Measuring the impact of debate programmes in Nepal

Research Manager

"When I see people talk in the show, I feel motivated and it gives me confidence that I can also speak in front of the public".

Quotes like this are the reason why I find working as a researcher at BBC Media Action so worthwhile. It came from a woman from a rural area in Western Nepal talking about BBC Media Action’s discussion programme Sajha Sawal (Common Questions).

Sajha Sawal has been broadcast in Nepal since 2007 and provides a forum - both on TV and radio - where people from all parts of the country can interact face-to-face with political leaders and government officials. They can ask them questions and, ultimately, hold them to account.

The opening quote above illustrates one of the findings from the study that I've been working on with colleagues in Nepal: that Sajha Sawal inspires people to speak up. It suggests that the discussion programme is not only creating a forum for dialogue and for people to question their leaders, but is also empowering audiences. The fact that the comment comes from a woman makes it even more significant, since patriarchal norms and power relations in parts of the country often mean that some women find it hard to speak in public forums and question those in power.

What inspires me about the programme is the diversity and background of the audience who face the panel members. Do not expect a well-educated elite from the capital who usually get the chance to speak up. Rather, expect women and men from all parts of Nepal, including minority and indigenous groups and members from the lowest castes. For example, in the episode ‘Differently Able People’ people with disabilities had the opportunity to discuss not only issues related to attitudes and discrimination, but also the lack of infrastructure and government response.

So I could not have been more excited when I was asked to go to Kathmandu and meet the team. I looked forward to listening to insights from colleagues who had been making the programme for nearly five years.

As a researcher based in the London office, I had spent weeks in long-distance conversation with my fellow researchers in Nepal, thinking about how best to measure the impact of the programme, and designing the research methods and questions.

We conducted a total of 12 focus groups across the country, which helped us understand the contextual nuances and the depth of the issues, perceptions and attitudes related to governance.

The findings from the focus groups helped us to design an effective questionnaire for a nationally-representative survey of 4000 people to gather comprehensive data. The survey allowed us to measure the impact of Sajha Sawal by comparing the answers of those who had been regularly exposed to the programme and those who had never watched or listened to it. After what always seems a long wait, we finally got the data back, which we would present during the workshop in Kathmandu.

What followed in Kathmandu was an intense week with research and production colleagues. We reflected on the achievements so far, as well as the lessons learnt, and we started devising the objectives and the strategy for the next five years.

Measuring the impact of a programme on the governance of a country comes with its challenges. But we are guided by our audiences. Conducting rigorous and systematic research allows us to understand and listen to the audiences, identifying needs, barriers and drivers for individual and societal change.

Here is another quote from the study, which also comes from a woman from a rural area in Western Nepal, one of the poorest regions in the country: "I am not aware of any other programme that gives such importance to the audience".

We always say that our audiences are at the heart of what we do, and research ensures that we do this from the beginning to the very end.

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