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What We Do 2

Radio and mobile phone in Wote, Kenya. Credit: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

Africa’s Voices has developed a unique way to listen intelligently to citizens of African countries. We spark and curate discussions through interactive media and digital channels, where participants share their opinions via instant messaging, SMS, and social media. Drawing upon our research at the University of Cambridge and with an office in Nairobi, we use multidisciplinary methods to analyse this citizen-generated data and produce rich insights into people’s opinions, sentiments, and beliefs.





Our vision is to put citizens’ voices at the centre of every development and governance project in Africa. Often the most in need are the hardest to hear. The challenge is to seize the digital and data revolutions in inclusive ways that amplify the voices of the poor and marginalised, and elevates them to the levels of governance and development actors. We harness authentic conversations to deliver robust and actionable evidence that equips organisations with a nuanced understanding of citizens‘ beliefs and priorities, thereby informing the design and delivery of effective programmes and services. By listening first, and listening intelligently, development and governance actors can deliver responsive and accountable initiatives — enhancing citizens’ agency and wellbeing. 3

HOW WE DO IT RESEARCH DESIGN Before we start collecting digital data, we work with our partners to gain a lucid idea of which issues they wish to better understand and which communities they would like to engage with. From this foundation, we develop a research design with specific research questions that will generate the evidence required. For example, for our UNICEF Somalia project, we employed an ex-post facto design that tests hypotheses about associations between health beliefs and practices. For each project, we tailor our rigorous social science research methods to produce credible insights that meet our partners’ needs. This includes selecting the most appropriate channels for citizen engagement to gather data of high quality and quantity, through to planning which analysis techniques will be most effective. We are constantly innovating to create and customise cutting-edge research tools — often leveraging the expertise at departments of the University of Cambridge.


CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT The explosion of digital communications in many African countries has created new opportunities for dynamic, realtime conversations. If harnessed effectively, instant messaging, SMS, and social media can allow citizens to express themselves

“Anyone seeking to improve the lot of African citizens must first understand the priorities of those they seek to serve. Africa’s Voices will play a key role in a more thoughtful delivery of social goods through listening first.” Salim Ahmed Salim, former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity

with greater volume and clarity. With our research design in place, we set about curating conversations in popular local language forums — such as interactive radio and social media — and stimulate discussions between people of different genders, ages, and communities. Audiences participate through digital channels and on their own terms, in vernacular languages and slang. By focusing on inclusivity, we reach broad sectors of society and incorporate voices that are not otherwise heard. These real-world conversations can be thought of as large-scale, digitally connected focus groups, from which rich qualitative insights can be derived. We supplement the qualitative insights with responses from structured questionnaires, generating data that are more quantitative in nature.


DATA ANALYTICS TO SOCIAL INSIGHTS The complex conversational data gathered though digital platforms is often in low-resource languages, requiring creative approaches to process and analyse it. At Africa’s Voices, we marry social science with data science and incorporate the subtle understanding of the local context and language (what we call ‘human knowledge’). Our method is developed in-house by Africa’s Voices researchers, and based upon four years of pilot research at Cambridge’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights. The diagram below illustrates one analysis pathway that we may take for our projects.


Collaboratively with native language speakers, we begin by identifying overall topics, frequently used ‘seed words’ and expressions, and derive rules from these using machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to label messages automatically. This multidisciplinary way of working allows us to scale up our analysis to large datasets while maintaining depth and granularity of insight.





Based on social science theories, we derive themes present in the messages and map them against demographic groups or social practices (for example, dividing people into those who have vaccinated their children and those who have not). Through this process, we can identify collective beliefs that are shared by different groups of the population and ideas that are particular to certain social groups, as well as how these change over time. With engaging reports, interactive dashboards, and data visualisations, we provide our partners with an invaluable insight into the world views and priorities of those whom they seek to serve — crucial for effective and impactful programming.


Africa’s Voices has transitioned from university-based applied research to an independent charitable start-up. We are now have offices in Nairobi and Cambridge with a small, highly qualified team with close links to a number of Cambridge University departments. Our Board of Trustees are: •

Lord Cairns Our chairperson. Former board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Chair of Voluntary Services Overseas.

Dr David Good Lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Cambridge.

Sir David Green Former Director-General of the British Council.

Laila Macharia Founder and CEO of Scion Real in Nairobi.

Fiona Napier Development consultant in Nairobi. Formerly with Open Society Foundations and Save the Children.

Dr Sharath Srinivasan Director of Africa’s Voices, and of Cambridge University’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR).

Our management team consists of Dr Srinivasan and: •

Dr Claudia Abreu Lopes Senior Advisor for Research and Innovation

George Kaburu Head of Performance and Operations

Dr Matti Pohjonen Senior Researcher

Rainbow Wilcox Impact, Learning, and Communications Manager

Our expanding team brings together diverse backgrounds including African politics, computer and data science, international development, media studies, social psychology, and research methods.


Growing Impact 9

Radio broadcaster in Yei, South Sudan. Credit: W. Anderson

We work with a select group of development and governance organisations, all of whom have extended their partnerships with us after initial engagements, or have expressed their intention to do so. So far, we have partnered with BBC Media Action (Kenya), Livity Africa (South Africa), Oxfam in Kenya, Trócaire in Kenya, UNICEF Somalia, the Universities of Cambridge and Makerere (Uganda) and Well Told Story (Kenya). Through our bespoke approach, we have generated insights into diverse topics, from polio in Somalia, to municipal elections in South Africa, and oil and gas developments in Northern Kenya, to maternal health in Central Uganda. Most recently, in partnership with Cambridge’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights, we secured research funding from the Wellcome Trust-DFID. With this, we are evaluating the deployment of our methods in epidemics and health crises, focusing on socio-cultural factors that influence Zika virus outcomes in Cape Verde and Mozambique as the case-study. For our pilot project with UNICEF Somalia, Africa’s Voices won The Market Research Society President’s Medal 2016. It is awarded annually for an extraordinary contribution to research. The President of the Society, Dame Dianne Thompson, said, “In a country with insecure and inaccessible regions, Africa’s Voices has developed an admirable partnership with UNICEF Somalia. Their work helps to amplify the voices of hard-to-reach communities and is proof positive of research as a force for good.” 10

Livity #2X event in Bloenfontien. Credit: Jeunese Payne, Africa’s Voices

SOUTH AFRICA In the lead-up to South Africa’s 2016 municipal elections, we partnered with Livity Africa on its #2X multi-media campaign — aimed at encouraging youth involvement in politics. By analysing audience messages sent via WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, we explored who the campaign was reaching, what issues mattered most to young South Africans, and whether the online campaign had an impact on young people’s propensity to vote. One finding was that people exposed to the #2X campaign on Facebook were nearly three times more likely to vote in the municipal elections compared to those who were not. This effect was particularly strong for younger groups, new voters, and those less interested in politics at the beginning of the campaign.

“Africa’s Voices team has provided us with valuable insights and lessons which we have applied to an upcoming project. These include the importance of listening and responding to our audiences’ ideas and applying an adaptive, segmented approach to our campaigns.” Gavin Weale, Managing Director, Livity Africa

Mother with newborn. Credit: UNICEF Somalia

SOMALIA Our initial pilot in 2015 with UNICEF Somalia has developed into a longterm partnership with their health teams, and we are becoming a core pillar of their communications for development (C4D) initiatives. The eight-week pilot explored beliefs and practices related to polio and routine vaccinations, and maternal and neonatal health. With our local media partner, MediaINK, we designed and delivered weekly interactive shows on twenty radio stations across Somalia. Over 8,400 people participated by SMS from every province of the country: 44% were women, 86.4% were 15–29 years old, and 54.9% were parents. We analysed over 15,000 messages and visualised insights through interactive dashboards and reports. A range of key insights emerged that can help UNICEF to shape their programmes. For example, parents who had a lower perceived risk of the disease did not have their children vaccinated against polio. Further, one path of action parents take when responding to illnesses is immediate medical treatment for their babies, while others turn to religion first and use medical treatment as a last resource. Since July 2016, we have launched a further 30 weeks of interactive radio programmes with UNICEF. These are being broadcast on 26 radio 12

stations in Somaliland, Puntland and South-Central and now regularly attract messages from over 6000 people per week. From geospatial analysis, we estimate these programmes are covering 50% of Somalia and could potentially reach 70% of the population. Radio discussions are exploring a broader range of health topics, including malaria, cholera, and HIV/AIDS, as well as child protection topics, such as female genital mutilation and cutting, girls‘ access to education, and child marriage. 

Traditional medicine is good because our prophet Mohamed (peace be upon him) has told us to use traditional medicine such as honey, black cumin and others to treat some illnesses. [female, 30]

Here there is polio due to water and poor hygiene because the roads are filled with water. [male, 18]

Children should be treated spiritually with Holy Koran and then traditional medicine should be used to treat them and lastly visit medical facility [female, 19]

Here is mostly polio that is a disease which has made many children disabled. We are ready to fight it. [male, 82]

Children in this town need immunisation against measles. Thanks. [male, 29] Pregnant women should not visit health facilities because it’s a recipe to contract other diseases.

Since I was born, I have heard of measles vaccination and up to this day we see measles breakout. I believe it is NGOs who want to benefit from this programme. [male, 18]

Sometimes a mother may die because of little blood or even may not be able to give birth in a normal way. Therefore it’s recommended to visit a facility for surgical delivery. [male] Map of messages per province, with a selection of actual messages received. 13

Oxfam community meeting in Nakukulas, Kenya. Credit: Lightbox/ Brian Inganga

KENYA With Oxfam in Kenya, we asked citizens for their views on oil and gas extraction in north Kenya, as well as on taxes and county budgets in Wajir, Turkana, and Nairobi. Our partnership has leveraged the popularity of interactive radio to gather SMS data in three of Kenya’s many languages: Somali, Swahili, and Turkana. As such, although these have been relatively small-scale projects, the implementation and analysis challenges involved have been complex and

“Africa’s Voices’ ability to stimulate inclusive dialogue and collect opinions of marginalised communities in local languages through simple technologies has been invaluable in informing how we engage with our target beneficiaries.” Joyce Kabue, Communication and Information Advisor, Oxfam Kenya

required innovative solutions. Resulting insights are supporting two of Oxfam’s multi-year projects: DFID-funded ‘Kenya Extractive Industries Development Programme’ and the ‘Domestic Resource Mobilisation Programme’ supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. Wairu Kinyori, Tax Justice Project Manager at Oxfam says, “The interactive radio approach was unique as it served as both a tool for data collection and a way of engaging citizens on these issues. The insights will inform our advocacy and campaigning approaches in the different regions, and inform dialogue with County and National Governments.” 14

DJ Boyie. Illustration: Well Told Story

Well Told Story is the Emmy-award winning media company behind Shujaaz — a multimedia platform that engages young Kenyans, triggers conversations, and changes mindsets. There are nearly 300,000 users of the Shujaaz platform, who interact with the main character of the Shujaaz comic, DJ Boyie, via SMS, Facebook and WhatsApp. Since 2014, Africa’s Voices has been working with Well Told Story to clean and analyse 1.3 million messages in Swahili and Sheng (an urban youth slang).

“Working with Africa’s Voices has opened a new world of insight and potential, hiding in data we already had but couldn’t interpret. To be able to decipher the collective meaning within our audience correspondence is like listening at the keyhole of a giant conversation. This new clarity has helped us refine our purpose and our methods, and given us a powerful new account of the impact of our work.” Rob Burnet, CEO of Well Told Story To do so, we have developed an interactive app to code sentiment of Sheng messages, and language resources such as lexica-based themes and word banks. Combined with other analyses, these tools enable us to segment the audience according to their interests, attitudes/sentiment, language, and demographics. In turn, Well Told Story can target content to specific audience groups and measure the impact of Shujaaz.

UGANDA Over four weeks, three radio stations in Kampala broadcast weekly interactive discussions about maternal health. Over 2000 Ugandans (49.6% female) participated via SMS, generating data on perceived causes of complications during pregnancy and at delivery, as well as why pregnant women may delay seeking appropriate medical treatment. “Some women fear to go for antenantal because of the harsh way the medics treat them.” - Man, 38, Wakiso “We are very far from the hospital even the transport is too expensive in my district.“ - Woman, 51, Gulu

“Overreacting or getting angry causes problems. I lost three pregnancies due to that problem.” - Woman, 31, Mukuno

“When I took my pregnant daughter to the government hospital they asked money from me.”

Combining in-depth qualitative techniques with largescale automated analysis, we gained insights that can inform researchers and health practitioners. For example, men, more than women, tend to think that the causes of complications in pregnancy are related to enduring traits of the mother -– biology or personality -– and that women other than their own partner are more at risk of experiencing complications. Women are more likely to believe complications arise due to factors in their control, such as one’s lifestyle. Both women and men agree that the major reason women delay seeking healthcare is insufficient health provision. This was a partnership between Africa’s Voices and Prof. Ashley Moffett, Dr. Annettee Nakimuli, and Prof. Grace Kyomuhendo (Cambridge and Makerere Universities). 16

Our Future

17 Participant at Oxfam community meeting in Nakukulas, Kenya. Credit: Lightbox/ Brian Inganga

We are now focused on growing our East Africa team, strengthening our innovative capabilities, and preparing to expand our operations further across the continent. With a growing demand for our services, we are careful about which partnerships to develop. We strive to maximise our impact through longterm collaborations with influential actors whose initiatives have ramifications for the governance and development sectors. As we expand our capacity, we will establish partnerships with further key actors on the continent, many of whom we are already in advanced conversations with. Our Director, Dr Sharath Srinivasan, is taking two years’ leave from Cambridge University to steer Africa’s Voices Foundation through the exciting times ahead as its full-time CEO in Nairobi. Our priorities for the three years ahead are to: • Expand the research capabilities of our Kenya-based team • Establish an active presence in West Africa. • Develop strong, deep partnerships with 10 organisations, in addition to diversifying the portfolio of our projects. • Strengthen innovation, both in-house and through our linkages with Cambridge University and research institutions in African countries.


FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY We are funded through core charitable donations and fee-based work with partner organisations. Our core funders enable us to build our research assets, including African researcher capacity, and our presence across the continent. Initial support has come from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Elaine Potter Foundation, and the Cairns Charitable Trust. Our partners, directly or through their funders, pay for our value-add to their work by covering direct project costs and making a contribution towards the development of our innovative methods and tools. Our proof of concept phase has proven that we can achieve a sustainable



Charitable Trust

model from which to scale our impact. To sustain and grow our work over the next five years, we plan to raise ÂŁ1,000,000 for core purposes. These include financing further early stage research and technology, training social scientists from African countries, providing working capital for developing new partnerships, and establishing an expanded presence across the continent. For more information on opportunities to support our work, contact Dr. Sharath Srinivasan at .


On taxes: ”The poor are most affected because their income is very low but they are taxed the same when they are buying goods. The rich have ways of evading taxes through connections they have. The government needs to be transparent in how it taxes businesses of the rich” – Woman, 26, business owner in Lodwar, Kenya

On maternal health: “For me I think that the government should organise seminars at every health centre in order to educate mothers the dangers of not going to the health worker” – Man, 25, in Kampala, Uganda


On polio vaccines: “Polio vaccination has side effects and we have seen many times, for example when the vaccine is thrown into the streets and the wind carries them to the children and this causes problems for the children” – Woman, 15–19 in Banaadir, Somalia


Twitter: @Africas_Voices Facebook: Africa’s Voices Foundation Africa’s Voices Foundation is a UK registered charity no. 1159589 UK: 17A The Courtyard, Sturton Street, Cambridge CB1 2SN Telephone: +44 (0)1223 321 653 Kenya: Mezzanine 2, Garage//Westlands (The Mirage Building), Chiromo Road, Nairobi Cover photo:Young girls using their mobile phone in rural Makurdi, Benue state, Nigeria. ©STARS/Kristian Buus 20

Africa's Voices Foundation - prospectus  
Africa's Voices Foundation - prospectus