TRAC FM is a new innovative software platform that allows radio listeners participate in live debates using SMS in a move to contribute to citizens participation in development projects, leaders performance and service delivery or just any meaningful public debate.
TRAC FM believes that by allowing listeners to vote by SMS into live radio programmes it will be amplifying their voice and giving them chance in nation building.
According to Jurre de Beer of Trac FM, “Most people immediately think about television shows like Idols, which encourages the audience to vote on their favorite artist by sending an SMS text message. In Uganda, people vote by SMS on totally different topics.”
He added, “Every week, hundreds of Ugandans vote during live radio talk shows about all kinds of social issues. How many students are in your child’s classroom? Are the roads improved last year, as the government promised? What are the main reasons for domestic violence?”
Voting by SMS is a new phenomena for many Ugandans. In the past, five to ten listeners could call in during the show to share their opinion on social topics. Now, hundreds of (rural and urban) people can send their opinion by SMS (free of charge) during one of the 16 shows on local radio stations in Uganda, thanks to the unique software of an NGO called TRAC FM.
Combining old and the new media
TRAC FM builds on the success of a vibrant radio talk-show tradition in East Africa and combines new media practices to allow radio presenters to conduct radio & SMS polls with their audience. After broadcasting the question, the audience sends in free SMSes, amplifying their voice about the raised topic. Incoming SMS reports are visualized in smart graphic designs and all data can be instantly shared by the radio presenters to its listeners. After the radio show, info graphics of all collected data is published in (local) print media and freely shared online.
TRAC FM is based on ethnographic research on the use of ICT for accountability conducted in Uganda in 2009. After this research, Wouter Dijkstra, founder and Director, started implementing the software at some radio stations in Uganda. Currently 16 radio stations in Uganda are connected and trained, over 60.000 Ugandans have participated and more than 450 polls are conducted. Wouter: “For radio hosts its very exciting to use a tool like TRAC FM, because they can interact with the audience in a completely different way.”
Data to confront authorities
John Ocen is radio host for community radio Wa in Lira (Northern Uganda) who thinks the platform is great. According to John, voting by SMS is an added value for not only his show, but also the community: “Whenever we invite local authorities to the talk-shows we use the TRAC FM data to confront them and say: ‘Look, this is what you are supposed to do and the data is not reflective of what you are doing.’”
TRAC FMs mission is to provide citizens with a platform to engage in an informed debate with fellow citizens and their leaders, and amplify their voices using old and new media, promoting transparency and accountability.
Dennis Okwir, a frequent user of the TRAC FM SMS polls said: “TRAC FM makes me be part of the running the our society. And any other member of the community who could have also participated in SMSing, would feel that I am also part of the decision making because my ideas are also considered.”