The Learning Post: insights from UK Aid Match

Engaging local communities through radio with the Lorna Young Foundation

Episode Summary

In this episode, we discuss using radio programming as a tool to build engagement with local communities with Hannah Davis and Hannah Clark from Small Charities Challenge Fund grant holders Lorna Young Foundation.

Episode Transcription

Ben Anderson:                

Welcome to The Learning Post, a podcast dedicated to sharing insights from the UK Aid Match and UK Aid Direct funds. My name is Ben Anderson and I am the Communications Specialist for the UK Aid Match, and your host for this episode.

In this episode, I speak to the Lorna Young Foundation about how they use radio programming to engage farmers and local communities in their projects. Here's an excerpt from one of the Lorna Young Foundation's radio programs.

Speaker 2:                        (Singing) [00:00:39]

Ben Anderson:                

Today I'm joined by two people from the Lorna Young Foundation. Could you just quickly introduce yourself to our listeners?

Hannah Clark:                  

Hello, my name is Hannah Clark and I'm the Farmers' Voice Radio Development Manager at the Lorna Young Foundation.

Hannah Davis:                 

Hi, I'm Hannah Davis and I am also Farmers' Voice Radio Development Manager at the Lorna Young Foundation, doing a job share with Hannah Clark.

Ben Anderson:                

My first question is for Hannah Davis. Hannah, why does the Lorna Young Foundation use radio programmes as the main focus of their interventions?

Hannah Davis:                 

The Lorna Young Foundation, since it was founded in 2006, has focused really on facilitating improved access for small holder farmers to information, knowledge, technology, and markets. So things that can make family farming businesses more sustainable, and Farmers' Voice Radio has become our flagship programme in that regard.

So it takes a traditional technology, but uses it in a unique way. Farming communities can come together and pool their own knowledge with that of agricultural experts and supply chain partners, and other key stakeholders in whatever sector they work in. And by doing that, they're drawing attention to their needs and challenges. And we have a really, really participatory approach, which we'll tell you a bit more about later.

There are many small holder farmers in remote communities who are really not able to access the more traditional forms of agricultural extension. So things like farmer field schools or master farmer networks, and this is due to a number of reasons. So things like poor infrastructure, low levels of education and literacy, maybe lack of organisations, so there aren’t any farmer cooperatives available for them to join, and quite significantly, gender barriers, gender injustices, and radio can really reach these people.

So even though there's been a massive increase in mobile phone ownership and penetration of mobile phone networks, radio is still the most affordable and accessible communications medium in lower-income countries. And we've seen from our own experience and from research that it's really trusted, it's inclusive, and it has a very wide and rapid reach.

And it's proved to be particularly good at reaching women and people living with disabilities. So it's broadcast directly into homes, and that means it's overcoming restrictions on movement, or maybe competing demands of caring roles in the household.

But farmers can also listen to it in the field. So farmers will often own a very basic mobile phone handset, which has FM reception. So we often find that while they're tending to their crops, farmers are listening to the radio at the same time.

Ben Anderson:                

My next question is for Hannah Clark. Hannah, can you tell me more about the listener groups and listener feedback approaches that the Lorna Young Foundation uses?

Hannah Clark:                  

Yes, of course. As Hannah mentioned, our approach is really participatory, and that's really important to what we do and how we've designed Farmers' Voice Radio. So all the content of all Farmers' Voice Radio programmes is generated by groups of farmers who are generally 12 farmers, and 50% of them would be women in most of our projects.

And these farmers meet monthly to discuss the topics that are most important to them, at that particular time of the year. And we tend to frame these discussions around the agriculture calendar of a particular crop or commodity that we're talking about. And then these discussions are recorded and edited into short, punchy programmes that are broadcast on a regular and convenient time slot, in local language, on local community radio stations.

So our model is not about putting an agriculture expert into a radio station and broadcasting generic advice on good farming practice. That has a role and a place, but that's not what Farmers' Voice Radio is about.

What we do is we provide a platform that raises the farmers' voices, particularly women in a lot of our projects, to tackle the issues that matter to them and find locally appropriate solutions to the challenges that they face. And this enables farmers to speak to farmers, peers to speak to peers, women to speak to women, and that approach has proven to bring about behaviour change.

And then the wider listenership is also invited to join the conversation by submitting their questions and comments via text message or voice message, directly to the radio station of the project team. And alternatively, in some of our projects, we have a network of radio champions and these people bring together people in their communities to listen to the radio programmes together every week, and then they send in the comments and the feedback from that group of people.

And these questions and comments are then responded to in subsequent episodes. And that helps to inform the decisions about what topic is tackled next in the programme. And it also helps to address any misinformation or concerns, or information that wasn't addressed correctly in the programmes.

So it's really participatory, and we try and get feedback from this listener group who meet on a monthly basis, but also from the wider listenership.

Ben Anderson:               

 What techniques do you use to collect the feedback, and have you had to change or adapt your approach based on the responses you have got?

Hannah Clark:                  

It's different on different projects, how that feedback works. In Sierra Leone, which is a UK aid funded project, we've got these communal listener groups that have been set up, and it's actually one of the first projects where we trialed this methodology, and these communal listener groups meet up every week or twice a week to listen to the radio programmes together, because it's been set up, that methodology is there.

 And then we've got other projects where it's broader, and we've been working with a system called Uliza, which is an online platform. And a telephone number is broadcast in the radio programmes and the whole listenership can call this telephone number. And it's voice activated and people are asked a question, but then there's also a space for people to leave their questions and comments, and anything they want more information about.

 It wasn't quite as successful as we thought it might be actually, in Northern Ghana. And interestingly, it was mainly men that called in, rather than women. And it was a project that was very focused on shea butter, which is a women's crop. So it was really interesting to see who was feeding back in that way? And it tended not to be women.

We've built on the learning from that to try and see if there are other ways that we can engage with women particularly, and this communal listener group methodology came about as a result of that.

Ben Anderson:                

How do you choose which subjects to focus on?

Hannah Clark:                  

Each month, the listener group meet, and there'll be a rough outline of what's going to be discussed that month. And generally, it will be four topics that are relevant to the agriculture calendar at that point in the year. And those conversations take place, the discussions take place and people will have been invited who are kind of experts on those four loose topics, and people will be invited to answer the questions.

The recordings from that listener group are then taken away and broken up into... It could be four, it could be five different radio programmes that are then broadcast over the next four or five weeks till the next listener group meeting takes place, when another four or five topics might be discussed.

But then it's very iterative, so if information comes in that the listener group don't want to talk about that anymore because other topics have come up, then those topics will change. And the project team will respond to the requests from the listener group to talk about something else, or requests from the wider listenership.

At the start of every listener group meeting, the project team and the listener group members all reflect on the programmes over the last month, what comments and questions have come in over that period that we want to try and address in that listener group meeting.

And then just confirm what topics are going to be talked about in that listener group that are going to be broadcast over the next four or five weeks.

Ben Anderson:                

How effective has this work been and how do you monitor this?

Hannah Davis:                 

We measure the effectiveness of the projects in a number of different ways. In terms of scale, the radio programmes generally reach tens, or in lots of cases, even hundreds of thousands of farmers. And it really depends on the kind of the reach, the broadcast area of the radio signal.

So we work really closely with our radio station partners, who do their own listener surveys to kind of get a sense of the reach of the programmes. And then we cross reference that with the listener feedback that, that Hannah C. was talking about earlier.

We'll have a kind of fixed target community for our projects, which will often be the membership of a farmers' organisation or cooperative, which I guess tend to run kind of anywhere between 2,000 and 20,000 or 30,000 farmers. But often, the reach of the broadcast signal goes way beyond that.

And so, by using the research from the radio station, but also the kind of feedback that we're collecting from the wider listenership, we get a sense of how far our broadcasts are reaching. And sometimes they can be a really long way away, far beyond what we imagined we might reach.

So that's the kind of scale question. And then in terms of impacts that we're having on people's lives and their practices, we've seen from our monitoring and evaluation systems, that the programmes have really helped to change a number of areas, but things like farming and wild collection practices, and they've increased quality and volume of production, and challenge gender injustices in a lot of cases, and help to strengthen cooperation, both between farmers, but also along supply chains with supply chain partners and service providers, and that kind of thing.

And we generally talk about three types of change that we're looking for with these projects. So changes in knowledge, in attitudes, and in practices, that come about as a result of people listening. We measure that in a number of ways, we always use a survey. So we do a baseline and an in-line survey with a representative sample of the target audience, and that helps us to measure change in these key areas of knowledge, attitude, and practices. And it would relate specifically to the area that we're targeting with our programmes. So it might be related to forest-friendly cocoa production, as was the case in Sierra Leone, or it might be to do with sustainable shea harvesting and shea butter production.

A concrete example from the project in Ghana with shea collectors and shea butter producers is that we saw a 38% increase in the volume of shea nuts sold amongst the women who were listening to the programme, and a 43% increase in the use of protective clothing.

So collecting shea nuts, it's wild collection, it's out in the bush, it can be quite dangerous. There are risks from things like snakes and from accidents because they're often doing it very early in the morning when it's quite dark. And so we saw more and more people using protective clothing and adopting practices that help to keep themselves safe in that situation.

And then, as well as the survey, we also use different qualitative methods. So things like focus group discussions, semi-structured interviews, most significant change methodology. So that would be both with members of the listener group, but also with the wider listenership.

And one of the things that's really helped us to appreciate is the empowering effect of having their voices heard on the radio, particularly amongst women. There's a really nice quote from one of the members of the listener group in Sierra Leone, a lady called [inaudible 00:11:33], and she said, "Having my voice broadcast on the radio makes me feel big, proud, and honored. I can now stand in women's meetings and talk to fellow women without being shy, something I never did before. So the radio program has not only taught me how to practice forest-friendly cocoa production, it's also instilled confidence in me to stand out and speak."

And so, I think that's kind of quite an intangible benefit impact of the radio programmes, that it's not just about changing practices and improving the quality or the volume of produce, but it's actually giving more marginalised members of the community, who often don't have a platform to stand on, to have their voices heard. It's given them the confidence and the opportunity to do that, to talk about what's important to them and what changes they want to see.

 In many cases, these women will go on to become leaders within their local farmers group, and then further up in the farmers' organisation, and help to contribute to perhaps overcoming some of the gender inequalities in commodity production.

Ben Anderson:                

And you've made this approach or methodology open source. Can you tell us more about this?

Hannah Clark:                  

A few years ago, just as Hannah and I came on board, the trustees of the Lorna Young Foundation saw that this approach, this participatory radio approach, is really effective and it's really effective at reaching isolated and remote communities, particularly farmers and producers.

And we've developed, over the last 10, 11 years, this methodology that we think is really effective and empowering for small holders particularly, and we want to get it out there. We want as many people to use it as possible. This isn't the Lorna Young Foundation's expertise that we want to keep ourselves. We want as many people to use it because we think it's really beneficial for small holder communities.

We've been working with the support of UK aid to open source Farmers' Voice Radio, by developing a series of training materials and resources that are available online, and it's free to access for anyone that wants to use it. And we're continually adapting that and building up that bank of resources and training that anyone could use, who have a desire to improve their engagement with small holder and rural communities.

Hannah Davis:                

 And what I think, just to add to that as well, what's quite exciting is that it has real scope beyond small holder agriculture. And so that our focus is small holder farmers, but we've formed partnerships with organisations, actually through the UK aid network, and through the reference group meetings.

 So an international education organisation is now looking at adopting the Farmers' Voice Radio methodology to see how they can disseminate some of their training materials to a wider audience. And so, it really has got that kind of adaptability to lots of different contexts. It's kind of the... I guess it's the principles, and then the ethics of the participatory nature of it, that's right at the core.

 But in terms of where you apply it, we kind of feel like the potential is infinite really, and we really want other organisations to use it and adapt it to their own context.

Ben Anderson:                

Thank you very much for your time. To find out more about Farmers' Voice Radio, head over to Don't forget to subscribe to the learning posts, so you don't miss our next episode. Thanks for listening.