At Farm Radio International, we are constantly trying to improve our programs and get the most out of the technologies we have on hand. Radio is a great tool for circulating information, and broadcasting a message to millions of listeners. But how do you hear back from those listeners to understand their questions or expertise?
Our radio programs need to be tailored to unique contexts and circumstances. We want to hear farmers’ knowledge, insights and concerns, and respond accordingly to them.
To do this, we developed ‘The Listening Post’ with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Listening Post is an innovative radio approach, using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology to gather and receive rapid feedback from listeners through their mobile phones. We have used Listening Post programs to survey farmers on a variety of topics important to us and our other development partners. We worked with Purdue University to ask farmers about cowpea storage as part of its Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) project. Feedback from farmers has helped improve the distribution of these post-harvest storage bags. Farmers were able to give Purdue a better understanding of which districts and communities have high demand but low supply of the bags, and the Purdue team was able to change their strategy.
Feedback like this can help NGOs better understand the communities they are working in. But when we collect feedback we have an obligation to act on it. We call this closing a feedback loop.
If farmers ask questions, they expect answers. Responding to the audience is critical to the success of the Listening Post – and all our radio program approaches in fact. We do this by grouping the topics and getting experts to respond to the most common questions and concerns on air. As a result, farmers are more likely to participate in future programs, knowing that their questions are valued and will be answered.
How successful is the Listening Post? The results have been positive. Farmers have told us they like the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback and ask complex questions. They have emphasized that, although technology is a powerful and useful tool, it enhances, not replaces, other forms of communication. Above all, farmers still trust and prefer face-to-face contact, and it is important for everyone working within development to continue to work closely and collaboratively with governments, civil society and farmers.
The Listening Post is a powerful opportunity for farmers to have a voice in critical issues in their communities. This is central to successful projects. Farmers are the most important and knowledgeable actors in their own development, and the Listening Post secures them a role in it by allowing them to advise what is broadcast, and empowering and enabling them to make changes that benefit their lives.
This blog post, by Steph Stroud, is part of our Partner Spotlight on Farm Radio International (FRI). Partners in GFAR like FRI are aware that rural communities often have little say in their own future and in directing support to create the innovations to get there. Yet farmers and social groups are experimenters, producers of knowledge and researchers in their own right, hence they need to be empowered to drive innovation processes. FRI has used radio for three decades as a tool for bringing information to people that other communication methods often cannot. Paired with other technologies, radio also allows an opportunity for two-way conversation, so that development practitioners can hear farmers’ knowledge, insights and concerns, and respond accordingly to them.
Multistakeholder actions that empower farmers to voice their own needs and know-how to drive innovation and improve their livelihoods, are part of GFAR’s Key Focus Area Empowering Farmers at the Center of Innovation.
GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and Collective Actions of Partners in GFAR who share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!
Photo credit: Farm Radio International