Author Archives: africacentre08

Workshop session on creative approaches to engagement

Creative Approaches

4 December 2008


This session was chaired by Sheila Ochugboju.  This session focused on creative approaches to public engagement.



Communicating ethical issues in health care and biomedical advances via new plays for the theatre and theatre workshops

Hermalatha Somsekhar from India and Rebecca Gould from the United Kingdom presented on how theatre and theatre workshops could be used to communicate ethical issues in health care.  Hermalatha spoke on how this form of communication had come about and the response public had had to this.  Rebecca spoke on how this form of communication was also taken to London this year.  She spoke about how this form of public engagement enables discussion and created awareness.  The experience takes people on a journey which evokes investigation, surprise, horror – resulting in more questions than before the seeing the play.  All these emotional reactions inspire one to think and pay attention to pertinent issues from a total different angle.


Using magnet theatre to engage high risk communities in communicating medico-socio research: Experiences in Kenya


Oby Obyerodhyambo presented on the Interactive participatory theatre used over time in Kenya.  This form of public engagement came about because there was a need to find a way to engage the public in a discourse that would lead to discussion and eventual behaviour change. This is a very specific art form used for a specific purpose.  This type of genre is one that is aimed at achieving certain results.  This art form creates an avenue for discussion


Magnet theatre is target audience specific.  The audience is selected with a specific aim in mind, being behaviour change.


This type of engagement has to be interactive, participatory and empowering.  The objective of this kind of theatre is to address issues the public reluctantly either speaks about or pay attention to, not because the issue is not relevant, but as a way of pretending that the problem does not exist.  This kind of genre also provides a forum for behaviour change rehearsal and magnification.  This is achieved by creating a dilemma, which, has to be addressed in an interactive manner by creating a bridge between issues at hand and behaviour change.


By Debbie Railoun & Sarah Bok, MRC, South Africa



Worshop session on equipping scientists with media skills

Equipping Scientists with Media Skills – Workshop

December 4, 2008


Presenters:  Craig Brierley and Katrina Nevin-Ridey – Welcome Trust Media Office,


Useful tips and guidelines were shared with participants with regards to media skills for scientists.  Craig and Katrina suggested that scientists, when doing a media release, need to be very clear about what they expect to get out of the media exposure.  Advantages of media for scientists and the various types of media were discussed. 


The Media Liaison Office, according to Craig and Katrina, should be encouraged to prepare scientists for interviews and to make scientists aware of the benefits of media. Positive media interaction is a good public engagement tool. Scientists need to be prepared for different types of questions that could be asked – the media liaison office can assist in this regard by prepping scientists for the interview. A good relationship between media and scientist will discourage incorrect and bad publicity. The aim is to bring together the two worlds of science and media.


By Debbie Railoun & Sarah Bok, Medical Research Council, South Africa

The African Science Café Movement

Science cafes are the first worldwide network devoted to publicly discussing science. The first café scientifique was held in the UK in 1998 and now there are 250 science cafes in 40 countries in the world, but only 4 in Africa, of which 3 are active, namely in Uganda, South Africa and Kenya. These shocking statistics were revealed during the second session on Thursday 4th December on creative approaches to science communication with a focus on science cafes. Sheila Ochugboju, the chair of the session, began with a brief historical overview of how the African science café movement began.

It started with a series of workshops sponsored by the British Council that resulted in the launch of the first African science café in March 2007. Two participants, Flavia and Ruth, who attended the British Council workshop have since launched their science cafes in South Africa and Uganda. Sheila highlighted that prior to the launch of the African science cafe, the organizers recognized the need to give café scientifique, as its popular known in the west, an African flavour. This contextualization in the African setting: by changing the name to science cafes, rebranding, carefully choosing venues, and enabling the creative freedom of facilitators to stimulate discussions gives African communities a greater sense of ownership of science cafes.

The Ugandan science cafes were the brain child of Patrice Mawa, MRC/UVI Ugandan Research Unit on AIDS. With some guidance from Duncan Dallas, the pioneer of café scientifique, Patrice held his first café in July 2007. His format favours the western model where a speaker is invited to talk briefly, followed by a break for food and drinks, then questions and discussion. The attendance in Uganda varies from 10 -30 but with larger numbers when the cafes are done in a local language. Patrice noted several challenges in running science cafes which include lack of resources, difficulty discussing sensitive, cultural or ethical issues, and poor attendance of women. It is hoped with funds received from the Wellcome Trust and the recent recruitment of a project coordinator, Betty Kituyi, that these challenges can be overcome.

Flavia Senkubuge, from the University of Pretoria, runs science cafes that are more cosmopolitan. This can be attributed to her target group, who are doctors within her institution. Her goal is to encourage doctors to engage more with the public. To convince the doctors the importance of public engagement, Flavia conducted a study that showed health promotion leads to an improved self perception of health as people are more informed and improve their health. She entices people to the cafes, by not only choosing attractive themes “The Science of Love” for cafes on cardiology or “The Science of Relationships” when talking about HIV and AIDS, but also by inviting a wide range of speakers not only doctors and researchers but psychiatrists and poets.

“Kenyan science cafes stress informality. In our introduction we always say there is no such thing as a stupid question” said Ruth Wanjala during her joint presentation on Kenyan science cafes. Her and Juliette Mutheu, Kemri-Wellcome Trust, have formed a formidable team that has conducted 3 science cafes this year. The pair have a concrete plan of action for 2009: monthly science cafes of which 4 have so far been funded, registration of the Kenyan Science Cafe as an organization, formation of an advisory committee, creation of a science database, organizing junior and rural science cafes, developing partnerships, and developing a structured evaluation sheet.

Several issues were discussed but five key questions interested a majority of the delegates. Firstly, science cafes seem to mainly target the middle class, what can be done to roll out these programs to reach other audiences particularly in the rural community? Secondly, using bars as venues limits women and religious groups like Muslims, is there any way these groups can be reached? Thirdly, how does one evaluate the impact of adult and junior science cafes? Can the questions that people pose be used for evaluation or collected as data? What are the complexities of conducting science cafes in schools? Several suggestions were given that answered both the issue of rolling out the program to rural communities and reaching other audiences such as choosing the right venue – social halls, women’s clubs, having the science café in a local language, and partnering with an active community member to organize and facilitate the cafes. The discussions were very lively which unfortunately did not leave enough time for the final presentation on junior science cafes by Mary Arber. This presentation would have discussed the complexities of conducting science cafes in schools and how Mary is measuring the impact of junior science cafes.

Concluding comments from delegates

Delegates at the Wellcome Trust meeting on “Science and Community – engage to empower,” have raved about the workshop, particularly in terms of networking, new ideas, and sharing of different perspectives. Greer van Zyl asked a few people what they thought of the meeting:

“The workshop has been highly interactive and exciting. There’s been lots of sharing – it’s been a very good opportunity to learn about what other people are doing, and to create good networks because there are lots of similar strands that people are doing. It’s been wonderful.” Obi Obyerodhyambo, Kenya

mary arber

Mary Arber, UK

“This was one of the most exciting meetings I’ve been to in terms of how many different people were here from countries. Based largely in the UK, it was a real eye-opener for me to discover how public engagement of science is viewed in Africa. Its refocused me how important it is to get communities on board – it can’t be top-down, it has to be grassroots to genuinely engage with people. What’s interesting here, and really different from the UK, is the physical sense of urgency in terms of engaging people with science. At home we treat it as a philosophical question – but here it matters; it’s life and death sometimes. Here there are real practical reasons why we should involve people in science.” Mary Arber, UK

“I have learnt a number of very good things during the workshop, particularly about engaging with communities, policy-makers and the media.” Rose Oranje, Kenya

Phan Son

Phan Son, Vietnam

“It’s been very interesting – I learnt a lot from other people and I will use this knowledge for developing my project in Vietnam in the future.” Phan Son, Vietnam

“This workshop has been an eye-opener. Public engagement is a buzz word that has never been unpacked the way it was done to its simplicity at this workshop. As the Africa Centre there’s a lot we’ve learnt even though we’ve been doing public engagement in a successful, sustainable manner. We’ll definitely put some of these ideas into practice to improve the way we engage with our communities and policy-makers who can gain a lot from our research.” Mbongiseni Buthelezi, South Africa

Mbongiseni Buthelezi

Mbongiseni Buthelezi, South Africa

“For me, because I’m not a scientist, it was very interesting to find out the scientist’s point of view and what they think about community engagement. We work differently at home and it was interesting to hear the different points of view about this work.” Javier Galeano, Colombia

“The value has been enormous, I’ve met people and made contacts; we’re setting up an African Science Centres café network and I’ve got good ideas about what I can go and introduce back home.” Muza Gondwe, Malawi

“Great networks! I loved the networking and the people I met. I’ve made lots of connections that I’m going to follow up, particularly with the science café movement.” Ruth Wanjala, Kenya

“What has been good for me is to know that other people are doing similar things to us and facing similar challenges – constantly on the lookout for new community engagement models. The benefit is getting creative ideas to deal with situations, and we can learn from what others are doing.” Mduduzi Mahlinza, South Africa

“It’s been a wonderful meeting, particularly the synergy between the different disciplines and the passion in our common interest which is public engagement, communication and dialogue. There are very few spaces where you can get scientists who are so genuinely committed to public engagement opportunities. I’ve been energised and inspired, and have many great ideas I hope to work with in the future.” Sheila Ochugboju, UK

“A bigger box of chocolates that I ever expected!” Wendy Graham, UK

The value of engagement

Engaging with different stakeholders is regarded as very important, but there is little knowledge about what works. Sharing experiences about engagement was the central theme of the plenary workshop presented by John Young of the Overseas Development Institute on Friday morning. Increasingly, donors want to invest as much effort as getting research into use, as investing in research itself.

To illustrate the complexity of public engagement, the group discussed “what do you think would be convincing evidence of the value of public engagement?” which showed the diverse ways of looking at this type of evidence and what is needed for engaging with the public. Among the many suggestions indicating evidence of the value of public engagement were: participation of the community; trust of the community; two-way communication and greater debate in the community; positive health/behaviour outcomes flowing from public engagement; visible evidence in the form of buildings, programmes and services; positive policy change; legislative reform; new links and networks.

Resuming the session after the break-away, John discussed one of the Overseas Development Initiative programmes, RAPID, which promotes greater use of research based evidence in development policy and practice ( The group engages with a wide group of actors through a range of tools including the media, web, publications, meetings and collaborative work. Policy process is “fantastically complex” – everyone tries to influence everyone else. Research-based evidence generally plays a small role in policy development, (see presentation for more detail), although it can have significant impact, as seen for example in health service reform as seen in Tanzania which led to a 43-46% reduction in infant mortality.

“In terms of engagement, it is important to know what is need to be achieved. Indicators should be SMART in order to achieve this. Change takes a long time and many projects fail when the input ceases. If you want to see lasting benefits of research, we need to see changes of behaviour of stakeholders, whether it be communities, researchers, and policy makers,” said John.

There are several tools in terms of measuring and assessing change (see IDRC’s website: Learning through stories (what was the situation, what was the challenge, what was done, what was the result, what lessons can be drawn) is one way of learning and documenting stories of change. ( Horizontal evaluation ( is done very well by the Canadian health research foundation to evaluate their programmes.

ODI also does “after-action” reviews to evaluate how projects could have been done better (what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, why was there a difference, and what can we learn from it) which is simple and quick to do. Case studies (how did evidence shape policy decisions) and episode studies which retrospectively tracks back from policy change can be useful as well. ODI combines the classical case study approach and retrospective approach, with “RAPID outcome mapping” to look at behavioural change. A social network analysis ( is very helpful too to assess who can influence who needs to be influenced.

The group then split into four to discuss what sort of evidence was needed in individual projects, what sort of evidence was needed about other public engagement projects, how should that evidence be obtain, and who should do what. The groups focused on policy, community, media and creative/other. Group feedback will be posted to the blog at a later stage.

posted by Greer van Zyl

Engaging the media to influence policy

By Greer van Zyl, Healthwrite

Media can play a critical role in influencing policy positively, according to Jo Carpenter from PANOS (UK). In the final media engagement session on Thursday afternoon, she outlined research which PANOS had done in Uganda and Jamaica, selected because of their high proportion of media independence and diversity, where coverage had influenced policy. Four case studies (two in each country) were examined, focusing on labour practices, developmental status of children (Jamaica), the Mabira forest, and use of polythene bags (Uganda) which had all had good media coverage. The research involved 12 in-depth interviews with key informants and content analysis methodology. The study found that researchers were equivocal on their roles in promoting the research in the media; some actively engaged the media; others were more reticent.

The key findings were that media were critical to influencing policy, but didn’t work in isolation. Debates were not initiated by journalists, but sustained by them. Civil society was most successful in catalysing media debates because of their skills and resources. Professional links were seen as critical between researchers, policy-makers, civil society and the media. In all cases, policy-makers saw the media as a source of information and a window on public opinion. The influence of a media debate was not dependent on its quality.

These findings show that communication strategies need to be systematically integrated into all research initiatives. Researchers need to be trained; professional relationships between media, civil society, policy and researchers need to be strengthened; and capacity building of the media is important, specifically for talk show hosts. Editors need to be engaged because they don’t have the time, resources, power to transfer skills to reporters through standard journalism processes.

Jo also discussed how the RELAY programme of PANOS works with developing countries to connect journalists and editors with researchers to enhance their capacity and communicate research. PANOS supports research institutes in their media strategies, and hosts events which bring academics and journalists together. Before working in a new country, PANOS scopes the media and research environments to spot gaps and identify lead journalists and researchers who are currently working with media. (See for more details)

Luisa Massarani from Brazil discussed the importance of radio to engage people in science as it has high penetration in the country. There were only a few science radio programmes in Brazil, and consequently people were not using radio as a source of information on science and technology.

A project was launched to engage 10-year-old children in science and health issues through a radio programme which trains the children in radio and science communication by deciding the format, issues to be covered etc. Another project deals with a radio science programme called “Electron” which integrates science and culture once a week in short snippets which features music and poetry related to science. Programmes have dealt with AIDS (data, vaccine development and Brazilian research on AIDS) and genetics (the use of genetic information on health insurance and jobs; research in genetics and tropical diseases) which is packaged with appropriate music (including heavy metal “Pity and the bloody chromosomes”). (

Communication does not happen in a vacuum or in a linear fashion, explained Monica Bonaccorso, a lecturer and senior research associate at Goldsmiths, University of London. “The question is how to really reach people through the media and how effective is it; what are we communicating?”

She explained that many communication models and expectations of communicators is that once a message has been conveyed, it will be accurately received, which is problematic as it does not account for feedback and cultural contexts within which messages are received. “Much of the effort we put into communicating science may be wasted because we are not communicating in the right way, which recognises that communication is an evolving process and is the product of learned events defined by social frameworks.” She said it was incredibly difficult to predict the effect of communicative efforts by studying audiences and doing evaluation because communication is so complex.

Julie Clayton, UK-based freelancer, trainer and organiser of the World Conference of Science Journalists taking place in London in 2009 (, spoke candidly about’s involvement in building science journalism capacity through training and workshops to promote the standards of science journalism globally.

She also discussed the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) which is an umbrella organisation promoting peer-to-peer mentoring in Africa and the Middle-East which aims to improve the quality of science reporting and improve networking. “It’s not only about linking mentors (who are practicing journalists) and mentees, it’s also about new opportunities such as setting up journalistic associations which can twin with others,” said Julie. The federation has created an online science journalism course: (see Outcomes of the programme include better stories, more responsibility, more space for coverage, and recognition by editors.

Strategies in policy engagement

In the second of two sessions on policy engagement, three speakers highlighted various strategies in engaging policy-makers during the Thursday parallel session before lunch. Geoffrey Lairumbi from Kemri-Wellcome in Kenya presented a snapshot of the different players involved in research and their expectations on benefit sharing. The “what, who, and when” of the social value of research was explored in 50 interviews of stakeholder groups in Kenya including researchers, policy makers and industry.

The key question was “what is the value of the research?” The community voices appeared to be interested in short-term benefits such as regular monitoring, general assistance, and strengthening of services. “From what they have been telling me, as we get into that research, there are those small benefits that they will get free treatment”. In terms of researchers, they want training, career development, patents and knowledge. “When you are looking at a research project, the primary thing is that you to think in terms of yourself and then others. The question is “what is in this project for me.” Policy makers were interested in community mobilisation and capacity building among other things.

Due to challenges each group has to circumvent, they each appear to do their own thing based on what they think is important. There are also practical barriers including the complexity and longevity of the research process and actor interests. Another issue for public engagement was whether there should be continual and long-term engagement vs once-off study specific encounters. Should the existing institutions be strengthened, or are we looking at new “knowledge brokers”?

Rose Oronje of the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) in Kenya discussed the bold and difficult task of targeting parliamentarians in a presentation on “Sharing research with parliamentarians and journalists – lessons learnt”.

The APHRC is a Pan-African organisation conducting research on population, health and education to inform policy and practice. Policy makers are regarded as parliamentarians, technocrats and civil servants who write policies, as well as district level civil servants who prepare plans. Members of Parliament (MPs) have an oversight role to solve societal problems, while journalists expand development information, thereby promoting its uptake.

The programme actively involves MPs in research dissemination meetings, and forms partnerships around issues. Champion MPs are identified by multiple organisations agreeing on a common issue framed to highlight benefits to MPs by using research in their work. Prior to the elections in Kenya, the Centre highlighted to MPs their future benefits by investing in the youth resulting in the establishment of Youth Empowerment Centres using constituent development funds. Clerk assistants (civil servants) responsible for parliamentary committees are key stakeholders in getting MPs’ attention. The Centre uses research to demonstrate the extent of the problems facing MPs’ constituencies, and how it can help development.

“We clearly state the role MPs can play in addressing challenges, and we try to understand the problems they have in accessing and using research evidence,” said Rose. Some challenges included MPs not knowing which research institutions were credible; lack of internet access; interest in amassing wealth rather than evidence-based policy.

In working with journalists, the APHRC works through journalistic associations, targets individual journalists, makes awards of excellence, writes media releases, conducts training and sensitisation sessions, field visits and writes media features/letters to the editor/piggy-backing on other issues. The Centre’s achievements include the establishment of the Kenya Parliamentary Network on Population and Development, and for the first time in Kenya, a budget line for Family Planning services was included in Kenya’s national budget. Lessons learnt include that sustained engagement is critical; research needs to be framed in specific ways; and working in partnerships has more impact than working individually.

Maurice Yaogo, GREFSaD, Burkina Faso showed a French video on “Promoting evidence-based decision making in health, science and new technologies”. Through community-theatre, it featured the problems women face in Burkina Faso through community-theatre, after which the actors engaged with the audience. About 80% of the women are poorly educated and this method is a good way of conveying key health messages. The video was shown to policy-makers prior to being shown to the community, which illustrated how various media can be used for disseminating information to policy-makers.

John Young of the Overseas Development Institute ventured that lessons can be learnt from other disciplines in terms of policy engagements.

1) Partnership brokering through a partnership broking accreditation scheme (PBAS);
2) Evidence policy-making in the UK to encourage bureaucrats to be more evidence-based: the policy hub;
3) The innovation systems approach recognises that there’s a need for a rich network of actors and connections between them for research based evidence to flow into policy in practice;
4) The World Bank Knowledge Economy Approach is another way of looking at innovative systems, to assess the ability of countries to capitalise on the knowledge they produce. It is focused on emerging countries in Europe; and
5) How coalitions can affect change is covered by DFID in Nigeria called “Coalitions for Change” which include researchers, policy makers and the private sector to promote better development policy in practice.

(web links of these policy engagement sites will be added in due course)

Posted by Greer van Zyl, Healthwrite