Aparna’s article on campaigns on Mobile Vaani has been published in Educomm, by the Commonwealth of Learning. Congrats Aparna! Original link
Mobile Vaani is a novel voice-based communication platform through which communities can use ordinary phones and landlines to interact with each other. A toll-free number is set up into which community members can call and either leave voice messages about their experiences and stories, or listen to messages left by other groups, or also leave a question that can be answered by an expert. The forum is moderated by a team of content managers that follow strict editorial policies to control the quality and tone of messages published on the network. This ensures that the messages are focused, authentic, and free from any hate speech.
These voice applications are extremely simple to use, and being purely voice-based they immediately becomes accessible to poorly literate or illiterate users as well. Mobile Vaani has been running in Jharkhand since two years now, and gets over 3,000 calls per day on which people share local updates, feedback about government schemes, and folk songs and poems. Recently we also initiated the system in Bihar in partnership with JEEViKA, and gets over 500 calls each day currently.
We have developed a unique content programming methodology on Mobile Vaani, called information campaigns. Given a topic, we build a content plan putting up provocative questions to the community on which they respond, comment on each other’s responses, and thus get involved in discussing the topic and also generate critical grassroots data in the process. In the past we have held campaigns on hard topics including early marriage, domestic violence against women, gender rights, and other hard topics which are otherwise not discussed in the community. We have also held campaigns on getting community inputs to assess health and education facilities, which helps understand the state of these facilities on the ground. We have found that these campaigns (1) lead to better understanding of community perceptions and context, (2) help in establishing accountability of the institutions to the community, and (3) bring about a change in the awareness levels of the community and subsequent behavior change.
1. Sharing data with local mainstream media partners – When a two month long health campaign, asking people to report on the status of health facilities in their village was run on Mobile Vaani, it was found that 80 percent of the PHCs did not have clean drinking water, more than 40 percent of the clinics had posts vacant, and most significantly several stories were reported of child births happening in the bathroom for lack of a bed, demand of bribes for stitching any ruptured membranes, and several such horrifying stories. The data generated was conveyed to partner mass media agencies including newspapers and several TV channels that carried these stories for several days. Consequently, Mobile Vaani received several testimonials from the callers about health facilities actually showing an improved functioning after the campaign. Public pressure imposed through criticism in mass media thus made the service providers more responsive. In a similar way, surveys on education facilities, the quality of care imparted in hospitals, the state of completed National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA) works, etc. have been done on Mobile Vaani and have seen similar dynamics when the issues were taken up by mass media.
2. Fear of escalation at the local level – Several issues of corruption such as unpaid MNREGA wages, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) officials demanding a bribe for enrollment, malaria deaths caused in villages, etc. have been regularly reported by the community. Many of these issues are solvable at the local Panchayat or Block level, and often get resolved without any external intervention from Mobile Vaani. This again seems to be because of a fear of escalation of issues that are being put out in the public domain. This mechanism validates how the presence of an inclusive and open communication platform can help communities keep checks and balances between local stakeholders.
3. Institutional linkages – Mobile Vaani also pro-actively tries to build direct linkages with government departments and senior administrative officials. It has been noticed that actionable issues reported on Mobile Vaani, when conveyed through official channels to senior officials, bring a high degree of responsiveness from the government machinery. Several cases including atrocities on migrant labourers, incidents of domestic violence, ration card defaults, etc. were filed by the Mobile Vaani team as validated complaints, and prompt action was taken by the concerned department.
From an analysis of the content received during campaigns and key informant interviews it has been found that the people like campaigns because it gets them to talk about issues which they wouldn’t have discussed otherwise. Additionally, from the anecdotal evidence gathered from content analysis, it is believed that since the communities are actively involved in a discussion around the issues rather than being considered as passive audiences, there are greater chances that people internalize the information which leads to behavior change in the long term.