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The Potential of Podcasts, SMS, and Music for Development Communication Work

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Podcasts are digital audio files that are automatically downloaded from the Internet radio onto a computer, with the further option of transferring them to a portable audio player like the Apple iPod.

Podcasts are taking off as a way that anyone, anywhere, can get their voice heard on the Internet. Podcasting started in 2004, as a way to give a voice to the voiceless, or at least those who didn’t have access to large media organizations.

Appealing quality of podcasts (for audiences): People can control when to listen (Gareth Mitchell, BBC Digital Planet podcast presenter).

Setting up podcasting projects is cheaper and logistically easy. You can use open open source software, a microphone and some way of recording and saving the information (David Grimshaw, International New Technologies Programme head, Practical Action).

Accessibility in Rural Communities

In Peru, there are local telecentres with a telephone and a solar-powered computer providing two hours of satellite-derived Internet access a day. Information from podcasts were also recorded as digital audio files or onto CD or cassette tape and distributed to telecentres which do not have digital audio players. There’s also a tie-up with local radio to play the podcast materials.

In Sri Lanka, they use tuk tuk — a motorized three-wheeled vehicle — loaded with a laptop computer, wireless Internet, generator, printer, camera, telephone and scanner. It allows information transmission in two ways — using loudspeakers mounted on the vehicle’s roof and broadcasting over the radio via the telephone line.

Electricity as the Main Barrier

iPods and other digital audio players have raised the popularity of podcasts. However, electricity is the main barrier to audio players penetrating remote areas (Grimshaw).

“The key constraint is battery power at the moment. Battery devices need recharging, so you need electricity. And if a device is battery-powered they’re expensive to replace when they wear out,” said Grimshaw.

However, more research are now being carried out to use solar power for digital audio players.

With the unrelenting development of technologies, podcasting has a great potential for development work. Since it is the cheaper medium to reach audiences especially in local communities, the wider impact of it in the developing world will be realized soon.


Text messaging is considered as one of the cheapest means of communication as the number of mobile phone users continues to rise, worldwide. SMS allows for real time communications in an environment where most people keep their mobile phones on.

The cost of a cell phone and SMS plan compared to that of a computer and a broadband connection has made texting extremely popular in developing countries, and “unlimited messaging” plans have made it the communication medium of choice for teens everywhere (beating face-to-face conversation and e-mail in popularity) (Mashable.com, August 2010).

The Philippines was known to be the texting capital of the world. Citing collated data from Reuters, the New York Times, CTIA.org, UPI.com, Pew Research, Kvue.com, Matzav.com, and Portio Research, in 2009, the average Filipino mobile subscriber sent an average of 600 text messages per month. In 2012, there’s an estimated more than 100 million active mobile phone users in the country.

When compared to other modes of private or mass communication the most impressive characteristic of text-messaging is network connectivity. And because sending a text is cost-effective, the process of interacting continuously over hours or a day is inexpensive. The mobility of this process leaves communication free from dependency on electricity supply and the availability of fixed telecommunication cables. The texter’s need to change location does not break the chain of communication (David Celdran, The Philippines: SMS and Citizenship).

The mobile Government (m-Government)

In 2001, TXTGMA was launched as a channel for FIlipinos to bring their concerns to the highest official of the land. It is the pioneer in the use of SMS in the government.

Oversees Filipino workers and their relatives in the Philippines can seek assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs through TXTDFA. There’s also TXTCSC (2001) where the public could send complaints, suggestions or inquiries to enhance delivery of public services and as citizens’ weapon against inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy. DETxt was also created in 2003 to communicate with the Secretary of Education and to fight corruption in DepEd.

SMS is also being used to encourage Filipinos to help in the battle against crime. The government, through the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), has a centralized emergency and crime reporting service called Text 117. And today, most of the government agencies offer text messaging service to receive feedbacks and a channel in asking for assistance.

For the government, SMS provides an opportunity to communicate with the public in ways not possible before. But to realize its full potential, Emmanuel C. Lallana, Chief Executive of IdeaCorp, pointed out that government needs to take seriously a number of lessons that government can learn from existing m-Government projects:

  • A unified information campaign launched by government to advertise all its SMS-based services can go a long way in raising people’s awareness and use of existing m-Government services.
  • It would help if government would organize a portal for all its SMS-based services. There could be one number that all citizens can use if they want information or bring their concerns to the government.
  • There is also the need to enhance the electronic linkages among offices within an agency and among government agencies. The response times to queries and complaints would be significantly improved if these linkages are created.


Another medium to deliver messages and encourage the adaptation of reforms is through music. Since music has a great opportunity for wide dissemination, it’s now also being use in advocating social change.

In Tanzania, information about AIDS were disseminated through popular songs and recognizing musicians as potential opinion leaders and agents of social change.

In Brazil, a movement called Playing For Change, a multimedia movement was created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to building music and art schools for children around the world.

In US, jazz has been symbolically linked to the civil rights movement. Jazz musicians took up the cause, using their celebrity and their music to promote racial equality and social justice.

In the Philippines, there are singers and songwriters who express their advocacy through music like Joey Ayala and Gary Granada. There are also popular songs which aim to create awareness and change like Bamboo Mañalac’s Tatsulok, which calls for a reversal of the country’s existing social order, and Masdan Mo Ang Kapaligiran by Asin.

 Music and dance are also said to be powerful in communicating on climate change.

Donna Lagdameo of the Philippines Red Cross found that the use of song not only grabbed community members’ attention, but also had the advantage of making her messages infectious. “I cannot stress enough the importance of repetition in climate messaging,” she said – and demonstrated how she has used popular Filipino nursery rhymes – set to music – to communicate climate impacts and solutions.





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