Do interactive polls make for better radio content?

Twaweza partner, Trac FM aims to provide citizens with a platform to engage in an informed debate with fellow citizens and their leaders, and amplify their voices using old and new media, promoting transparency and accountability. Trac FM uses mobile phone technology to collect listeners’ opinions through poll questions. This service is offered to partner radio stations so they can incorporate polling (with a pre-existing database of users who have consented to participate in the polls) into their programming. Twaweza has been working with Trac FM since 2012. So, at the end of 2014, we commissioned an independent monitoring exercise to assess the delivery, coverage and quality of the service that Trac FM provides to radio stations.

The study was conducted using qualitative data collection techniques that involved  interactions with:

  1. Staff of Trac FM
  2. Managers of user radio stations
  3. User radio station presenters
  4. Discussions with presenters of non -user radio stations

In total the study involved consultations with 24 Trac FM user radio presenters, 24 presenters of non-user stations, 8 managers of user radio stations and 2 Trac FM staff.

Radio station managers and their presenters revealed that Trac FM was very useful at their stations and that they frequently used it.  Radio presenters indicated that on average they host about four talk shows using Trac FM per month.  Radio presenters further indicated their appreciation of Trac FM interventions affirming that their shows were more interactive and vibrant (as a results of Trac FM) than before.  For example a Radio Wa presenter revealed to the monitoring study team that, in a typical talk show, over 100 people respond through SMS compared to about 15-20 people who call in. The improved interactivity was also evidenced in the increased participation of stakeholders such as the NGOs, government and the listeners to discuss and follow-up on the pertinent issues during press conferences.

A comparison with presenters of non- user radio stations shows that, while they viewed interactivity during talk shows as important they only posted discussion topics on Facebook and twitter five minutes before the show commences. Whereas this was practical on their part, it only suited categories of listeners, mainly the youth, who frequently used the social media.   Non-user radio stations further indicated that their shows were poorly structured, lacked sharpened background information, and lacked factual data.

The study asked  managers and presenters of user radio stations the challenges they experienced with Trac FM and the following were revealed; i)poor internet connectivity, ii) some of the poll questions were hard especially those with inadequate background information, iii) fewer Trac FM trained presenters, iv) slow response by Trac FM staff whenever presenters required  further guidance on poll questions, v) inability of listeners to access missed shows, vi) Capturing and documenting gender disaggregated data, and vii) Sustainability of Trac FM innovation benefits.

Overall, this monitoring study found that Trac FM is on track and continues to create an indelible mark on the Ugandan media industry. Trac FM widens opportunities for citizens to engage in public debates. This monitoring study recommends as follows:

  • If resources allow, Trac FM should develop a clear Theory of Change and a Monitoring &Evaluation framework.
  • Poll questions should investigate the listeners/ participants expectations and motivation that lead them to participate in poll responses.
  • If resources allow, undertake a sustainability analysis of the benefits that accrue to the interventions undertaken by Trac FM.
  • Promote Trac FM efforts that enable the Disaggregation of data by gender.
  • Promote usability of data collected through poll responses.

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