Unearthing the wisdom of girls in Ethiopia

SenseMaker bridges the gap between case studies and survey data, enabling researchers to build accurate pictures of their respondents' real-life experiences.

Decision-making can be a tricky business, particularly when making decisions on behalf of others.

The reason for this, according to the author James Surowiecki, is the difficulty of fully discovering the needs of the people we're trying to help.

"Confirmation bias causes decision-makers to unconsciously seek those bits of information that confirm their underlying intuitions," he wrote in his 2004 book The Wisdom Of Crowds.


Policy makers and development experts make decisions on behalf of people living in poverty every day.

Traditionally this has meant that girls - often the most isolated and hard-to-reach members of poor communities - have had no say at all in the policies and programmes that are meant to lift them out of poverty.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - which completely overlooked the needs of girls - are just one example of this. But as the United Nations prepares to decide on the next set of development goals post-2015, girls in poverty are starting to have their say.

The Girl Declaration is an excellent example.

Another is Girl Hub Ethiopia's use of SenseMaker - an innovative market research tool that enables researchers to unleash the wisdom of crowds.


SenseMaker bridges the gap between case studies and survey data, enabling researchers to build accurate pictures of their respondents' real-life experiences.

The process starts with a story prompt - this can be a question or a picture. The prompt is open-ended, so it allows people to share stories and experiences that are important to them.

The stories are then analysed in conjunction with the respondent, which enables researchers to collect narratives from a variety of perspectives that are free from any interpretive bias.

Girl Hub Ethiopia have used it to collect stories from more than 300 girls, boys and parents in rural and urban areas. The story prompt was asking respondents to share a true story about an experience in a girl's life. The story could be either happy or sad, and should be a situation that happened because of being a girl.

The SenseMaker research was one of more than 20 projects that generated the insights used to create Yegna - the music-based radio show that is empowering Ethiopian girls to unleash their potential. 

Rebecca Smith, from Girl Hub Ethiopia, says: "The storyteller themselves does all the analysis. You allow girls the opportunity to share something of importance to them, in their own words, and they feel valued as knowledge-holders who have something interesting to say."


SenseMaker was the perfect fit for Ethiopia, where many girls don't have a strong voice in their communities. "We wanted girls to explain in their own words what they were experiencing and how the world seemed to them," adds Rebecca.

Judging by the reaction to the Yegna characters on Facebook, SenseMaker did a great job of reflecting the needs of Ethiopian girls. "It feels like they're all part of us," wrote listener Elyab Tilahun.

Rebecca says: "One woman said to us: 'This is really great because normally people come and they do a survey, but they're asking questions that are important to them, not what is important to us.'"

If experts and policy makers ask the questions that are important to girls by using tools such as Sensemaker, the answers will break the cycle of poverty.

Find out more about the insights at the heart of Yegna

Learn more about SenseMaker