Category Archives: 1


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.

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