How a radio project dramatically improved the lives of communities in conflict…
By Dr Ross James, Founder, Health Communication Resources
An evaluation  of HCR’s community-centred radio model in an area of violent conflict, has shown that it led to significant improvements in the community.
The communities of Magindanaon province in Mindanao, Philippines, have experienced sustained conflict, disadvantage and disempowerment. Radio Gandingan (RG) has quietly transformed minority Maguindanaon communities, severely affected by decades of armed struggle for political autonomy involving multiple state, civil, political, religious and armed actors. RG began broadcasting in 2000 as a weekly one-hour radio program with airtime purchased from a local commercial radio station but expanded in 2004 to two and a half hours of purchased airtime, spread over five evenings each week. Following the storming of Marawi City in north Mindanao by ISIS-aligned fighters who attacked key government buildings, churches and schools, RG volunteers provided evacuees with field reports, updates and information provided by government and non-government (NGO) service providers. Local communities claimed RG was more trustworthy than other sources of information, because of RG’s demonstrated compassion and credibility through community-centered activities.
We wanted to understand the processes that led to RG being regarded in this way. We analysed reliable research data collected in the period 2005 to 2009 using realist evaluation, or RE . This method analyses how people within a context respond to mechanisms, such as components or resources, that bring about change. In other words understanding the context is very important, as are the mechanisms that can influence change.
The context of the six communities associated with RG was very complex. Communities were isolated from health and development service providers and suffered from ill health due to poor hygiene. There was high unemployment, a poor environment and tension between neighbours and within families. Ordinary people were further excluded from decision-making, with little access to information resulting in low self-confidence and disempowerment.
What We Found
When we looked at the data we found stories and explanations of how RG’s role had promoted dialogue, and improved livelihood and community participation. Specifically, dialogue had resolved community conflict and strengthened family bonds and relationships, and improved communication and understanding between community leaders and community members; livelihood had improved with behaviours and practices that led to better protection of the environment, livelihood, health, community cohesion and unity; and community participation was better through involvement in the RG radio program, and increased participation and communication in community meetings.
RG trained 18 Community Radio Volunteers (CRVs), residents in the six communities, to participate in community-centered radio programming. RG programs modelled dialogue that extended into community discourse, social learning and decision-making processes of married couples. Dramas prompted family communication about values such as honesty and tolerance. One man said ‘I’ve learned from the drama that wives have a great role in the family so I should appreciate their hard work’. RG programs resolved a conflict between duck owners and rice farmers (ducks ate the farmers’ rice), and inspired leaders to reconcile two families quarrelling over land.
People said RG made them aware of harmful practices to environmental resources, such as cutting down trees, and using dynamite or poison for fishing. A project to install community toilets was organised in one community after they had used an RG program to identify cleanliness as a problem. One lady reported that her children began washing in the evening: “I didn’t ask them, it’s RG who taught them of this health practice”. Another person spoke of better community relationships because of RG: “Our corn used to be stolen before we were able to harvest it. But now we do not fear because no one steals them anymore. The youths who used to give us problems stopped doing bad things”.
Community members participated in radio programs on health, livelihood or community issues. Community leaders were given opportunities to discuss issues on air with community members and for the first time women, people living with disability and those with little education were included.
Why is this A BIG DEAL?
Radio programming is a widely recognised communication strategy for health and social development internationally. Community radio provides advocacy, education and information in a diverse range of initiatives for public health and disease, democracy and politics, peacebuilding, empowerment of women, human rights and so on.
However, and this is a big however, such approaches rely on the skills of professional media workers and service providers, as well as wide-scale, well-funded systematic community development interventions. Participatory communication along the lines of RG does not easily fit the mindset of big funders who shy away from politics or power-dynamics in communities. And so they limit communication to the dissemination of messages and evaluate message-related factors such as audience reach, message comprehension and recall.
This study is evidence that a local level community-centred radio and their volunteers is powerful way facilitating dialogue, livelihood and participatory communication outcomes in contexts characterised by sustained conflict, disadvantage and disempowerment.
If you would like to learn more about this project, about Realistic Evaluation (RE) practice or take part in a webinar on RE, then please contact us via our contact page.
 Original Article: R James, E Romo-Murphy, M Oczon-Quirante. A Realist Evaluation of a Community-Centered Radio Initiative for Health and Development in Mindanao, Philippines. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health DOI: 10.1177/1010539519870661
 There is not enough space to fully explain RE in this blog. A good starting point is the classic text: Pawson R, Tilley N. Realistic Evaluation. London: SAGE Publications; 1997.