The Citizens' Voice programme
Citizens’ Voice works in countries where young people form the vast majority of the population and where freedom of expression, assembly and association are restricted. In countries where young people lack access to reliable, trusted information and diverse points of view, space for civil society is restricted or shrinking and participation in public debate is limited.
Citizens’ Voice creates and maintains digital media platforms offering alternative civic spaces where young people from across socio-cultural divides can come together in a way that is often impossible in the offline space. However, where and whenever possible, our teams do organise offline events such as debates and workshops to be able to connect with young people directly and for them to have the opportunity to engage with diverse actors. Our Citizens’ Voice programme supports SDGs 8, 10 and 16 on decent work and economic growth, reduced inequality, and peace and justice respectively. In 2019 the Citizens’ Voice platforms had a total reach of more than 380 million, a social media community of around 3 million and a total content impression of almost 700 million.
Citizens’ Voice laid strong foundations in 2019 for future growth and even greater impact with behind-the-scenes research and work on consolidating and refining strategies for content, engagement and advocacy. The sustainability model for the Citizens’ Voice projects to support platforms becoming self-sufficient, independent partners of RNW Media is currently in development.
Inclusion is central
Inclusion is central to all Citizens’ Voice activities, and 2019 saw the adoption of an approach built on five pillars: inclusive teams; communities, partnerships; content; and technology. An important tool for inclusion is the moderation of online discussions to build vibrant, respectful and safe digital communities and all the Citizens’ Voice platforms now use a tailored moderation strategy.
As the content of Citizens’ Voice publications aims to raise awareness and create meaningful engagement and discussions around certain issues, it touches on social norms and sometimes even pushes boundaries. Most of the time these discussions start when content is shared on social media platforms where community members can contribute with different opinions and points of views. However, especially when content is controversial, there is usually one group dominating the discussion. They impose their point of view on other community members and sometimes undermine the opinion of minorities or marginalised groups. A discussion can even shift from dialogue to polarisation with an ‘us versus them’ approach. And when polarisation rises, divisions becomes wider.
Effective on- and offline
The country teams translated strategy into action with highly effective campaigns, offline events bringing together young people and policy makers and surveys highlighting the needs and concerns of young people and contributing to influencing policy.
Working together in SPEAK!
For a third year running, RNW Media took part in the global SPEAK! Campaign organised by CIVICUS. The campaign provides a platform for people across the world to ‘speak out’ on the issues that matter most to them and, as such, resonates with Citizens’ Voice. RNW Media supported the campaign with a range of activities in DRC, Burundi, Mali, Yemen and Libya. Each country team developed activities around themes relevant for their local context. These ranged from debates on how to combat ‘tribalism’ and radicalisation in DRC to a sporting and cultural event in Mali around the theme ‘peace and cohesion between communities’ and an event facilitating dialogue between young people and the older generation in Burundi. In total the in-country teams organised 8 offline events and the digital campaigns generated more than 56.000 engagements. An offline event linked to the SPEAK! campaign was also organised by RNW Media in the Netherlands, in cooperation with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. CIVICUS reports that overall, there were 179 SPEAK! 2019 events across 55 countries and a social media reach of over 2.1 million.
Our moderators work 24/7 to moderate discussions, ensuring they stay on track and people feel safe to express their point of view. However, with more and more people engaging on our platforms, it becomes harder for our teams to follow and moderate each comment or point of view. Therefore, the Citizens’ Voice programme uses a SMART targeting approach to build inclusive communities and make sure that every voice is being heard. In short, this means we achieve high-quality engagement and discussions by introducing the right subject to the right target group at the right time using the right tone of voice on the right platform. We focus on where our audiences are, what they are interested in and when certain issues are pressing.
Citizens’ Voice carried out a comprehensive strategic review in 2019. As a result, the programme will work to broaden its target audience to include younger beneficiaries. It will also expand its focus to include digital rights, access and literacy.