05 Feb Community Engagement — How Grassroots Radio is cultivating participation
Grassroots Radio keeps on unfolding its activities of community engagement in the project pilot sites: Ireland, Portugal, and Romania. To highlight the crucial role of these activities the latest issue of the project factsheet is dedicated to community engagement, providing a definition and its application in the project.
In Grassroots Radio, community engagement is mainly a process that aims to understand the needs of people located in a specific area, and to include them in the design of technologies. It aims to ensure members have power in decision-making and in the activities that concern them. To do this effectively, the project adopts a participatory design approach to setting-up and adapting the radio technology. Particular attention is made to also engage the diversity of people in the community, and to offer tools whereby to address any future issues and to enable participation of diverse groups.
The activities currently underway include events to launch radio stations in each country, training events for radio, community interests and participatory design events. Such a participatory approach to community engagement means, in the first place, to recognize the expertise of community members as active voices in a shared process of creative inquiry and innovation, while honoring local identity (e.g. cultural and linguistic expression), and sustaining existing community connections.
Two main roles of radio are emerging out of community engagement in the project: radio as forum and radio as archive.
The design of community radios in the project pilot sites is pinpointing the use of the radio as a forum to deliberate on future development, to discuss what is needed and what people want, and to influence policies constitutes an effective tool to foster community engagement. In Ireland, the communities suggest that the radio could be a platform to discuss funding received by development groups and how they use it, and as a space of deliberation to discuss issues — e.g. sustainability of fishing reserves surrounding the preservation of the islands’ beauty versus the economic need for fish farms. In Romania, the two community radios built through the project are used as a show-case that is meant to pave the way for the development of similar community channels of communication, fostering the pluralism of sources of information and increasing freedom of speech in rural areas.
Community radios are also used as an archive to preserve the oral histories of all the communities — especially recording the older generations and as a way to store and bear witness to older ways of life. In Romania, for example, the two radio stations generated a large collection of oral histories, through the interviews with the elders in the community. They talk about community issues, their life stories, local stories, local traditions, crafts, and fishing. In Ireland, a programme called postcards of the past documents people’s memories of growing up on Bere island.