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  • Hannah Clark

Radio Saves Lives!

We know that radio saves lives. We have seen it time and time again. During humanitarian disasters, radio has been used as part of early warning systems, collected vital data and circulated up-to-date news on emergency services. In public health crises, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, radio was one of the most trusted and accessible source of health information, reinforcing behaviour change communication and effectively dispelling dangerous rumours[1].

Now we are in the middle of the COVID 19 pandemic and communicators around the world are seeking to communicate, engage and educate their audiences. This blog brings together some learning we have gathered at Farmers’ Voice Radio over the years about producing radio programmes that are trusted, change behaviour and make a lasting difference.

Most households in developing countries have access to a radio and radio reaches the most remote and isolated parts of the world[2]. Radio overcomes barriers of literacy, gender inequality, social discrimination and disability. Just one radio can communicate to entire households, compounds and communities. Just one radio broadcast can reach millions of people in seconds.

Radio is powerful, but it must be used wisely.

When talking about Farmers’ Voice Radio, our methodology and our approach, we often use a comparison. Farmers’ Voice Radio is NOT ‘Wash Your Hands Radio’. I believe this illustration is more pertinent now than ever before. ‘Wash Your Hands Radio’ refers to the countless radio programmes that have been made across the world that shout messages to their audience with important information, such as the need to wash your hands. These radio programmes will have been made with very good intentions, to communicate an important public health message. However, in many cases they have not been designed with their target listener in mind and they have not allowed for any discussion or response. ‘Wash Your Hands Radio’ does not discuss how, when or why the listener should wash their hands, or what the listener should do if they don’t have much water, or soap or the water is dirty. Learning from the Ebola communications response in West Africa suggested that public service messaging and access to information was not enough to change behaviour, as communities also required ‘channels for questioning and discussing information’[3]. ‘Wash Your Hands Radio’ dumps information on its audience; it does not address the root causes of a situation, it does not engage with the listener and it does not listen. For these reasons, ‘Wash Your Hands Radio’ is not hugely effective at getting more people to wash their hands.

Radio programmes that are trusted, change behaviour and make a lasting difference have a number of common traits. They are:

1. Relevant – they always keep the listener in mind! They address the issues that matter to the target audience and ideally involve these communities in the making of the programmes.

2. Accessible – they are broadcast in local language on a trusted and popular local radio station, at a time that is appropriate for the target listener. The messages are repeated in different formats that are fun and engaging (such as drama, news, discussion, song).

3. Responsive – they encourage and enable listeners to ask questions, comment and discuss the information, and facilitate a two-way communication.

4. Appropriate – they respect the experience of the target audience and allow peers to speak to peers. They use local experts and professionals to provide informed, practical and current advice, suitable for the context.

5. Inclusive – they include women, isolated communities, disabled people, people with low literacy who are often excluded from more traditional information sharing and training interventions.

We are big fans of the radio organisation Farm Radio International, who have developed these VOICES standards for best practice in farm radio programming (but these apply to health radio programming too!):

V – values small-scale farmers, both women and men.

O – opportunity for farmers to speak and be heard on all matters.

I – information farmers need, when they need it.

C – consistent and convenient broadcasts.

E – entertaining and memorable programmes.

S - supports farmers to choose and implement beneficial practices.

For more information on this, and many other amazing resources, please see Farm Radio International’s resource library.

The team at Farmers’ Voice Radio uses learning and best practice gathered from around the world to support local organisations to design radio programmes that will have a lasting impact. The restrictions on movement and social gatherings that are now in place in most countries mean that the community-based listener group meetings, that are the cornerstone of our Farmers’ Voice Radio programmes, are unable to take place. We have therefore been required to adjust our methodology and activities in some projects, or put some projects on hold until it is safe to continue. However, we are still working with our partners to support them to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the most appropriate way, for the communities they are working with. When we have more information on what this looks like and have some tips to share, we will keep you updated!

We have come across some excellent resources to help with communicating issues around COVID-19 in developing country contexts. The following list is in no way comprehensive – please let us know if you read something that you think might interest us!



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