How you can use radio for better community engagement

To mark World Radio Day on 13 February, Emma Hume, Brooke’s Global Communications Officer, speaks to the staff running our communications programmes in Pakistan, East Africa and West Africa about the power of radio to bring about behaviour change.

Hear their views yourself in the video at the end of the article

Working in some of the poorest, hardest to reach and challenging environments, from remote rural villages to hazardous brick kilns, we know that we can’t achieve lasting change for working horses, donkeys and mules without buy-in from their owners.

We need to build trust and rapport to bring about the behaviour change that will then lead to improved animal welfare.

What are the effective ways to build working relationships in communities?

One of the tools we use is radio. Radio is a vital source of information in many of the areas we work and has the potential to reach a huge number of people. As Justice Nnyigide, one of our communications officers in Senegal said, “It is widespread, it is convenient and it is affordable!”

Radio can be found everywhere, even in communities living below the poverty line. Residents have portable devices or mobile phones with radio and can easily tune in as they go about their day-to day-lives. And when shows are broadcast in local languages, they can be understood regardless of literacy levels.

Radio has been used as a tool for change in many contexts, from reducing poverty to improving health to reaching people during humanitarian crises.

To mark World Radio Day, I spoke to the staff running our communications programmes in Brooke Pakistan, Brooke East Africa and Brooke West Africa about how they use radio in community development work, why they think it is an effective tool for behaviour change and any tips they would give to someone who is new to using it.

Our Experience

In 2012, Brooke Pakistan worked with community radio station ‘HotFM98 Jacobabad’ to increase awareness of the extreme, and in some cases, fatal, heat stress faced by animals working in the brick kilns of Jacobabad. Brooke aired short, simple welfare messages about how to prevent heat stroke, particularly the importance of providing animals with regular water. As a result, owners now offer their animals water more frequently and some brick kiln owners have built permanent water troughs.

Crossing the globe to our African programmes, in 2017 Brooke West Africa ran a series of interactive radio shows across two community stations in Fatick, central Senegal. As Justice Nnyigide, based in Senegal explains, they carefully designed key welfare messages for broadcasting, from highlighting the importance of horses and donkeys to livelihoods, to helping locals understand a new bylaw which required cart drivers to use reflectors on their donkey or horse drawn carts when travelling.

“We reached 150,000 people and experienced high levels of audience engagement, with owners calling for welfare advice and sharing their changed perceptions on equine health and welfare.” Said Justice “Road accidents involving carts significantly decreased too.”

What can we learn from this approach?

Both the Brooke Pakistan and Brooke West Africa campaigns reached a large number of people thanks to a well-thought-out approach.

Understand needs

Ahmad Chaudhry from Brooke Pakistan explains that matching media content to the needs of the people you’re trying to reach is critical. “You must research and deeply understand the community’s needs and concerns. And you must remember that these can change over time. They may even change seasonally, for example”.

This is echoed by Lyne Iyadi from Brooke East Africa who is based in Kenya. She said that you must ask if radio is an appropriate channel to reach those you are trying to reach. Does the community have access to radio? Do they use it regularly? If yes, when do they tune in? There is a lot to think about before you even start planning content. And, she adds, “Even once your show has launched, it is important to request feedback from your audience. It means you can continually tailor your messaging and ensure it is relevant, effective and that communities feel involved”.

Make it interactive!

During our discussion, Justice emphasises the importance of leveraging radio’s potential to be interactive.

With reference to their 2017 project, he said “encouraging the public to call the radio stations and going to public squares to gather and listen to community members’ questions, concerns and testimonies was very popular and allowed people to interact with topics, express opinions and have their voices heard. It increased audience engagement and ultimately our shows potential to bring about change.”

Vary your programmes and repeat key messages

It may sound simple but you should vary the content of your programmes to keep listeners interested. Justice explains that they ran a range of episodes, some on very specific local topics, some with specialists, like vets, and some where there was a large focus on sharing public testimonials and questions.
That said, Ahmad reflects that, as with all effective communication, the power of repeating simple key messages cannot be underestimated. “When people hear something multiple times they are much more likely to understand, remember and internalise it”.

Invest in training

Finally, Justice mentioned how getting radio presenters to understand the issues themselves can make a huge difference. “We trained presenters on equine welfare. Increasing their understanding of the subject matter meant they were more engaged with what we were trying to achieve and much less likely to transmit incorrect information”.

Know the limitations

During our discussion, Justice points out that “Community radio is unlikely to single-handedly bring about change. Some behaviours and practices are deeply ingrained and require more than a radio programme to be uprooted”.

Through experimentation with radio, we’ve found that it works well alongside more traditional methods of community engagement, like training passionate local animal owners to spread positive welfare messages to others, engaging children through schools, and forming specialised groups. If delivered in the right way and alongside other community initiatives, radio has huge potential to educate, inspire, give people a voice and, of course, bring about changes in attitudes and behaviour.

Brooke, Action for Working Horses and Donkeys
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