From the Past to the Future: Participatory Strategies using ICTs for Rural Development


  • Heather Hudson, Affiliate Professor, Communication Policy, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska, Anchorage, USA




This paper addresses the conference theme of “The Past and Future of Telecommunications” by examining how early mass media techniques for development communication can be enhanced with interactivity using ICTs, particularly mobile phones. 

Researchers learned several decades ago that mass media plus audience interactivity was more effective than mass media alone in increasing both knowledge and adoption.  Some of this early research was done in the Pacific (for example, combining educational television and interactive learning activities in American Samoa).

The paper presents results of projects in sub-Saharan Africa that combine radio campaigns with interactivity to encourage adoption of farming techniques that can enhance food security.

At least 75 percent of households in developing countries worldwide have access to radio. Radio has the advantages of low cost for users and wide coverage; also programming is relatively inexpensive to produce.

In the past decade, mobile phones have proliferated in the developing world. Extension of coverage and affordable prepaid pricing has resulted in access to mobile phones, even among low income populations. Mobile penetration rates are similar in sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Islands, at 39 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 37 percent in the Pacific Islands (GSMA 2015). In both regions rural residents may access mobile phones through other household members or extended families.

The paper describes the participatory radio campaign (PRC) strategy developed by Farm Radio International (FRI) [1], combining radio broadcasts plus mobile phones. Low-cost software is used to build a database of mobile phone numbers, with auto-dialing to remind community members to listen to the programs.  “Beep-2-vote” allow listeners to vote by calling different numbers and then hanging up (beeping or flashing). The broadcaster can tally the votes and announce the results on the air. Using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, listeners can call a number, hang up, and be called back by the system to receive information.

The paper presents the results of evaluation of two participatory radio campaigns in six African countries that used both listening groups and ICTs to engage farmers. In a fifteen-month project in four countries,  farmers who participated interactively learned more and were significantly more likely to adopt at least one of the practices discussed in the radio campaigns than farmers who listened without interactivity and farmers who did not hear the programs. In a second project, 15 radio stations in four countries use the PRC method to encourage farmers to plant and consume orange sweet potatoes to overcome Vitamin A deficiency.  Again, farmers who listened and engaged interactively were significantly more likely to grow and consume the potatoes than passive listeners and non-listeners.

The paper concludes that the projects demonstrate the potential of ICT-enhanced participatory radio, and that these techniques could be adapted for the Pacific Islands (and other developing regions), and applied in other sectors such as health care and community development.

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