Listening to people’s voices in Tanzania

BY Alvaro Rodriguez | September 8, 2015|Comments 0

Mobile and online surveys are inspiring a new focus on communications and advocacy for the United Nations in Tanzania, where listening to people’s voices is a priority in our efforts to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.
Some 1,200 Tanzanian men and women replied to our survey asking, “What can we do better as the UN?” They received the mobile survey by SMS (text message) while attending the Sabasaba, an international trade fair and major promotional event organized by the government. We not only analyzed the results for use in our programming, but amplified the people’s voices through a UN exhibit at the fair. Recently, we received an award from the President of Tanzania for the UN’s outreach to the people.

Showcasing the survey results at the Sabasaba fair

Participating in the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair, known as ‘Sabasaba’, is a key activity related to the UN@70. In early July 2015, the event brought over 2,000 exhibitors from various countries in Africa and elsewhere representing government, entrepreneurs, the private sector and NGOs. Under Delivering as One, 23 agencies of One UN Tanzania participated. This was the fourth time we participated, but this time with a unique focus on peoples’ voices, including those gathered in the survey and from other sources.

Gathering perceptions about the UN

The UN in Tanzania has implemented a mobile survey platform aimed at hearing the people’s voices. The United Nations Country Team worked with the company GeoPoll, which administers surveys through SMS, voice or mobile web, to create a short list of key questions. Five questions were prepared that focused on the activities of the United Nations in Tanzania and what people think we could do better as the UN. Respondents could also propose means of receiving and sending information to and from the UN.

The mobile survey was sent as a questionnaire in the Kiswahili language. It targeted the general public visiting the Sabasaba exhibition over a one-week period. Respondents came from across the mainland and Zanzibar, with each region, sex and age bracket represented.

Interestingly, the findings were that people are keen to receive UN messages and information largely through SMS, WhatsApp, Email and Radio, in that order of preference. At the moment, we have been focusing on newsletters, social media, our website and print media as the means of communications with the people. The top three areas where people think we could do more as One UN are Education, Employment and Agriculture.

The mobile survey was part of a series of Stakeholder Perception Surveys that reached diverse audiences in 2015. We also administered four other online surveys. They targeted government, civil society, development partners, the media as well as our own UN staff and personnel.

What did the survey results tell us?

Arguably, the most interesting data emerging from the mobile survey and other surveys was related to communications and outreach. In other words, if the UN wishes to maintain the interest of its stakeholders, it must work harder to expand audience reach and demonstrate relevance. This could include:

  • Greatly augment ‘traditional’ forms of communication, i.e. email, events, meetings, website and newsletter;
  • Much greater use of SMS (text messaging) and social media;
  • More materials in Kiswahili language of;
  • More ‘technical’ information on key development issues provided through popular versions with simplified language.

The findings confirm the need for the UN to integrate the people’s voices into our plans since they help us improve our effectiveness and efficiency, especially on communications. We are also using the findings to help shape our next UNDAF.

In addition to priorities in communications and outreach, other important insights emerged from the different surveys we have been administering:

  • Demand on the UN in Tanzania is set to increase, and its relevance is widely acknowledged;
  • The ‘added value’ the UN brings to the country is viewed in terms of ideas, not just financial resources;
  • Poverty reduction remains a priority, and the UN has a key role in the three ‘poverty reduction’ clusters as defined by government: inclusive growth, social well-being and governance;
  • Greater sensitization on the importance of mainstreaming human rights and gender equality is required.
  • Development partners in the donor community recognize the importance of Delivering as One. However, the pace of change is not as fast as partners would like to see.
  • UN staff require regular information-sharing, through a variety of channels, to ensure the spirit of Delivering as One in Tanzania is maintained.

In Tanzania we are capitalizing on UN@70 to listen to the voices of the people! These lessons will be integrated in the content and modality of our programming, including our communication and advocacy strategy.

An award for listening to UN stakeholders’ voices

We have already started to overhaul our joint UN communications strategy, where mobile applications will now be a priority. And yes! We won an award – first prize on Information and Publishing. The award was given to UN Tanzania by the President of Tanzania, and received on behalf of the UN system by the Resident Coordinator. This shows that we are recognized as a development partner committed to reaching the people as well as to listening to them. It is all about ‘the voices, their voices, and our support’.


Alvaro Rodriguez Alvaro is the UN Resident Coordinator for Tanzania. You can follow him on Twitter.

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