Author Archives: southernscience


The fundamental reason we do health research is to alleviate suffering and bring about benefit and change. Active community involvement is vital for success.

John Imrie, Health Systems Trust, South Africa


We are known as the noisemakers, because we are very vocal about giving people access to ART (anti-retroviral treatment).

Lihle Dlamini, Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa


Academics have a major task and responsibility to tackle the government – and act as activists – when the government gets it wrong scientifically. Scientists do, however, pay a price when they become activists.

Wim Sturm, Nelson Mandela Medical School, UKZN, South Africa


Policy makes are more likely to read newspapers than scientific papers. This is a wake-up call to scientists and media liaison staff about the role of mass media in reaching policy makers effectively.



Samuel Anya, CIAM – Public Health Research & Development Centre, The Gambia


People will ask: “How does this affect me?” To engage effectively, you have to crack the issue of significance and relevance.

Irwin Friedman, Health Systems Trust, South Africa


Researchers are from Venus, policy makers from Mars. Communicators are possibly from Pluto. It is a difficult relationship in some ways, because we have different perspectives and different challenges.

Wendy Graham, University of Aberdeen, UK


If you understand the politics of the policy making process, you can maximise the impact of your research.

John Young, Overseas Development Institute, UK


Using the media is a great public engagement tool that can be hugely influential, but academics have been slow to catch up with the benefits the media can bring.

Katrina Nevin-Ridley, Head of Media Relations, Wellcome Trust


Theatre does not necessarily provide answers, but it does inspire people to investigate things further.

Ms Rebecca Gould, Tinderbox – Theatrescience, UK


A research project is like an onion. It has many layers. Some have good flavours. Some will make your hands smell and some will make you cry.

Wendy Graham, University of Aberdeen, UK


People are able to learn while they enjoy themselves. That is why good science theatre can be highly educational.

Mondli Mkhonza, DramAidE, South Africa


Stories are what make the world go round. This is how people really communicate and it is therefore a very powerful tool.

John Young, Overseas Development Institute, UK


The government of Uganda is looking toward science and technology as a way to get people out of poverty and that is booking us, as science journalists, in a very strong position.

William Odinga, science journalist, Uganda


We have to teach journalists more science, but it is as important to teach scientists to use journalistic language so that they will be able to craft messages that journalists will take note of.

Wim Sturm, Nelson Mandela Medical School, UKZN, South Africa


Communication officers can take away a lot of the pain and fear on both sides of the scientist-journalist relationship. It is time-consuming, but the benefits can be huge.

Katrina Nevin-Ridley, Head of Media Relations, Wellcome Trust


It is not about whether we should have engagement, but how, who and when best to do it.

Wendy Graham, University of Aberdeen, UK


We need evidence of what works at the interface between science and media. How do we judge success? Are we really looking for numbers of journalists trained, or hits on web sites? How de we link that to real health gains?

Wendy Graham, University of Aberdeen, UK


Every time you do something, you should do it better than the last time. That is what evaluation is all about.”

John Young, Overseas Development Institute, UK


Researchers should do an internship at their country’s Ministry of Health to get to grips with the realities and constraints of policy makers.

Samuel Anya, CIAM – Public Health Research & Development Centre, The Gambia


Activism does not necessarily make you the enemy. As much as the TAC fought with government, we are now working with government.

Lihle Dlamini, Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa



Wellcome Trust: International Engagement Awards: Top Tips for a Successful Application

By Siân Aggett

A successful project first needs a successful grant application. Make sure you give your project the best chances by following this simple guide and checklist:


Before completing the Application
Check eligibility-
Consult the application guidelines; make sure your project is eligible and make sure you explain how you meet the criteria of the International Engagement scheme in the application form.


Completing the Application
Make it a good read and
think of the tone- The more engaging a read the better. The tone of your application can really make a difference. If you sound interested and excited in your project then the reader is more likely to want to keep reading.

Substantiate any assertions- Back up any claims you make with evidence, otherwise they might ring hollow.


Beware of jargon and acronyms-  Avoid abbreviations, acronyms and jargon (unless

you first explain them).


Answer the questions- Each question is looking for particular information: make sure you read the question carefully and answer it as accurately as possible. Try not to repeat information which you used to answer a previous question.

If you have any doubts or questions, contact us!


Know who your target audience/stakeholders are and justify your approach with these in mind- Who is your target audience and why have you selected this audience? Who will the project benefit, why and how?


Explain the context but be careful about information overload-

The Funding Committee and the referees who are asked to assess you application won’t necessarily know about the context in which your project is to take place. Make sure to provide enough back ground information (e.g into the particular education system or theory behind your chosen methodology) but not too much!. Make this information succinct and easy for a lay person to understand and make sure you put it in the right place: the objectives section, not the project summary.

Consult all the relevant expertise needed for the project- Make sure the research is accurate and that you have all the relevant scientific, public engagement and other skills necessary to deliver the project.  This might mean that you have quite a large project team – but applications are often marked down if they don’t have sufficient or the right personnel to deliver them.

Don’t be overambitious with your project- be realistic about what you can achieve. Starting small can often lead to bigger things.


Are the aims, objectives and rationale for your proposal clear?-

Makes these SMART (Specific, Measurable, Acheivable, Relevant and Timebound)


Make sure your evaluation plans are appropriate to test whether you have met your aims and objectives-

Consider developing imaginative ideas for evaluation and not just feedback forms. Think carefully about what would indicate success for your project. Have you read the evaluation guidelines on our website: Evaluation should not just assess audiences’ responses but also document the process and lessons learned while developing and managing the project- You may want to consider employing an independent evaluator for the project.

Think about ways to disseminate what you have achieved. Who would be interested in the lessons learned from your project and what is the best way to reach them?


Make the project summary good- this is probably the most important section in your application; it is read first and so sets the first impression. Write this last.


Show project sustainability- If relevant, include plans on how the activity will be sustained or how it is developing on a previous project.


Proofread- Have your application proofread by someone who has not seen it before and preferably who doesn’t know too much already about your work.


Final checklist
Once you think you have finished take a break then re-read what you have written.

• Check the science content.

• Check the spelling.

• Ensure all co-applicants have read the proposal.

• Check that your budget adds up correctly.


For an International Engagement application form please provide a paragraph outlining your project plan, the location, audience, health research topic and chosen methodology and send this to:


Full guidelines, Grant Conditions and evaluation

guidelines are available on our website at:


The Wellcome Trust is a charity registered in England, no. 210183.

Its sole trustee is The Wellcome Trust Limited, a company registered in

England, no. 2711000, whose registered office is at 215 Euston Road,

London NW1 2BE, UK.


By Julie Clayton, first posted on, December 8 2008

Journalists often complain that scientists don’t wish to talk to them, but researchers in Uganda are planning to make such grievances a thing of the past with a new training programme that tries to break down communication barriers between journalists and scientists. The programme lies at the forefront of new moves by several scientific institutions in Africa to cultivate the media’s interest in science.

Dan Kaye, an obstetrician at the University of Makerere, Uganda, announced the plans at a Wellcome Trust workshop on “Science and community – engage to empower” at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies in KwaZulu-Natal (2-5 December 2008). The meeting brought together more than 60 scientists, journalists, science communicators and actors from more than 15 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.

The Ugandan programme, funded by a Wellcome Trust International Engagement Award, begins in January 2009 and runs for 2 years. In collaboration with the University of Makerere’s Department of Mass Communications, it includes workshops for a total of 90 journalists to get better acquainted with scientists and different areas of biomedical research such as HIV vaccines, TB and malaria research. Conversely, up to 150 scientists will be trained in how to communicate better with the media and with the public. In addition, public forums on topical subjects will take place every 3 months, bringing together journalists, scientists, policy makers and the public, with the aim of increasing media coverage of science and impact on policy.

“These [forums] are already being done in other areas such as politics and economics but are not used for discussing scientific issues and disseminating scientific research information,” says Kaye.

The new development was welcomed by Ugandan science journalist William Odinga, chair of the Ugandan Science Journalists Association (USJA).

“We’ve often been accused of misquoting and misrepresenting scientists and often we don’t understand what scientists are saying. We should now look at the interaction and process of understanding between scientists and journalists and build confidence between the two groups, because if a journalist is confident they’ll be able to ask a question and get the scientist to explain. So an opportunity for training is really good.”

Odinga and his colleagues recently organised the Ugandan Science Communication conference (24-26 November 2008 in Kampala).

The desire to find new ways to increase media coverage of science is not limited to Uganda. In South Africa, for example, press officers are developing new strategies to reach out to the media. At the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, press relations officer Thulani Cele has negotiated media partnerships to gain air time in a local radio station, and space in a local commercial newspaper, in which to provide audiences and readers with news and information on scientific research. This does not go far enough, however, and Thulani points to the national commercial media as being the most difficult to engage.

“A challenge that needs to be addressed is enthusing media owners to address issues like HIV and population studies – not just politics and sport”, he notes.

Meanwhile, in Kenya, the media generally give little coverage to local science, according to Juliette Mutheu, external relations manager at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust programme in Nairobi. She cites a recent example of a press release that she issued to more than 300 national and international media outlets describing a study showing that as many as 90 million children in Africa are sleeping without protection of bednets, and were therefore vulnerable to the bites of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Of around 30 media outlets that reported the finding, only 10 were African, and most of these reported indirectly from an account in the New York Times rather than referring to the press release or contacting Mutheu directly for further information.

“I was devastated by this because this was meant for the African media. [The reports] only happened two weeks later – and there were lots of inaccuracies. They’re not paying attention to the research being done in their own country, so they need to get that information from their local research centres”.

Besides efforts to engage the media, Mutheu is pioneering science cafes in Kenya which are attracting both the public and journalists to meet and discuss scientific topics with scientists. Science cafes are also now becoming established in Malawi, Ghana, South Africa and Uganda.

Media Release on Wellcome Trust International Public Engagement Workshop

Media release from the Wellcome Trust

For immediate release


More than 60 public engagement practitioners from across the world are to share skills and experiences at an innovative conference to be held in South Africa, organised by the Wellcome Trust.

The conference – entitled “Science and community: engage to empower” – will take place from 2-5 December at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, KwaZulu-Natal. It will bring together practitioners working in the fields of public engagement and communication of biomedical and health research.

The programme of activities and workshops will include interactive sessions on the theory and practice behind public engagement, as well as the ethics of involving communities. Hands-on sessions will equip researchers with science engagement and communication skills, and build bridges between scientists and policymakers. Delegates will be able to explore the potential of science cafés, theatre and cultural events, science centres and science journalism as public engagement tools.

“This conference will be one of the first of its kind, with public engagement professionals from around the world coming together to share their knowledge,” says Dr Bella Starling, who heads the Wellcome Trust’s international engagement programme. “Many of these practitioners will be working on their own, with only virtual communication with counterparts in other countries. Meeting face-to-face will enable us to develop a strong and dynamic network, leading to valuable improvements in the field.”

“We look forward to welcoming public engagement experts from countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil and many more to the Africa Centre,” says Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Head of External Relations at the Africa Centre. “It will be fascinating to compare experiences of sharing science from such different parts of the developing world.”

Resources from the workshops, including session reports, daily news updates and audio and video casts, will be posted online at soon after the conference.

Justa Wawira is responsible for the strategic development and management of external relations for the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Programme in Kilifi and Nairobi, Kenya, liaising with health-related public and private stakeholders from the international to the local level as well as with the community, the Ministry of Health, civil societies, professional bodies and the media.

The Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest medical research charity, is one of the world’s leading funders of biomedical and health-related research. Through its public engagement activities, it aims to develop new pathways of communication and interaction between scientists, policy makers and communities, as well as to stimulating informed debate about the interface between science and society.

The Trust has recently made a significant investment in international engagement projects through its International Engagement Awards. Recently funded projects include establishing Café Scientifique events for adults and schools in Uganda; a cinema workshop two produce short films on health research in Coastal Ecuador; and a project to engage teachers in rural areas of Brazil with ongoing pesticide and health research in order to better communicate results and to promote best practices when using pesticides.

Recipients of the International Engagement Awards will join researchers and outreach staff from Wellcome Trust-funded centres in the developing world and a number of other key stakeholders in networking with science communicators from around the world.



Thulani Cele
Public Relations Officer
Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies
Tele: +27 (0)35 550 7575
Cell: +27 (0)84 236 5841

Notes for editors

1. The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.

2. The Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies is at the forefront of efforts to understand population and health dynamics in developing countries. Based in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, it brings together African and international scientists to conduct research, develop local capacity, and identify ways to overcome the health challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa. In its eight years, the Centre has created Africa’s most comprehensive demographic surveillance system, established a successful antiretroviral drug treatment programme for local people living with HIV/AIDS, and carried out clinical trials in a range of areas of critical importance to health in developing countries. The Africa Centre is a joint project of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Medical Research Council of South Africa.

3. Media Practitioners are encouraged to attend the event and altert the Public Relations Office of their intentions by e-mail ( or phone (+27 (0) 35 550 7575

4. We also invite journalist to attend the Science Café on the 4th December 12h30 – 14h00.


Please join an online conversation about public science engagement before, during and after this milestone Wellcome Trust workshop by contributing to this blog!

Wellcome Trust Public Science Engagement Workshop

Close to 70 delegates from 15 countries will be gathering at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, from 3 to 5 December 2008, for a workshop to explore public engagement with science. The countries represented are Brazil, Burikina Faso, Colombia, Gambia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzani, Thailand, Uganda, the UK and Vietnam.