In a recent blog, I commented about the reliance on text-based communication in humanitarian settings. Leaflets, banners, notice-boards and signs often proliferate in emergencies. I’m not anti printed materials, and there is often real value in quality signage, but who aren’t we talking with when we default to print? We must move beyond talking primarily to literate, mobile individuals! Therefore, it’s important to understand the communication preferences and information needs of a community, and to identify if there are other channels which you can invest in. Through an information and communications assessment process you may find other channels that can be leveraged almost as easily as pressing CTRL+P!  

Traditionally, many communities enjoy listening to the radio for information and entertainment. Storytelling, poetry and other forms of verbal information sharing are important in many societies – this makes audio an important and often trusted channel. In this guidance, we talk through how to work with radio to communicate with communities. This includes working at ‘pre-transmission’ stage to develop audio-messages to be played on a loudspeaker, or mounted onto a motorbike. Read our blog on Boda Boda Talk Talk in Uganda, how refugees use SD cards in Malawi, and ‘Les Animateurs’ in Angola for further information and ‘audio in action’ examples.

Embracing audio: Getting started.

We don’t have the expertise, or the resources to create audio! I’ve heard this before, and understand that it can be intimidating to embrace a new channel, especially when time is short. To help overcome some of these fears, I wanted to share a couple of tips to demonstrate how easy it can be to get started using ‘low-fi’ solutions.

Six things you’ll need (minimum):

  1. A computer (laptop or desktop)
  2. A microphone (even the inbuilt mic on your computer)
  3. Audio recording software (don’t panic, more below)
  4. A quiet room for recording (the smaller the better to reduce echo)
  5. Your message(s)
  6. The person you are recording (hopefully they’ve practised)

It’s likely that you’re familiar with most of the items on the list above – although a quiet space might be hard to find! However, if you are new to audio, then the audio recording software will probably be most ‘alien’.

Audacity: audio recording:  

For recording and editing audio content, our ‘go-to’ open source tool is Audacity. Primarily because it’s free! We’ve worked with Audacity in a number of contexts – with staff, partners and refugees – and the interface and functions seem relatively quick to pick-up. Audacity has developed a comprehensive Wiki with FAQs and tutorials – but we know that there might not be time to synthesize all this information, especially in an emergency.  So we created a quick ‘getting started’ guide available in French and English – this guide includes screenshots and key steps to help initial navigation of the software. You can also download these as presentations if you’d like to run a quick ‘training’ with other team members. Please do amend or adapt (and correct my French), we’d like to hear your feedback on how these tools can be improved or if you have examples of when and how you’ve used them.

Using Audacity (a quick summary of the guide):

  1. You can download Audacity on to your computer here (this is the only moment you need an internet connection, and once downloaded you can share the installation package with others using a flash drive).
  2. Once installed, open audacity and check that the software can hear your microphone – you need to click ‘start monitoring’ and make sure you have the correct input selected (depending on if you are using an internal or external microphone). The guidance shows how to troubleshoot if you’re having problems.
  3. You’ll probably be relatively familiar with the other navigation buttons (record, fast forward, rewind, pause) as Audacity uses the same ‘media control’ symbols as many other appliances. The big red circle is the ‘record’ button – hit this, start speaking, and you’ll be recording your voice (and hopefully minimal background noises).
  4. As you record you’ll create an audio track with a visible sound wave (or waveform), the larger the wave the louder the sound. The guidance shows you how to select parts of the audio track to delete or rearrange – this is very similar in concept to Cut, Copy and Paste in Microsoft Word (in fact as you get more comfortable with the software, you’ll notice the keyboard shortcuts are the same).
  5. Audacity also allows you to manipulate the audio track by fading in/out and it has a menu of ‘effects’ that you can apply (for example amplify, noise reduction and echo). Experiment with these as some might be more useful than others!
  6. You can also import other audio files (for example music as an MP3) using the ‘import’ menu option – you’ll see imported files as an additional audio track. If tracks overlay (if they appear on your screen at the same point along the timeline) they will play simultaneously. While managing multiple tracks may seem tricky to begin with, you should soon get used to moving the tracks around and controlling which one plays, and when.
  7. Finally, remember to save as you go along! I’ve learnt the hard way. Again, this is relatively similar to Microsoft Word and you can choose where to save the file on your computer. Audacity saves files as .aup file types, so to create an MP3 that can be played on another device you’ll need to use the ‘export’ function.

Don’t be overwhelmed. As it’s free, download now and have a play. You’ll quickly find your way around and be more comfortable with the different options. Refer back to the full online guide if you have any problems.

Creating Audio Messages: Five Tips.

Now you’re more familiar with the equipment and the software, you can start to create your messages. We pulled together some quick-tips to get started, these are definitely not exhaustive, but hopefully, provide some key pointers to help with your recording.  

  1. Content created by the communities themselves will be most appropriate and engaging – in many contexts, you will find that there are already groups within the community who are developing their own ‘content’. In Angola for example, we found a group of refugees who had recorded their own awareness-raising on peaceful coexistence.
  2. Don’t be afraid of having fun – audio information can include musical and comedy interludes (listen to what the local radio stations are using, and ask people what catches their attention). Nobody wants to listen to a monotone voice and the same ‘message’ on repeat.
  3. Once you’ve recorded your message, test it with a target group. Ask this group to unpack what they have understood from the information they have heard, this will test comprehension and highlight any misconceptions. If there is any doubt, record again to avoid confusion.
  4. Establishing (or strengthening) listening groups will be an opportunity for the community to debate the issues and provide feedback on the information they are listening to. Community groups should identify the best times for them to listen and can be supported to cascade information to other members of the community.
  5. Modify the content for different groups – ensure you address age, gender differences by developing messages with specific groups. Be sensitive to the languages you choose and avoid prioritising information sharing in only one language as this may create tensions.

Oh, and if you do feel you still need to hit ‘CTRL+P’ …

We know that there are times when it might be appropriate to use images and text – even despite your newfound audio recording skills! Again, this decision should be based on an assessment of current and preferred communication practices – including literacy. In many contexts where we work there are low levels of literacy – particularly amongst women. As such we’d advise ‘low to no text’. For more information on developing text materials, we’ve included some elements of the Communicating with Communities page of the UNHCR Emergency Handbook and developed some inclusivity guidelines here.


We’d love to hear how your audio experiments going! If you have additional tips or feedback on the tools shared here, please send through to us.

Good luck!



We’re always looking for great stories, ideas, and opinions on innovations that are led by or create impact for refugees. If you have one to share with us send us an email at [email protected]

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