TRAC FM is nominated for an Data Journalism Award. The application provides radio stations in Africa with software and support to involve their listeners in reporting on failing government services through SMS. ‘Working in Uganda adds many challenges to the production process’, an interview with Wouter Dijkstra.
Through TRAC FM’s online interface, radio presenters get a clear and instantly visualized overview of SMS-poll results which they present to listeners during radio debates. Stations invite local leaders to comment on collected data and together with its partners, TRAC FM makes sure data reaches responsible authorities. TRAC FM helps people to be part of the running of their society and provide them with a platform to participate and discuss policy issues in an accessible and objective way. If the elevator has to go to the 34th story, I would add: TRAC FM uses collected data in further research and analysis and after turning poll results into attractive and clear infographics publishes them in magazines and newspapers.
What inspired you to make TRAC FM?
TRAC FM is based on ethnographic research for the University of Amsterdam on the use of ICTs for accountability (ICT4Accountability) conducted in Uganda. ICT4Accountability is defined as a distinct form of civic media which uses ICTs to systematically collect, process and deliver accurate, comprehensible and direct data with the purpose to assist citizens in making objective assessments of the performance of who-ever is taking action on their behalf. This research forms the foundation of the TRAC FM concept.
Did you work by yourself or in a team?
TRAC FM is inspired by interesting conversations, advice, help, effort and productions from a wide array of people and organizations. It was compiled by myself and turned into the application it is now. Graphic designers, software developers, development experts, students, professors, radio makers, debaters, entrepreneurs, politicians, housewives, journalists and many more were involved in the process.
How did you get a hold on the data you needed?
There is hardly any data coming from regions served by TRAC FM. Because communication channels are missing, people cannot get involved in voicing their concerns or taking part in a local debate. TRAC FM is made to open up these communication channels and is now structurally collecting and disseminating very exclusive data from the remotest places in East-Africa.
Which tools were used making this production?
TRAC FM software is built on various software platforms by Nyaruka software based in Rwanda. Graphic design is done by studio HB.
How did it take to make TRAC FM?
Once the initial research was finished in 2009, it took about a year for writing the proposal and securing funds for the TRAC FM pilot project which started in december 2010. By May 2011 the basic software was finished and TRAC FM launched in Kampala.
Were there any bumps in the road?
Working in Uganda adds many challenges to a production process. Especially when making a technologically advanced application where many local parties have to take up the app in their working processes. TRAC FM seems to be quite easy to implement but keep in mind that many processes take place behind the scenes.
Do you have a useful tip for starting data journalists?
In making an application, you have heard it before.. Keep it simple! Every functionality you add will slow you down. Also, start by doing some real research. The internet can be a good resource but making something that will actually serve less web-savvy people requires you to go out there. Don’t get blinded by the latest technologies!