UN pilots Ugandan radio talk shows in humanitarian assistance

UN pilots Ugandan radio talk shows in humanitarian assistance
UN Global Pluse. Using radio talk shows in humanitarian response in Uganda

A United Nations body has discovered that radio talk shows across the country could play a leading role in gauging opinion in humanitarian assistance.

UN Global Pulse, through its lab in Kampala, says insights from public talk radio can provide real-time information on what is happening on the ground so as to determine on nature of the response in humanitarian assistance.

The idea behind the innovation is the systematic analysis of what people say on the radio regarding their situation, concerns, and needs provide actionable insights for programme implementation.

In the private sector, the analysis of public discussions on social media is regularly used for marketing, advertising and management. The same type of analysis can be used by development and humanitarian practitioners to complement traditional means for gauging public sentiment (such as surveys or focus groups discussions).

This type of analysis, according to UN Global Pulse, can be cost-efficient and provide real-time insights to feed early warning systems.

In Uganda, social media platforms are still in incipient phase — for example, Facebook subscribers amount to only 2.2 million about 5 percent of the population.

Radio, on the other hand, is the main source of information, reportedly used by 55 percent of the households in the country. Calling into a talk show on the radio to share thoughts, opinions and reports is a common practice especially in rural areas.

Pulse Lab Kampala, supported by the United Nations Development Operations Coordination Office (UNDOCO), has developed a technology prototype that allows analyzing public discourse on the radio the same way that it is analysed on social media.

The Lab and its partners used artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop a digital application called the Radio Content Analysis Tool. The tool transforms discussions taking place on radio into big data text, which is then mined for topics of interested relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The technology provides a flow of real-time information that development and humanitarian agencies can use to understand what people think and how they feel and to channel the country’s collective intelligence to gain insights and solve problems.

The usability of the technology was tested with a series of pilot studies that were summarized in the report “Using machine learning to analyse radio content in Uganda – Opportunities for sustainable development and humanitarian action.”

As part of the pilot studies, Pulse Lab Kampala and its partners also conducted a large-scale exploration to support the response of the UN Country Team and the Government to the refugee crisis in Uganda.

The analysis was conducted from July 2016 to February 2017. Filters to detect conversations regarding refugees were created and a translation team annotated all mentions of refugees, including issues of acceptance, health or increasing social tensions.

Information collected through radio talk shows from Arua may have been used to spark off investigations into the refugee scam at Prime Minister’s office.

In one of the examples, a caller from Arua 90.9 FM is recorded complaining about reduced foods ratios. A young refugee from Ofua III block narrates then how the food ration has been reduced from 12 to 6 Kgs with a cash allowance of 7,000 Ugandan Shillings to make up for the shortfall.