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Trac FM: Increasing effectiveness and government response to CSO campaigns in Uganda

News | November 16, 2017

In Uganda, Trac FM has established the methodology of using SMS polling which feeds into radio programmes to address community issues in an open forum discussion. Trac FM has managed to reach over 350,000 citizens as poll participants in Uganda over the last four years.

With support from Making All Voices Count, the Trac FM project Common Matters has expanded, assisting civil society organisations (CSOs) in amplifying citizen’s voices to exert pressure on government officials through advocacy campaigns. Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) believes that Trac FM technology played a key part in the success of its campaign on the Marriage Bill.


Holding public officials to account for service delivery has long been a challenge for many countries in Africa and Uganda is no exception. In a context where the government is not obliged to respond to public issues raised through the media, citizen’s concerns can be easily side-lined.

CSOs can play an important role in bridging the gap between citizen concerns and government response, however they often do not have the required evidence and the resources/capability to amalgamate large numbers of citizens’ voices to place sufficient pressure on the government.

Public data, including polling data, are not always easy to obtain in countries such as Uganda but are essential for national governments to plan effective development activities.

Developing the Common  Matters project

With Making All Voices Count funding from August 2016 through to August 2017, this project expanded the work of Trac FM from polling and live radio shows to developing Advocacy Campaign Plans (ACPs) with five CSOs to hold public officials to account. Previously, the role of CSOs was not well defined in Trac FM projects - the Advocacy Campaign Plans were introduced as a way of explicitly linking poll results to CSO advocacy activity.

With Trac FM support, the CSOs each developed three clear poll questions around an agenda point that was key to that CSO, as well as a clear objective on how to use the collected data to achieve a specific outcome (e.g. pledge or follow-up by duty bearer). The ACP identified key stakeholders/duty bearers from whom response or action is expected as part of, or as a result of, the advocacy work. The questions were then discussed on one or more radio stations relevant to the areas in which the CSOs work (Trac FM collaborated with nine radio stations).

Campaigns covered by the CSOs included: increasing support for the enactment of the Marriage Bill; malaria rapid diagnostic testing; agroforestry’s value in tackling deforestation and degradation; role of public-private partnerships in the Universal Secondary Education; and youth perceptions on access to youth-friendly sexual health services.

What changed? Using data to deconstruct myths and pursue change

With evidence from the ground, increased citizen’s voices and use of the Trac FM methodology, the result has been increased success of campaigns and government responsiveness with all the CSO campaigns. However the clearest change can be seen with Uganda’s Women’s Network (UWONET) campaign to increase support for the enactment of the Marriage Bill.

According to UWONET, the Marriage and Divorce Act was outdated and disadvantaged women. Despite several attempts to pass the Bill since 2009, there has been little political will to discuss it. The poll questions aimed to give more insight into the perceptions and opinions of Ugandan radio listeners and addressed controversies surrounding the Bill, issues concerning matrimonial rights, property and practice of bride price. It was also a cost-effective way of getting the opinions of 13,000 Ugandans and gave them a country-wide representation of what people thought about the Bill, which was generally positive.

The Trac FM partnership was important for UWONET in providing evidence from the community, contrasting with the findings of members of Parliament who had consulted their constituencies in open rallies reporting that people were against the Bill on the basis of questions like ‘who wants to get divorced?’ The data gather with Trac FM helped UWONET deconstruct the myth that the Bill is a women’s issue by showing that, for example, men often feel burdened by bride-prices. The poll data was shared with the Ministry of Justice, the inter-religious council secretariat, donors and with the public via social media.

Divorce Campaign

Programme coordinator Laureen Karayi Nabimanya agreed that not having the evidence from the ground had previously been a weakness in the UWONET advocacy campaigns, and that the collaboration with Trac FM helped them to look at the issue again.

We had always looked at bride price from a woman’s perspective but the data showed how the bride price formed a burden on men as well. It’s an eye-opener for us even beyond the advocacy for the Bill. - Laureen Karayi Nabimanya, UWONET Programme Coordinator

Since there was data from nine different regions in Uganda, the poll also demonstrated that these opinions were not just from the capital city, Kampala, but from across the country.

Having talkshows in their local languages at their own popular radio stations showed the bill to be not just for those who can read the Bill. - Laureen Karayi Nabimanya, UWONET Programme Coordinator

Findings have also allowed them to adapt some of their lobbying strategies and the word divorce was scrapped from the name of the Bill as a way of making it less contentious. It is now called the Marriage Bill.

Following on from this a meeting convened by the Uganda Law Reform Commission has led to the formation of a high level working group, consisting of government actors and CSO members that can lobby the Office of the President and Cabinet through sharing the latest findings and research to provide evidence for the enactment of the Marriage Bill. Furthermore, at an international level, the Government of Uganda has committed to enact the Marriage Bill and tat he national level it remains on the order paper of Parliament. Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) is continuing its advocacy campaign to ensure the Bill is enacted.

TracFM’s methodology was fresh, different from what we had been doing. For the first time since the early 2000’s the poll information allowed them to get information and provide feedback to citizens, allowing them to go back to the people without going there. - Sandra Komuhiimbo, UWONET’s Research, Knowledge Management and Advocacy Coordinator

Future Actions

All CSO partners are planning to continue working with Trac FM suggesting that they clearly recognise the value of working in this collaborative way. UWONET believes that Trac FM played a key role in the success of their campaign on the Marriage Bill and is factoring Trac FM into their future proposals.

The invaluable information and voices from the community through the campaign continues to inform the coalitions’ advocacy strategy to see this gender-sensitive legislation enacted into law. The campaign was an innovative approach that had not been used in the advocacy journey of the Bill. The Bill is on the order paper of Parliament and will be discussed within the next one year. - Laureen Karayi, UWONET Programme Coordinator

The Trac FM Common Matters project received the support of ‎£99,964 and was implemented from August 2016 to August 2017.

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