There are many ways to bring about this deep-rooted community involvement. Which are the best, the most effective, depends on the local reality.
• In some cases a community radio is opened as a communication tool and channel for an already well-connected, busy community cultural centre to facilitate the continuation of ongoing action.
• In some instances a community radio is added to an existing knowledge-centre, be it a tele-centre, a library, a secondary school or a university; or
• A community radio station may simply be started from scratch.
However, in almost all cases, and in particular where external supporters want to promote community radio, community involvement and ownership will depend on inclusion and participation. These in turn depend on a thorough understanding of the community and its context.
For this reason, three generic steps are at the heart of community ownership of a radio station: (1) community mapping; (2) community mobilisation; and (3) community radio organisation.
When working to ensure that a community radio station operates as the empowerment and development platform for the whole community, and for the whole community to ‘own’ the station in terms of management, programming and emotional connection, it is crucial to know ‘all the communities within the community’ and their interrelations. Community mapping is a way of identifying all the ‘communities within the community’ followed up by an analysis of interrelation and significance. This will enable outsiders, as well as community members themselves to identify different interests that are alive and ‘operating’ in the big group of people, villages and farms within the area of reception of the station. While people who live in a given area will think that they know well all of the groups and sub-communities in their area, many are surprised when actually mapping the area, just how many different backgrounds and interests exist in the community.
Community ownership has taken root when the community feels that ’this is our station’ to which we provide producers and stories, where we assist in overcoming financial problems, and where we prevent theft by being alert and protective. A small radio station has the best chance of survival when this feeling of community ownership is strong. If the station is initiated by supportive local, national or international development parties, it is similarly important to find a way of inverting the project-inherent top-down process to become a community promoted development process. Community mobilisation is at the core of this inversion. On the basis of a thorough community analysis, a mobilisation strategy can be devised: who can be reached by which kind of mobilisation effort and mobiliser? How can the different communities be made interested to take part in discussions, to prioritise their time, to make their experience, insights and views available?
Community radio organisation
To achieve a sense of community ownership of the radio station, and above that the trust and confidence of all in the community, the radio station must work, research, speak, recommend and acts on behalf of all — this does not happen automatically. The radio station will need representation across all ages, both genders, all geographic parts of the community; all religious and philosophical orientations and all socio-economic trades and occupations, as is discussed below in the section ‘From mapping to mobilisation’. To maintain this diversity of participation perspective when the radio is on air and the daily production routine takes over the main focus and attention, these aspects need to be integrated into the organisation of the radio station and kept active and operational by appropriate management routines.
Things take time
Most people working with community radio know of sad cases, where community radio stations are created through a powerful surge of energy, mobilised in a short time but with a very limited life-span and a lot of disappointment as a result. There can be many reasons for this. Often such experiences occur where the initiating power is either a local, community ‘champion’, who leaves the initiative before having passed on ‘the torch’: the knowledge and inspiration, in advance. It can also be when a development facilitator — national or international — from outside the community wishes to assist the community with the establishment of a community radio, which then does not have the necessary longer-term support in the form of mobilisation and ownership, capacity building and funding.
Creating the sense of community ownership takes time. It is therefore recommended that the local ‘installation group’ plans for a one to two year mobilisation and capacitation phase before the delivery of the radio equipment, which will absorb all interest once it arrives. As a concrete example, the community mobilisation for eight community radios in Mozambique took two years in a project where a donor wanted to support community radio development to spur civil society action, good governance and post-conflict community development – with excellent results in terms of, among others, community ownership.