Learning from our Learning
Did we do this somewhere before?
How did it go?
Where do I find out more?
To many of us working in international development, these questions are all too familiar. They come when we’re designing projects. They come when we’re about to write a toolkit or a manual and we want to avoid recreating the wheel. They come when we’re about to launch an initiative somewhere and we have a nagging feeling that someone did something very similar in another country.
For Internews in South Sudan, these questions arise even within our own projects. Since 2006, we have worked to meet the information needs of the local population by supporting the production and dissemination of accurate, reliable, and impartial news and information. We believe that access to information is a human right, and that information is aid, enabling communities to access services, make decisions about survival and recovery, and maintain dignity and agency over their own lives.
Boda Boda Talk Talk (BBTT), our well-loved and highly successful hyper-local humanitarian information service that broadcasts 20-minute programs from the back of wide motorbikes, has been established in five United Nations Protection of Civilian Sites (PoCs) over the span of more than three years. To supplement listening stops throughout the PoCs, BBTT programs are also distributed through SD cards that can be played on radios. BBTT serves an audience of more than 250,000 displaced people, sharing critical news and information by the community and for the community, in local languages. (BBTT has already been adapted by UNHCR in Uganda.)
To extend the audiences for the programming, we have conducted multiple large-scale radio set distributions in various locations across South Sudan, including in Mingkaman, Malakal, Bentiu, Bor, and Juba, where our humanitarian information and community radio programs can be heard, with the aim of distributing over 40,000 radios by the end of the project.
To ensure the information meets the needs of the community, we currently organize more than 700 listening groups across four locations. These listening groups get together to listen to our programs, discuss issues of the day, and provide valuable feedback to humanitarian organizations and ideas for new programs.
From this extensive practice, we have a huge body of knowledge. As the same initiative is implemented in new locations, this collective knowledge becomes richer, more complex and also more refined.
But this knowledge is useless when it remains in people’s heads (as it often does), or is scattered across various reports (often written for a donor, rather than for a colleague). It is even less useful if it doesn’t answer the real question:
How could it be done again, but better?
During the past year, our team committed to designing a comprehensive Learning Collection that would communicate key lessons, best practices, and programmatic methodologies used not only by Internews in South Sudan, but by Internews’ humanitarian teams around the world. The Learning Collection would be composed of individual modules, each about a common project design or methodology like Boda Boda Talk Talk, radio distribution, or listening groups. To provide a holistic understanding of the approach, each module would have three parts: Context, Case Studies, and How-To Guide. These documents would appeal equally to practitioners and academics, and employ graphics, images, and layout techniques to present information in an appealing way.
Crucially, we wanted to make sure that our Case Studies were honest in sharing the things that didn’t work: the challenges, failures, and mistakes. Alongside, we would explain how we adapted the project, with advice and recommendations for doing it again. We also wanted to be sincere in promoting the reuse and further adaption of our work by others. So, each module has a standalone “How-To Guide” that provides a detailed, step-by-step approach to implementing the project in a new location, with a robust set of annexes providing sample surveys, templates, forms, checklists, and other useful materials.
With this post, we launch the first module of the Learning Collection, on Boda Boda Talk Talk. The next modules will be on Radio Distribution, Listening Groups, Communicating with Communities (CwC), and Humanitarian Radio. We sincerely hope this effort provides a launch pad for Internews beyond South Sudan, and other organizations around the world, to keep our commitment to communities all over the world. A commitment to provide critical information in times of uncertainty, to ensure people have the information they need to make the best decisions about their own lives and livelihoods.
Natalie Chang is Research & Learning Manager for Internews in South Sudan. Internews’ work in South Sudan is supported by USAID.