A pilot project that used interactive radio shows and text messages to gather people’s beliefs and practices on polio vaccinations, maternal and neonatal health in Somalia has won a top prize for its pioneering work in using digital communications to gain insights from remote communities in the country.
Africa’s Voices Foundation, based at the University of Cambridge in the UK, in conjunction with UNICEF Somalia, undertook an eight-week project, which analysed over 15,000 text messages in Somali from over 8,400 people – 44 per cent of whom are women. The data and rich insights gained will help UNICEF to carry out an effective child health and immunisation programme in Somalia.
For its ground breaking work, Africa’s Voices, a non-profit research organisation, has been awarded the Market Research Society’s President’s Medal at its 2016 awards night in London. The recognition goes to organisations or individuals who have made an extraordinary contribution to social and market research. Past winners of this award have included BBC Media Action.
The President of the Market Research Society, Dame Dianne Thompson, said Africa’s Voices highlighted the opportunities provided by new digital communications to gain insights from isolated communities. “In a country with insecure and inaccessible regions, Africa’s Voices has developed an admirable partnership with UNICEF Somalia,” she said. “Their work helps to amplify the voices of hard-to-reach communities and is proof positive of research as a force for good.”
Africa’s Voices Director Dr. Sharath Srinivasan said: “We’re excited about how seizing the communications revolution, through rigorous, innovative research, can amplify hard-to-reach citizens’ voices and enhance well-being in African countries. To be recognised by the Market Research Society with the President’s Medal so early on in our journey puts wind in our sails.”
Africa’s Voices is currently working in a longer-term partnership with UNICEF Somalia, building on the work of the pilot project. Over a 30-week period, interactive radio programmes on a wider range of health topics are being broadcast on 26 radio stations across Somalia, giving the new campaign the potential to reach 70 per cent of the Somali population.
Other organisations have also partnered with Africa’s Voices to gain a stronger understanding of local views. In Kenya, Africa’s Voices partnered with Oxfam to collect and analyse community attitudes towards taxes, the national budget, and oil and gas exploration.
“Africa’s Voices ability to stimulate inclusive dialogue and collect opinions of marginalised communities in local languages through simple technologies has been invaluable in informing how we engage with our target beneficiaries,” said Oxfam Kenya’s Communication and Information Adviser Joyce Kabue. “Africa’s Voices approach is simple, interactive and reaches people living in areas with low connectivity.”
Formed in 2014, the vision of Africa’s Voices is to put citizens’ voices at the centre of development and governance projects in Africa by gathering and analysing data from radio programmes, text messages and instant messaging to provide organisations with information that will help them to deliver public goods most effectively
The Market Research Society has members in 60 countries, making it the world’s largest research association, and it President’s Medal was introduced in 2012.