To strengthen local radio given its relevance as an informational source in Nepal, starting in 2015, Sharecast Initiative Nepal sought to improve data transparency, and engage radio operators in participatory processes which would respond to listeners' stated priorities.
Problems and Purpose
In Nepal, local radio plays a key role in providing free and easily accessible information. It has been an effective communication medium to exchange information, ideas, and opinion to every sector of society. Key to the democratic space, local radio provides a venue for citizens' voices to express opinions and share culturally relevant information.
Radio is still an essential medium of information in Nepal, with a literacy rate at 65.9% and 39% attaining primary level education (CBS, 2011). For many populations in remote areas, local radio is the only medium for expression and source of information. However, a 2016 survey of media and democracy in Nepal tracked declining rates of participation and smaller audiences (Sharecast, 2016). In a country that has 123 languages, 125 castes/ethnic groups, 10 religions, and many social classes (CBS, 2011), this trend is all the more concerning in terms of connecting citizens to information and to each other.
Participation in radio, for example, through letter writing, phones calls, emails, SMS or social media engagement, had decreased to 3.4% of respondents by 2017 (Sharecast, 2017). Listening patterns were declining since 2013. With many local radios broadcasting centrally-produced content, the space for such local content and participation has been further reduced: from 92% total, and 60% daily listeners in September 2013 (Internews-Nepal, 2013) to 72% total, and 35% daily listeners in 2016 (Sharecast, 2016). The same survey further revealed that people want to listen to their own voices, stories, and local news and programming on local radio.
There was a concern that local radio stations lack audience demographic information to inform program content and ensure relevance to the community they serve. Local radios—both commercial and community-based —were found to have insufficient social and demographic information on their audiences. Very few project-based studies on the media landscape, and a lack of internal status tools for radios to understand and diagnose their internal health, left the radio sector’s management, audience, and resources in a poor state. For instance, a senior leader in the community radio acknowledged in 2018 that 18 stations were shut down and another 27 failed to renew their FM license (A. Giri, personal communication, March 2018) . In the commercial radio sector, 14 stations shut down and 20 failed to renew licenses (C. Neupane, personal communication, March 2018) , pointing to sustainability challenges.
To confront these challenges, starting in 2015, Sharecast Initiative Nepal (Sharecast) sought to strengthen local radio by bridging audiences with local radios through data transparency, and engaging radio operators and staff in participatory processes aimed at responding to listeners' priorities.
Background History and Context
Nepal is a pioneer in the FM radio broadcasting sector in South Asia and has had over 740 FM licenses issued by 2017 (MOIC, 2017). There is no policy governing community or commercial as distinct functions, and any company or organization can get an FM license without providing any feasibility study or needs assessment. This has resulted in an overcrowded radio sector, with a majority going on air without an understanding of their audience’s profile, interests, or needs.
Radio is widely credited with improving political participation and deepening democracy in Nepal. When it comes to holding government to account, several observers have also argued that it is possible to achieve the most impact at the local level (BBC Media Action, 2016, pp. 12–13). Based on results from one study, radios that do not involve community people in preparation and implementation of their radio programs are weaker (ACORAB, 2012, p. 53). This is further illustration of the importance of an engaged relationship between radio and its audience.
Despite a history of strong public engagement in independent radio in earlier decades and “people [in Nepal who are not] afraid to speak on air” (Onta, 2008, p. 343), more than 75% of local radio stations are now in crisis (BBC Media Action, 2016). It is in this context that Sharecast engaged with local radio and their audiences in 2015.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Sharecast, a not-for-profit distributing company established in 2013, is a new media organization focused on promoting digital content sharing and distribution online and through local radios in Nepal. It believes that audience data, innovation, and institutionalization can build a strong foundation for sustainable local media. It has been working to strengthen local radio since 2015. Their work has been funded by National Endowment for Democracy and Open Society Foundation.
Eighteen local radios participated in the audience survey initiative, which was funded through multiple partners through various Kathmandu-based media companies and organizations. Participating local radios also contributed logistical and transportation resources for training and workshops. Other media organizations and production houses contributed funds for the audience data initiative.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
A pilot project was done with 10 local radio stations that were selected based on their location (covering seven provinces), population distribution, and their willingness and commitment to participate.
The Media and Democracy Survey was the major component used to engage local citizens and collect their opinion. Sharecast had been doing regular annual media surveys since 2015. This survey was done using a random sampling (probability sampling) method in each stage of sampling. That is:
- First, wards were selected using a probability proportion to population size (PPS) sampling method.
- Second, households were selected using systematic random sampling.
- Third, respondents from the sample household were selected using the KISH Grid Method.
There were equal chances for all citizens to be selected as respondents. The survey methodology selected respondents from across the country. Once identified, face-to-face interviews were conducted with 4535 respondents from 301 wards in the first wave and 5555 respondents from 370 wards in the second wave. The interview length was about 40 minutes, in which respondents provided their opinions on local radio content, democracy, and local governance. The demographic profile of respondents was closely matched to census data in the same areas.
Workshops and trainings were held entirely in-house within radio stations. Thus, participants were radio members and board and staff members because they are the key informant and players for internal enhancement. Local people who were members of local radio and in the board and entire staff members participated in SWOT and ABCD analyses of the media and radio in the region.
Methods and Tools Used
Multiple methods were used during this initiative.
Audience surveys : Citizens were surveyed and asked to express their views on current radio programs, desired content, and perceptions about local government and democracy.
Strengths-Weakness-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) Analysis : This was applied to analyze the situation of local radio as part of a workshop.
Asset Based Community Development : ABCD analysis was applied as part of a workshop to understand, map, and document resources around what the local community has pertaining to local radios.
Programme Re-designing Workshops: These were organized to analyze current programs and in response to people’s needs.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Citizens and radio operators participated and interacted in different ways during the various activities.
During audience surveys:
The national Media and Democracy survey was conducted to understand citizens’ perspectives, opinions, and perceptions on media and democracy in Nepal. An initial consultation workshop with radio experts and radio managers was carried out while developing the questionnaire. The structured questionnaire ware designed and uploaded to mobile-based survey software and face-to-face interviews were conducted using the mobile devices (with field GPS location). Data corresponding to respondent's names, contact and GPS location were destroyed just after the fieldwork. The survey is done annually, with reports published.
In April 2016 and in March 2017, survey findings were shared as part of an interactive workshop bringing together media organizations, radio managers, and donors supporting the media sector. The data and findings were then disseminated for public consumption via social media.
During SWOT and ABCD workshop:
This set of 3-day workshops was carried out to diagnose the internal health of local radios and to identify possible solutions to identified issues, building on local assets. Sharecast has facilitated both SWOT and ABCD workshop. Journalists, radio members from the local community, and the radio board participated in the SWOT analysis and asset-mapping sessions. The same group continued through a data-sharing discussion and later participated in the programme re-design workshop. In-house SWOT and ABCD sessions were done within piloted 10-radio stations locally. At this point, local radios had never explored what community assets they could potentially mobilize to benefit both the radio and their community.
During programme re-designing workshops:
Based on the survey data and the outcomes from the SWOT and ABCD sessions, 10 programme re-design workshops were held between 2016 and 2017 with individual radio stations. Radio members, representatives from radio board of directors, and entire staff gathered to re-think their programming. They identified how their radio could address peoples' needs and respond to their interests and concerns by shifting programs, timing, format, etc. They discussed both the current programmes and those audiences would prefer. Discussions were centered how radio can open multiple doors to ensure greater participation and address local problems through radio content. Different programme timetables were developed to fit listeners’ concerns. In these ways, local radios were re-designed and programming revised to incorporate health, education, personal finances, issues around accountability, and good governance to ensure responsive local governments. Radios also added more Vox pop, reports, interviews, and local news.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The initiative led to significant changes to people-centric programming, increases in the size of audiences, improved participation in programming, and improved internal management.
Shedding light on local radio audiences’ interests and priorities:
Audience data was the entry point for this initiative, which provided an evidence base for local radios to build on. The audience survey uncovered broader audience perspectives and demonstrated what people really want to hear on their local radio. This information became an eye-opener to local radios to move forward for further community engagement. The data, made publicly available, was also useful to other media houses who have used it to redesign their own programmes.
Collective analysis for more responsive and sustainable local radio:
As a pilot, this was the first time that radio operators had performed a SWOT analysis. It allowed them to look at their work critically and to analyze the situation together with board members and staff to understand and diagnose a way forward. As a participatory process (as opposed to a donor requirement) it helped participants know their context and how to navigate it to the benefit of communities and radios. Common realizations from all piloted radios included:
- There was not enough programming for citizen participation;
- Marked very few programmes in which people have more need and interest and really want to listen;
- Identification and realization of the deeper gap and crisis in internal management in staff, programmes, and networking; and
- Understanding of very weak promotional activities about radio programme and poor branding.
Facing these realizations enabled radios to develop and implement plans of action to overcome identified problems, gaps, and crises. Workshops also prompted actions by some managers, department heads, and other staff that were undertaken with community support. These were aimed at developing strategies and plans and setting goals for future direction.
Mobilizing assets for greater citizen engagement in local media:
ABCD was applied for the first time in the Nepalese radio sector to understand local assets and opportunities and possible allies and collaborators around local radios. ABCD not only showed the citizens' contribution to local radio, but also furthered ideas for collaboration with local agencies and associations. Radios identified long lists of possible community contributors on content for programming. This has increased both citizen engagement and other collaborations with local agencies in content, information, and resource production.
Increase in community-centered programming:
Local radios have been broadcasting more public interest programming, with many making it available to their audiences anytime using website and other mobile-based applications. Alongside more local reports, content includes Vox pop music and issue-based interviews and programmes. Some radios have been incorporating social media channels such as Facebook, Viber, and Twitter to increase people's participation and as feedback mechanisms for listeners. This has significantly increased public interactivity and engagement in local radio content.
Growing audiences and sustainability:
At a follow-up review workshop done in February 2018, two years after the successful pilot, radio managers claimed that the initiative has helped to increase both the size and participation of audiences. Sharecast has also identified good connections between the audience size and members’ levels of engagement, revealed in the audience survey and review workshop. Radios increased their audience size by 20% on average, between 2015 and 2017 (Sharecast, 2017). The initiative has also contributed to strengthening radios’ internal management and thereby improving sustainability.
Increased transparency and access to information:
Through this initiative, local radios also began archiving local news stories and programmes, making it available on websites and podcast platform such as Shubhayatra and Hamro patro mobile applications. To make information even more accessible, Sharecast recently launched its own Nepali Podcast app, in order to empower audiences to create demand based on the quality and diversity of content. These measures all contribute to increasing transparency and to enabling people to access the information they require as active citizens. In this respect, radios have also been covering news from local governments and organizing small public hearings in the community to ensure local government is accountable.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
A number of lessons can be identified from this experience.
Democratizing the flow of information:
The most powerful component on this initiative was information. Data generated about local radio audiences’ preferences, priorities, and perceptions set off a process of transformation in local radios seeking to be responsive. In doing so, the facilitated process enabled information about the radio to surface for collective analysis and action planning. This is an illustration of how transparency can often influence other elements of good governance, such as responsiveness, participation, and accountability.
Making local radio a platform for citizen voice:
A key learning for radio operators was that without people-centric content and sound management, local radio could not survive. For this, local participation was discovered as a pre-requisite, harkening back to the early days of Nepalese radio when this was the case. This current focus reinforces the need for a strong link between local radio and a local community.
Local radio as a local democratic space:
The role of local radio as a forum for local democratic engagement was reinforced during the
programme review meeting in 2018, where people still expressed unease at complaining directly to elected representatives, public officials, or service providers, yet felt very comfortable to talk through their local radio and express their opinions.
Using multiple approaches to enhance local radio responsiveness:
Through a series of ongoing activities engaging both audiences and local radios, Sharecast built the confidence and capacity of local radios to respond to and engage their audiences. While the actions undertaken as part of this initiative were being piloted in this sector, the sequencing of methods was effective in enhancing local radio responsiveness.
Importance of internal sustainability:
A key learning for many local radios was that the performance and sustainability of their internal management and systems were completely linked to their ability and willingness to adapt to the needs of their audiences. A key way forward, then, is to continually assess the relationship with the audience and the quality of their engagement.
Some of the challenges experienced through this initiative included:
- Turnover due to high external migration;
- Requirement for continuous and close follow-up and monitoring;
- Expectation of monetary or technical support, both of which were not available;
- Insufficient skilled human resources for some radios to execute their plan of action on time; and
- Generating funds for project activities.
To overcome these, Sharecast partnered with various media agencies and generated the survey costs locally. To help the local radios, Sharecast waived the survey cost for the 2018 survey. In return, radios agreed to contribute towards logistical, travel, and training expenses, further attesting to the level of buy-in and commitment on their part.
Association of Community Radio Broadcasters. (2012). Social accountability status of community radios in Nepal. Retrieved from https://www.acorab.org.np/docs/publicationManagement... [DEAD LINK]
Bhandari, K., Bhattarai, D., & Deane, J. (2016). Accountability, nation and society: The role of media in remaking Nepal(Policy briefing No. 17). Retrieved from http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediaaction/policybriefing/role-of-media-in-r...
Central Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Census-2011 Summary. Retrieved from http://cbs.gov.np/image/data/Population/Summary%20(Nepali)/Summary-Nepali.pdf
Internews-Nepal. (2013). Nepal Opinion Survey I (2013). Main findings Report, 8.
Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. (2017). Issued licenses. Retrieved from https://www.moic.gov.np/en/page/issued-licenses.html [DEAD LINK]
Onta, P. (2009). Independent radio and public engagement in Nepal, 1997-2007. Studies in Nepali History and Society, 14(2), 335–366.
Sharecast Initiative Nepal. (2016). Nepal media and democracy survey-I Final Report. Lalitpur, Nepal: Author.
Sharecast Initiative Nepal. (2017). Nepal, media and democracy survey-II Final Report. Lalitpur, Nepal: Author. www.sharecast.org.np
 The Nepalese government has similar provisions and regulations for commercial and community-based radios in terms of licensing, taxation, and regulation. For this reason, Sharecast targets both community and commercial radios (as a local radio) in its work, focusing on improving content and engagement in programming, regardless of radio ownership.
 Mr. Arjun Giri is the senior vice-president of Association of Community Radio Broadcaster (ACORAB). ACORAB is a national umbrella association of community radios in Nepal.
 Mr. Chandra Neupane is the Secretary General of the Broadcasting Association of Nepal (BAN). BAN is a national umbrella association of commercial radios in Nepal.
*This case was produced and submitted by a graduate of the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University with support from J. Landry, C. Irving, & R. Garbary.