Thursday, August 15, 2013

Report on Batticaloa visit

Team members Chandana Jayathilake from Wayamba University and Nuwan Waidyanatha from LIRNEasia recently visited famers in Batticaloa to talk about the difficulties they face in their daily activities.  Chandana's detailed report is posted here.

Some of the key observations that came of that meeting have an impact on the sustainability of agricultural practices.  Elephants, for example, are considered a serious threat both to crops and to seed storage.

The remote location also presents obstacles when it comes to making decisions about planting and cultivation, especially because there is very limited contact with agriculture officials.

Transportation is another concern, with limited access to means to get produce to market, farmers have few options but to accept the going rate for transport.

While mobile phone coverage is very good in the area, and most families have access to a mobile phone, Chandana was told that there are few reliable local sources of electricity.  As a result, families keep the phones off most of the time.

These are formidable challenges.  I am curious to know more about how these villages and the farming communities adopt innovative ways to address these concerns, understanding better their priorities and aspirations, and how low cost ICTs might play a useful, even if limited, role in improving their livelihoods.

It is interesting to view the images that Chandana has posted with his report.  The central presence of women at the meeting is significant.

Thank you for that report Chandana.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Developing the Concept and Practice of Radio+

Helen Hambly Odame, University of Guelph,  8/9/13

Radio’s convergence with emerging information and communication technologies (referred to as Radio+) is widely discussed in development practice and increasingly, in academic literature although few empirical studies have been accomplished. What information exists is largely anecdotal and not analyzed with respect to social and environmental changes occurring within systems of agricultural innovation systems. Nevertheless, Radio+ has become a relevant approach to revitalizing radio broadcasting, enabling social learning and action through the use of new digital and mobile technologies. These new technologies add value to “tried and true” methods used in radio such as audience research, listener clubs and entertaining, interactive programming.
It is possible to identify two pathways that have given rise to Radio+. 

The first generation of emergent technologies used by rural radio stations were internet radio casting (archived digital broadcasts), internet radio browsing (e.g. Kothmale Radio in Sri Lanka) followed by texting (SMS) using mobile phones. 

More recently, a second generation of technologies have emerged with the use of social media networks (virtual listening groups) and platforms (Facebook, Twitter and blog). This does not mean that first generation Radio+ methods such as webcasting, radio browsing and texting are no longer used; on the contrary, they continue to evolve.

In the 2003 FAO book, The one to watch: Radio, NewICTs and Interactivity Stella Hughes argues that introducing new media into communities works best when it draws on traditional channels of communication and information. As such, broadcast radio, and especially radio stations located in rural areas, have been recognized as having the characteristics of “proximity, trust and knowledge (including the ability to combine ‘tech knowledge’ about ICT with ‘context knowledge’ about the environment in which it is used)”, states Bruce Girard of Comunica, in this same FAO book which he edited. The high value attached to radio makes it particularly suited for the role of a locally trusted knowledge intermediary when broadcasting uses local vernacular, popular formats (e.g. drama, local expert features, etc.) but Radio+ has to be vigilant so that it does add value to the characteristics of proximity, trust and knowledge in mobile and online environments. As many of us know, this is easier said than done, especially when our in-boxes are flooded with spam or unwanted messages!

To wrap up, let me just mention a few ways that Radio+ can generate new programming possibilities: blogs for sending or receiving further information; text messaging to alert or remind audiences about farm programmes; using new ICTs to build the popularity of specific radio shows or DJs – and this can have a direct benefit for audience engagement and revenue generation see Rooke and Hambly Odame, 2012engaging listeners more directly through “drop box” voice commentaries enabling live reports from citizen journalists in more remote areas of the community.

Looking forward to more ideas and discussion about Radio+

FLSMS installation tutorial ... and more coming soon

Project team member Chandana Jayathilake from Wayamba University has created a video tutorial on how to install FrontlineSMS.

Chandana, along with Cody Skinner from University of Guelph, and Tim Barlott from the University of Alberta are now working on a series of video tutorials that we will make available online to help communities interested in working with FrontlineSMS.  The series will be extended later to include Ushahidi and Freedom Fone.

Great work Chandana!