 for improved healthcare; or 4 for better roads, electricity, and security.”

Mrs. Masanja responds: 4.

After a follow-up question, which she also answers, the voice tells her she can leave a recorded message, asking a question or giving her opinion.

“We produce lots of crops, but we do not have the proper infrastructure to transport our crops to the market,” she says.

The questions are part of a poll that is conducted through a Farm Radio innovation called the Listening Post, designed to garner real-time, unfiltered feedback from large audiences, easily reaching many people in regions that are often hard to get to.

The aim of the Listening Post is to send unfiltered opinions to policy-makers, development partners, and other NGOs. We use engaging radio programs, in tandem with the call-in system to invite listeners to participate in polls, ask questions, and offer opinions.

In 2016, Farm Radio partnered with Global Affairs Canada to talk to Tanzanians about their priorities, as part of the Canadian government’s effort to develop a new framework for international assistance.

Using the Listening Post model, Farm Radio worked with two of the country’s most popular radio stations: Radio Free Africa and Radio Maria.

In four engaging radio programs over three weeks, the programs covered topics around food security, gender equality, climate change, and economic development, encouraging Tanzanians to respond.

Almost 3,000 Tanzanians like Mrs. Masanja called the numbers provided and left a missed call “beep.” The interactive voice response system returned the call, allowing Tanzanians to participate for free.

Their answers were recorded and organized on Farm Radio’s multi-channel, web-based Uliza platform, which gathers and analyzes feedback and questions live from radio listeners.

The project was designed to give the Canadian government insight into Tanzanians’ priorities on various topics, and the responses were organized by the Uliza system, separating them by demographics and geographic location.

By the end of the three weeks, a number of themes emerged — all information the Canadian government can use when designing development priorities with the needs of Tanzanians in mind.

Elsewhere, Farm Radio has used the Listening Post to collect data from farmers that development partners can use to assess the impact of their projects and make ongoing adaptations.

While the data sets from the Listening Post can be large and can take time to comb through, translate, and categorize, the results are worth it.

It’s the kind of communication that can help influence government priorities, and make sure the voices of farmers and other rural people are included in the policies and projects that directly impact them.

The Listening Post innovation was developed with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation