Broadcast media, ICT-generated public opinion and political accountability in Africa

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Principal Investigator: Sharath Srinivasan. Lead Organisation: University of Cambridge

Co-investigators: Winnie Mitullah; Neo Simutanyi

Politics and Interactive Media in Africa (PIMA) examines whether and how Africans, particularly the poorest and least politically enfranchised, use new communication technologies to voice their opinion and to engage in a public debate on interactive broadcast media, and its effects on modes of political accountability. Through detailed qualitative case-studies in Kenya and Zambia, PIMA critically interrogates the heralded potential for digital communications and liberalised media sectors to promote more responsive and inclusive democratic governance, with a keen eye for turning project insights into relevance for policymakers, media houses, journalists and development organisations.


By employing survey-based, qualitiative and ethnographic methods to comparatively analyse interactive radio and TV programmes in the context of electoral and everyday politics, we will probe whose voice counts, why and to what effects in these new digitally-enabled spaces of voice and accountability. The project takes into account local innovation in the use of ICTs and the interactions between different modes, venues and actors of information gathering and dissemination that are particularly prominent in African contexts. PIMA brings together researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Nairobi and Zambia and the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Lusaka, working closely with select broadcast stations and other stakeholders.

The research project targets four policy and practice beneficiary groups:

  1. African (initially Kenyan and Zambian) media professionals and publics.
  2. International and local NGOs working in media development, grassroots governance participation and government accountability/transparency; and public opinion research organisations/programmes
  3. African (initially Kenyan and Zambian) policy makers and politicians
  4. Donors with pro-poor programmes focused on ICT for development, democratisation, participatory governance or accountability and transparency.

We envisage that through impact pathway activities they will benefit from insights into how more robust, representative and regular public opinion championed by broadcast media can improve governance discussions and political accountability and protect against destructive political manipulation. We will pursue this overarching benefit for these groups through three pathways:

  1. Communications and engagement: knowledge transfer through direct engagement of end-users in the research design and through dissemination of findings. We will enable end users to access project insights on demand through a project social network platform (based on Elgg), we will invite stakeholders to sessions during all three major project workshops and host major knowledge-practice workshops at project end, focused on identifying specific improvements in government regulatory policy for the media, media self-regulatory practice, in-house training and principled commiments, and donor and NGO programmatic interventions. We will work with broadcast media to support awareness raising amongst wider publics on the opportunities and threats of making their individual and collective voice heard. Using existing networks, we will engage regularly with donor and government intermediaries to build credibility and establish channels for knowledge sharing and influence. We will enrich public interest debates on ICT and African governance through evidence-based insights on innovations.
  2. Collaborations: beyond translation of research findings into end user insights, these will pursue specific policy/practice change and development of practical tools. Working with Internews, an established NGO well experienced in media training including in Africa, from the outset, the research project will reach a wide range of media actors through development of a 'Media public opinion toolkit' for journalists, on aspects such as representative public opinion 101, journalist training on 'reading' public opinion, do no harm, schooling their listenerships and giving voice to the voiceless. Internews' will also organise the first inaugural 'African Media for Citizens' Voice Prize' competition for gathering, sharing and rewarding innovative best practice by broadcast media using ICT interactivity to advance political accountability and social change.
  3. An application pilot that aims to improve media-generated public opinion at scale: CGHR will work on a pilot concept building sub-project with YouGov-Cambridge and FrontlineSMS that draws upon research insights, field-based research presence and media contacts to design, develop and pilot test an improved opinion polling methodology that fills the gap between poor quality media-generated opinion polling and detached and resource-intensive (but rigorous) survey-based research. The benefits of substantially involving broadcast media in pursuing governance accountability through public opinion and the scale and coverage of mobileSMS could be combined, while combining polling techniques and local contextual insights to better tackling marginlisation dynamics and issues of representativeness too often overlooked by media's use of ICT-generated 'public opinion' polling. The tool and methodology developed would be made freely available to organisations seeking to assist raising poor citizens' voice on fundamental governance and development issues.
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Grant Reference: 
ES/J018945/1
Project Status: 
Closed
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Politics and International Studies
Fund Start Date: 
October 31st, 2012
Fund End Date: 
October 31st, 2014
Fund Currency Code: 
GBP
Fund Value: 
246457
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