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Tracking Citizens through TRAC FM

By Collins Atta Poku

An amazing but simple internet based media technological development in Uganda, and other parts of East Africa is providing a platform to track citizens and amplify them to their communities and the world at large.  Employed by media and non-profit organizations in Uganda, TRAC FM is an innovative software platform used in Uganda to track news reports, collect opinions, and amplify citizen voices. This unique development enables citizens to participate in interactive radio shows through text messaging (SMS) voting and opinions.

Through this unique platform, TRAC FM has succeeded in connecting the richest of the society in the biggest cities to the poorest in the remotest part of Uganda and radio stations for these radio stations to involve listeners in public driven debates. They have employed this quiet easy to use software tool which is free and cloud based, requiring no downloads, but only a secure login with a user name and password. Africa has a vibrant talkshow tradition which they’ve built on to align with the communities. Even though the software is applicable to TV they prefer radio as it has a wider reach and is readily accessible, even in areas without electricity.

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An example of the TRAC FM visualization graphics. (Photo credit: TracFM .org)

How does it work?

Broadcasters pose questions which are answered by listeners or citizens through a designated text messaging line which is free of charge. The TRAC FM software ensures that all incoming SMS contributions are automatically recognized, categorized and presented in clear graphics and maps.   This “visualization” is instantly updated online, to present the latest results to the talk-show host, who shares the poll results with his studio-guests and listeners. After the radio show, infographics of collected data are published in (local) print media and freely shared online. It also provides selected radio stations with training on how to use TRAC FM feedback to host structured radio debates, e.g. on issues of public service delivery, such as quality of roads or the performance of civil servants.

Video of how TRAC FM technology works. (Credit: TRACFM.ORG)

‘TRAC FM’s mission is to provide citizens and journalists with tools to amplify voices, engage in informed debate with fellow citizens, journalists and political leaders, and promote transparency and accountability. Since 2010, more than 100,000 people in Uganda have participated in radio polls on 24 radio stations, facilitated by the TRAC FM platform. Radio stations using TRAC FM include Life FM (the largest), Voice of Kigezi (the smallest), and Radio Wa from Lira (the first TRAC FM partner). NGO’s that have worked with TRAC FM include Twaweza, Hivos, Free Press Unlimited, BBC Media Action (Kenya), Farm Radio International (Uganda and Tanzania), Harvest Plus and Vitens Evides International (Uganda).’ TRAC FM.ORG

TRAC FM does not receive government funding and as a result generates income from Non Governmental Organizations who use the tool and their data for surveys, awareness campaigns, monitoring and evaluation. Organisations such as Free Press Unlimited, BBC Media Action (Kenya), Farm Radio International (Uganda and Tanzania), Harvest Plus and Vitens Evides International (Uganda) have all worked with TRAC FM thus far.

Not only that, TRAC FM is also contributing to harnessing and advancement of Citizen Journalism by developing a new software functionality to enable citizen feedback in the form of photos, videos, and interactive voice response. It is also in the process of extending beyond Uganda, collaborating with Free Press Unlimited in Somalia and the Bill Gates Foundation in Tanzania.

With this project TRAC FM expect to help provide a platform for data-driven journalism which contributes to independent, fact-based journalism on one hand and a more engaged civil society and informed citizenry on the other