Tanzania: NGO 2.0: Reflections on the year of blogging

Daraja is a Tanzanian NGO, which aims to make local institutions more responsive to the needs rural communities in Tanzania. The mission of Daraja is to empower communities and local institutions, and build their capacity to work effectively together to reduce poverty in Tanzania.

After blogging for one year, Ben Taylor, the Executive Director of Daraja, decided to reflect and share with the world the lessons they have learned. In his post titled, “Reflections on a year of blogging: What's it doing for Daraja?,” he begins:

It's now exactly 12 months since this blog was launched, followed a little later by a facebook page and twitter profile for Daraja. At the time, we did not have a very clear idea of what it was for, just a hunch that it was an idea with some potential and a belief that the best way to explore new territory is to get out there and wander around for a bit.

The Numbers:

Number of unique visitors per week to blog.daraja.org, 11/09-11/10

Let's start with some numbers. Since November 2009, a total of 1,153 people have visited the blog in 2,086 sessions, viewing pages 3,658 times. There has been pretty steady growth in visitor numbers over this time – see figure 1 (click to expand) – up to around 100 unique visitors per week recently. It gets a bit messier if you look at the number of visits on a daily basis – figure 2.

Number of visits per day to blog.daraja.org, 11/09-11/10

(Before I go any further, a couple of brief points relating to the numbers here. They are produced by Google Analytics, which keeps track of visitors to the blog. First, all these charts and headline numbers given in the text above are correct as of November 4th, 2010. Second, the numbers don't include readers who have subscribed to the blog either by email or through a feed reader such as Outlook, Google Reader or FeedDemon. We haven't worked out how to keep track of all of them just yet.)

The Readers:

. Where are blog.daraja.org readers based?

Who are our readers, where are they, and where do they find us? Well, we can't know exactly who they are, but can tell us what country they access the site from – see figure 3. Unsurprisingly Tanzania comes out well on top with 56%. Some may be surprised to see Malawi in fourth, but that's where my parents live! And we can also see what site referred them to the blog – see figure 4. The biggest number (20%) come direct (i.e. by typing the address directly into the browser's address bar, or from their saved favourites / bookmarks). The biggest referring sites (where someone clicked on a link to the blog on another site) are Facebook (networkedblogs), Twaweza and Google (the result of searches). We have no idea whatsoever what item no. 7 on that list represents!

Popular Posts:

And which posts are most popular, in terms of the number of views? The answer surprised us – see figure 5. Top of the list comes Njoluma Region, some initial reactions, with 172 views. We haven't been able to work out why – it was never (to our knowledge) publicised outside our regular group of readers, but it does seem to have struck an unexpected chord somewhere. (Please note that the number of views for a particular page only includes those who viewed the specific page for that post, and doesn't include those who read the post straight from the blog's homepage).

This is followed by three posts that did get extra publicity: A car crash in slow motion was widely circulated among donors and water sector civil society groups; media and civil society in Tanzania got picked up by the Community Media Network for Tanzania (COMNETA) email list and Swahili Street; Wanademokrasia was publicised by the Democracy Club in the UK. Other posts towards the top end got similar boosts from the Mjengwa blog, Swahili Street and Global Voices.

Has blogging helped Daraja to meet its objectives?:

There's no doubt that the blog has helped Daraja stay in the loop of donor, civil society, media and activist circles in Dar es Salaam. Through the blog we have a presence there, despite being based 10 hours away in Njombe. This acts as something of an replacement for coffee-break networking on the meeting circuit, but with the advantage of not having to sit through the meetings themselves.

Similarly, the blog has developed into Daraja's foremost internet presence and communications mechanism to those beyond Tanzania's borders. That includes existing supporters as well as, potential partners and donors, many of whom have commented to us that the blog helps them feel in touch with our work, to understand it on a practical level and to get a sense of the context Daraja's working in. For a young NGO based in a relatively remote part of Tanzania, this connection is very valuable.

The Negative Side:

On the negative side, however, we haven't yet found a way to use that presence to mobilise any kind of movement of activists. To be honest the ideas we have floated have produced a disappointing response. Even the number of comments on this blog and facebook page isn't what we would hope. But we haven't yet tried to push ideas strongly as yet, or even directly to promote debate. And we're gradually learning and working ourselves into a position where we can hopefully capitalise on the potential that's certainly out there.

However, all that has to be balanced against the question of time. Our social media presence costs us almost nothing in terms of direct financial expenditure – a few dollars a year to register the daraja.org domain name – but it does have a time cost. And while many blogposts and facebook links can be put together very quickly, a matter of minutes, a few posts have to be carefully constructed and take rather longer to write. This post has taken just over an hour so far, for example. At present, we feel that the time cost is more than justified by the networking and learning that's gained, but that it needs to be handled with care to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.

Comments from Daraja readers:

Anonymous advises Daraja to re-think their strategy:

OK. I got to the end of the post – and here's a thought / challenge for you all. If the best achievement of the blog over the last year has been to keep you in the forefront of donor's minds, then I think you should re-think how you get the blog into the forefront of everybody else's minds…

Ben Taylor responds:

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your thoughts. I would disagree that the blog's best achievement has been donor-related – it's about staying in touch with a much wider group of actors that does include our donors and other donor agencies but also including civil society, the media, and the many individuals who like the work we're doing and want to stay informed.

Having said that, broadening the blog's appeal would be valuable. Any thoughts on how we can do this?

AB says:

Just adding on..
Mobilising activists would probably need a much wider audience, potentially an audience that may not be reachable through a blog. How many Tanzanians access the internet and read blogs? And perhaps it is precisely that audience that you cannot target that has the drive and may feel the need to be more active.

Daraja's experience with blogging can provide important lessons to other organizations in the developing world intending to use social media in the work.

You can follow Daraja on Twitter, Facebook and also visit their website.

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