Monitoring and measuring social change

Rob Burnet
Sharath Srinivasan

26 Apr 2017, 4 p.m.
Main Plenary (Sala Verde)

Bringing about positive social change through greater citizen voice is highly context dependent. For young people, the discussion and decisions that matter can be very different than for the citizenry at large. Their civic agency is shaped within elusive and fast-changing social worlds.

Savvy youth civic technology requires fostering affective digital spaces for voice and then listening intelligently to shape norms in empowering ways. Well Told Story operates a large scale social change focused multi-media platform for young people in Kenya known as Shujaaz that generates (among other things) a rich resource of text and online correspondence among 800,000+ online users, anchored on the premise that it is through collective discussion that new collective beliefs and norms are formed.

Africa’s Voices Foundation (AVF) has combined data science and social science techniques to develop a set of analytical tools to interpret and track meta-level trends, in real time, within anonymised SMS and social media data in local African languages.

Since 2014, AVF and Well Told Story (WTS) have worked together to develop a set of social change metrics within the digital space that can sidestep the many fallibilities of traditional monitoring and measurement.

Typically, tools to monitor social progress are limited to clumsy and costly pre- and post- surveys that track behaviours crudely and can miss the more elusive processes of norm change that underpin them. When applied over three years to Shujaaz audience correspondence data, AVF’s tools have provided a unique monitoring and measurement into the shifting collective discourse of Kenyan youth.

Tracking shifts in conversational themes, sentiments and, ultimately, norms on contraception helped to explain the why and how of social change, and then to target media content and design ongoing campaigns. AVF and WTS present innovations and results from their work since 2014, showcasing learning and insights from listening intelligently.