Rapid insights on Covid-19 in Somalia with Africa’s Voices Foundation

In early 2020, with Covid-19 in Somalia, Katikati was rapidly deployed by Africa’s Voices Foundation to listen to sentiments, derive insight and inform health messaging. This is the story behind it.


On 16th March 2020, Somalia recorded its first case of Covid-19 and with local transmission it spread swiftly with over 300 cases a week recorded in May 2020. With the country’s healthcare system already under strain, preventative measures - particularly communication about the risks posed by the virus - were key to protecting Somalia’s population from Covid-19. However, risk communications and community engagement face the challenge of trusted socio-cultural and religious beliefs that may distort the nature of the threat. Effective public health messaging must start by listening. But how does one listen meaningfully at scale?

In the wake of this, Africa’s Voices Foundation (AVF), a UK registered charity and non-profit based in Kenya, aimed to conduct a rapid diagnostic on the community's questions, concerns and risk perceptions in Somalia. Given the sensitivity of this topic, the AVF team needed an open, anonymous and accessible communication channel to solicit opinions, build trust and quickly gain insight across conversations with thousands of people. To reach remote and displaced communities whilst respecting Covid-19 public health rules required an SMS based communication system that was remotely usable by the AVF team in Kenya.

AVF found that widely used technologies for conversing at that scale were not designed for the risk communications and community engagement necessary. One-way ‘blast messaging’, survey-style questionnaires or Interactive Voice Response would not allow people to express themselves as they want or engage in a conversation - both crucial to create receptivity to information. Chatbots may be popular and enable 2-way engagement, but in a context of mistrust, standardised and robotic answers can be harmful and they are not built for low-resource languages like Somali. One also loses visibility on messages which might need escalation.

This is where Katikati came in. Katikati allows a small team to manage many one-to-one remote and digital conversations on channels like SMS, Telegram and web-chats.


Between April 3rd and 5th 2020, Africa’s Voices Foundation used Katikati to send SMS messages to 51,000 people, soliciting their opinions on Covid-19 to gain a quick understanding of worldviews on Covid-19 from hard to reach populations to shape the early response. AVF received over 18,000 messages in response from over 7,700 Somalis. All of these messages were triaged in Katikati by an AVF researcher, to assess if they needed to be escalated and to tag messages based on the demographics and themes that arose in the conversation. AVF then held 1,386 one-to-one conversations, in particular responding to rumour, stigma and misinformation.

Katikati’s interpretative tagging enables quick coding of messages directly in the conversation space. As such, you can respond to what you are seeing with new tags to capture this. Katikati’s Explore page has bar charts which are updated in real-time to display the frequency of such tags. This is how a conversation looks like in Katikati with tags added by AVF.


Within four days, AVF’s team of Somali-speaking researchers analysed over 15,000 responses that came in through Katikati. This analysis showed that religious hope/practice was a common response to Covid-19 and 1 in 10 respondents shared rumour, stigma or misinformation. These findings were important to shape subsequent Risk Communications and Community Engagement (RCCE) programming and AVF radio campaigns.

AVF used this rapid diagnostic insights to shape its Imaqal (‘listen to me’) programme pivot for a COVID19 response over July-Nov 2020. During this period a further 339 urgent requests were escalated to receive timely and appropriate responses whilst 2,796 conversations that displayed rumour, stigma and misinformation and were responded to one-to-one with appropriate public health messaging. All of this was accomplished by a single team member.


Africa's Voices Foundation needed a remote digital communications tool to handle many thousands of conversations, deal with sensitive conversations appropriately and gain insights along the way. Most communication technologies are designed to achieve one of these, not all three. Katikati is and enabled AVF to have rich and open-text conversations with nearly 3,000 individuals in Somalia, to deeply listen and learn at scale about the lived experiences of the individuals on the other side. All of this risks being lost when we rely on chatbots or other closed, one-way methods for communication.