Side Chat: Behind the Scenes with Three Digital Development Podcasts

Aid, Evolved
Aid, Evolved
Side Chat: Behind the Scenes with Three Digital Development Podcasts
Digital Development Podcasters

In late 2020, a few months after much of the world entered pandemic lockdown, three different digital development podcasts were each independently launched: the ICT4D Conference Podcast, Pulse on the Principles, and Aid, Evolved

In this unscripted side chat, the hosts of these three podcasts gather together to figure out, “Are we all just doing the same thing?”. Claudine Lim of the Pulse on the Principles, Sonja Ruetzel of the ICT4D Conference Podcast, and Rowena Luk of Aid, Evolved talk through what inspired each of us to start a podcast. We share how the design and planning works behind the scenes. And, with relief, we realise that even though we’re all talking about digital development, the way in which we explore that topic is vastly different.

If you’re trying to find the right digital development podcast for you, you want to listen to this conversation.

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If you enjoyed this conversation about podcasting in the aid sector, you might also enjoy our chat with Stephen Ladek of the Terms of Reference Podcast.


Disclaimer: this transcript was generated automatically and as such may contain unintentionally confusing, inaccurate and/or amusing transcription errors.

Rowena: Hi, everybody. So, before I started this podcast, I spent a while looking to see if there was already a podcast out there, like the one that I wanted to make, the one I wanted to listen to, I’m going to be honest here, there wasn’t much. But in late 2020, just a few months after the world entered its global lockdown, three different podcasts were created roughly around the same time, all talking about how technology can change and improve the way that the aid and international development sector works. Now, you might think, “hey, guys, talk to each other,” but if you take time to listen to what’s out there, you’ll find some fascinating differences in how we tackle these topics: in the stories we tell, in the people that we talk to and how we share that. In today’s short side chat. I’ll be speaking with Claudine Lim, host of the Pulse on the Principles podcast and Sonja Ruetzel host of The ICT4D Conference Podcast. I’m Rowena Luk and I host the Aid, Evolved podcast. In this excerpt that we’ll share with you, apart from just sharing the tips and the tricks of the trade, we’ll talk about why it is that we all independently decided to start a new podcast, a bit about what goes on behind the scenes. And, of course, what’s the difference between these podcasts? Let’s start with a round of introductions.

Why did you start a podcast?

Claudine: I’m Claudine Lim, I’m the manager for the Principles for Digital Development at DIAL, which is hosted at the United Nations Foundation. And so Pulse on the Principles was really to add to the digital principles, resources and content. It’s really a community driven initiative where folks and organizations from all over the world shared their lessons, challenges, successes, innovations in digital development. And so traditionally, the way we’ve shared those things were through either in-person events or written case studies. But we kind of recognised that not everyone has the time to actually read all our reports and case studies. And we really wanted to make these things a lot more accessible to people. They can listen when on their before commute to work – now, after work – and we also wanted to be able to involve more people, also recognising that not everyone has the capacity to sit down and work with us to write even a three page case study. That takes a lot. So we just had to identify some ways that we can reach out to more people, get our content out to more people. And we thought, yeah, podcasts and webinars seemed like the next logical step and the growth and evolution of the principles.

Sonja: So my name is Sonja Ruetzel. I work with CRS, the Catholic Relief Services, and I manage the ICT4D Conference, which is looking after the use of digital technologies for development and humanitarian response. As part of our online offerings. I started a podcast series last year talking about different digital development trends, good practice or innovations. So the idea was to have something a little bit bite sized that people can get access to, a very flexible way to do webinars. So it’s kind of like adding to the portfolio of different types of online content we have.

Rowena: Nice. On my end, my name is Rowena. The podcast I work on is called Aid, Evolved. I have a day job, where I work at Dimagi. This is my evenings and weekends fun side project. Really loving it. And I would say the the the podcast itself Aid, Evolved its focus is on the it’s on the lived experience, the human stories, individuals who are in the sector talking about what it’s like to get into the sector to try something out, some of their their ups and downs. They’re the things that make them scared and the things that they’ve succeeded at and are proud of. My inspiration for starting it was because I found myself in a position where I was telling other people to listen to the stories, work with people, don’t forget to stop and pay attention to those around you. And I realized that I was making that mistake myself. And I thought the podcast would be a great mechanism to call up all these people that I’ve brushed shoulders with or had the opportunity to work with in the past and actually understand a little bit more about what they’ve learned and what their experiences have been. And so far, it’s been it’s been great fun. I think I’ve had all sorts of new and surprising conversations, which I think would not have been possible in in another format.

What is your playbook? What kind of content do you aim for?

Rowena: I’d be curious to have you both talk a bit more about the format of the podcast. I know I’ve listened to individual episodes, but I. I don’t I don’t I wouldn’t be able to say what your playbook is when you have an episode. How do you typically structure a conversation that you have on your show?

Claudine: For Pulse on the Principles, we have one big season, and within that season we have little mini seasons. So for example, this first season was kind of broken up into COVID-19 Leave No One Behind and Governance, those sorts of topics. And then so we have episodes that feed into those specific things. And then so with let’s say, the Leave No. One behind mini series, we’ll talk about gender or refugees. And so trying to keep again, it’s almost like a funnel. We talk about “leave no one behind” in digital development or development in general. But what are the more nuanced topics underneath that? And who are the people or stakeholders that work within that? And what are they doing specifically? So there’s a lot of pieces and thoughts that go into it. But I try we try to really weave all these different themes in international development together. We hear so many things that are important, like responsible data use or human rights based approaches. And how do you make sense of all of them? And they’re not mutually exclusive, but again, trying to tie them all together into one episode. And that’s why ours aren’t quite bite sized like Sonja. But we try to again to paint a fuller picture of the international development players and trends.

Rowena: That sounds tricky. I definitely think Claudine, your podcast is probably the most ambitious, which is, how do you talk about inclusively and in one episode – or in three straight episodes?

Claudine: Talking about inclusivity is tricky, because you want to be able to focus on one group, but then you don’t want to ignore other groups in that but so we always try our best to consider all angles.But that’s kind of the double edged sword is if you’re trying to talk about everything, you’re talking about nothing.

Rowena: For sure. And how do you do it then? I can imagine thinking through the roster who are all the people that could talk about that topic? And it’s it’s an endless list. But you have to narrow it down to a handful of people, maybe ideally one or two, maybe three people. How does what does that process like for you?

Claudine: So it’s been it’s been a learning journey, so we don’t really we haven’t nailed down a process quite yet, but we do I’m lucky enough to have a small editorial team at DIAL for people who have been in this sector and in this work, much, much longer than I have. So they’re very helpful in pointing to the “quote unquote” well known in the space more executive level and stuff. So that gives me a good idea. But I also try to talk to those who are within the Endorse the Principles Endorser Network and get to know, yeah. Get to know them and their networks, because I’ve been lucky enough to be connected to endorsers who may not have been on our podcast, but they connect us to the local groups that they’re working with. So we had like an episode on refugees. And when I reached out to one of our contacts who works for UNHCR to speak, she said, why don’t you speak to this woman? She works for UNHCR, but she’s actually a refugee. So she would be better a better representation for that episode. And I was like, that’s awesome. So just relying heavily on both the Endorser Network and the team at DIAL has been helpful in that process.

Rowena: That makes a lot of sense, Sonja, how do you structure your episodes, how do you getyour lineup?

Sonja: I love that Claudine like I think that really highlights that also the inclusiveness of the podcast medium for the speakers. And that was another reason why, for example, I because the podcast because that offers me the opportunity to, first of all, which experts in other regions and like for example, I had a number of speakers from the Philippines or from Southeast Asia, and there are generally excluded from our virtual content because it just doesn’t work with the time line. So at the time so and so, I mean, I sometimes see them online. I was thinking you should be in bed by now. But just for speaking, it’s just really hard because it might be one thing to kind of like, listen then, but another thing to be like alert and in the middle of the night. But I mean, luckily I’m based in London, so I find it easier to connect to different time zones. But because I pre-recorded, it’s so much easier for me to to connect with people in different time zones or also as set with the individuals that maybe are not maybe brave enough to be on a life webinar with that of other big names or maybe haven’t done a lot of public speaking. And in the podcast, you do have that intimate conversation. And then also you can say, well, if it doesn’t work, we don’t use it.Or we just edit out all the bits that try it again.

Rowena: The construction in the background, the kids that show up, all that.

Sonja: Exactly, or just if somebody is nervous, I think it really gives those voices to individuals that just haven’t gotten this public speaking training or the confidence, but these are the voices we want to hear. And and I think that’s kind of a nice bit. Or the other part is also people that are just generally really, really busy. So at the beginning, I started off a bit random and then I realized a serious is kind of good. And so I did a series with the CIO interviews. And CIOs are obviously notoriously busy. I mean, if something goes wrong in any organization, it’s always the of CIO that will have some sort of element in fixing it, particularly now in the digital world. So getting them to join like a one hour webinar or even a lengthy interview is going to be hard. But asking them, shall we have a 15 minutes check here, some questions? That was actually quite easy. And I thought that, yeah, I thought that was really, really useful. So these are kind of like the two elements that I really like about podcasts. You can reach speakers. You might not be able to reach for other formats of online content and be more inclusive as well.

Rowena: On my side, in terms of the the format and the and the lineup and how I manage that, my format is very much trying to draw on that narrative aspect of podcasting. So whereas Claudine and Pulse on the Principles tries to capture the whole space of this particular principle digital development principle, I’m going super, super, super narrow and saying this person this person’s life, this thing that they’re passionate about. And I really try to not only tell the story of their lives, but also give them the chance to focus in on a topic that they connect with and they feel strongly about, because I find you can hear it in their voice as they’re telling you. They get motivated, they get engaged, they remember something. And I like to give them that chance to reflect on their past 10 years of working in a sector. What have they learned, just to take a step back and think a little bit more, bigger picture about their work, then they might get from the meetings on the calls or the field work that people are doing. So that’s the formats that I try to follow. And then in terms of the guests and how we line them up, this is one that I think is quite interesting. Sonja you mentioned yours started off as a bit random and then you did the CIO series and I can definitely relate to the random part of it.

Rowena: A lot of my guest so far have been folks I know from industry people, people I respect, a lot of people that I’ve wanted to ask probing questions, but maybe didn’t quite have the right forum to ask them that question. And so I’ve really enjoyed the conversations I’ve had. And now I’m at the point also based on feedback that I get from my guests and my listeners where I’m looking, oh, should I be trying to get more private sector at the table? Should I be trying to get more government at the table or should I be trying to get more Africans at the table? And and that’s going to push me out of my comfort zone in terms of reaching out to people who I may not have a fifth level connection to and then doing a bit more pounding the pavement to bring in those kinds of guests. But I do think it will contribute to the overall value of the stories that I’m telling, because I can tell even now that the kinds of stories that show up on my podcast are very much representative of my particular technology implementer kind of people. And there’s so many different actors at the table here that we want to we want to give a voice to.

Claudine: I like that all of our podcast fall under the umbrella of digital development, but Sonja’s touch a lot on trends and innovations, mine’s on best practices, challenges, and, Ro, yours is really about the human side of development.

Rowena: I wouldn’t have been able to say that before this conversation. So it’s good that we’re talking!

Claudine: So you get all angles of it with these three podcasts, though. In case anyone’s wondering what’s really the difference between a podcast, there you have it.

Rowena: Boom.

Why a podcast?

Rowena: I asked my fellow hosts why podcast when there’s so many ways to reach people today, newsletters and social media and YouTube and webinars, why would anyone start a podcast? Here’s what they had to say.

Sonja: My idea initially came when I was stuck in traffic in Abuja, Nigeria, and I was thinking I got very emotional so I can’t really get my laptop out of work. But I thought how it’s nice to obviously hear the radio and hear about the region. But I figure if you really live there and it’s so obviously not just Abuja, I mean any places, including London and D.C., probably it’s like you never really know how long it’s going to take you to get to work in the before times. And and so in a way, it would be nice to kind of use that time as well and connect really not just hear about your local community, where you’re where your base, but also hear about the community, where you’re connecting. My case would be the ICT4D community. And so it’s not having that kind of content available could just be a nice thing. And so that was one idea to just really have that bite sized content that is sort of downloadable, that is really available and inclusive. But we just did our recent ICT4D online conference. The main objective that people had particular from other regions or low income countries was connectivity. I mean, even an hour connectivity session, one of the speakers had to drop out because of low bandwidth, which is certainly very ironic. So connectivity is such a concern. And even if you were to listen to webinars and recordings, you don’t always get to actually download it until your machine and the money take a very long time.

Sonja: So having just the audio and having a short piece of audio is just so flexible and that just makes it just more inclusive and you can reach a wider audience. So that was really one one point. And I think the other one and that kind of came a little bit later, is you just have to assume fatigue and obviously not just any video conferencing. And I’ve been doing a bit of research on this particular event, sort of engaging people in online meetings. And we hear more and more turn the video off, concentrate on the audio, because just having the video on every all the time, it’s really draining. And so I think that is another piece. But it’s nice to also just have the audio. You can listen to a podcast and a lot of people say, oh, I just listen to a podcast. When I was cycling, when I spoke I just made lunch. That’s what you should be doing. It’s storytelling. It isn’t like take out your notepad and at least the one we’re doing. So I think that’s a nice element. It’s just a different type of format. And then it can just become more inclusive and maybe a bit more fun where you can just incorporated into your lifestyle.

Rowena: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with what you’re saying, do it while you’re while you’re gardening, while you’re taking out your recycling. So many of my friends, they say to me, oh, I’m sorry, Rowena, I didn’t get a chance to listen to all your podcasts. And if you have time to listen to all of them, that’s a lot of time. And it’s definitely not. Some people do this. And I my heart goes out to them. They sit in front of their computer and they listen. And that’s really not what the podcasts are for. For myself personally. I listen to them when I go running. And the great thing about having so many podcasts coming out in the development space or in the digital space is that I can tell myself, oh, this is for work, but I can also go for a run. I can be active, I can get out there. And so it feels good even in a in a busy and a busy schedule to have that that medium in that format. The other thing that I like about Sonja your podcast is that it does come in these in these bite sized formats that you can inject in your different life. A lot of people tell me for mine to make it shorter, which I’ve I’ve not taken that advice, but I definitely respect where that advice comes from, because I think a lot of people want these little snippets are taking a break from something else and they just want to hear another voice.

Rowena: One last thing I’ll say, you can tell once I get started I get excited about this is is about the medium. Agreed. When someone in Nigeria or South Africa or Ethiopia is joining a conference, they see those blurry figures in the background, people in a room that they’re not a part of. There’s always fifteen minutes at the beginning where you’re waiting for the connection to come through and all these things that are… no matter how much we plan ahead, they do make certain kinds of experiences very painful. Whereas with with with a podcast or video, there is this ability to have a really compelling experience, even if it’s asynchronous, at different times to engage with the speaker and to hear them in their in their full authority and their full presence. Even if you’re in rural Timbuktu… well, Timbuktu is not rural. But if you’re in rural Mali. and I think one of the things that excited me for the medium is, is this feeling of greater disconnection that people have, particularly during the pandemic when you can’t have parties, you can’t see your neighbors and everything else. And I love how listening to a podcast is like talking to a friend. One friend is there in your ear, up close, personal. And you can hear them engage with them directly in a way that just to me feels different than listening to a speaker who might be addressing a hundred people.