Bringing science to life

Robbie in action

Surf club

What images come to mind when you think of the words longing, incongruous, vehement?

These are the top 3 winners of Merriam-Webster’s Looking at Words contest.

Quote of the month

‘The stories of anywhere are also the stories of everywhere else.’

Salman Rushdie (in The Art of Fiction, The Paris Review)

Welcome to our June 2013 newsletter: Communicating in developing countriesLately we’ve been running our communication workshops in African and Asian countries. And Alison and Robbie have been interviewing locals in the Solomon Islands, Timor Leste and the Cook Islands (taking one for the team). What fantastic, enriching experiences! Here we’re sharing some tips that we picked up along the way about communicating science in developing countries.Let us know what you think on Facebook, Twitter or email us.Regards from the @EconnectTeam:

Alleviating poverty through a little chaos

By Jenni Metcalfe

I recently ran a workshop for the Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) program in Penang, Malaysia, with my colleague Toss Gascoigne.

The AAS program, led by WorldFish, is one of 15 new initiatives funded by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to alleviate poverty for 20 million people by 2020.

The workshop participants were new communication officers appointed to country hubs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Zambia; WorldFish communication staff; and partner organisation representatives. A key challenge for all participants was to define their roles within AAS.

AAS is different to most traditional agricultural research programs in that it:

  • looks at solving problems for a community rather than working on a single commodity such as rice or fish
  • consults the community about their specific needs before doing any research
  • focuses on gender because it sees women as the key to lifting people out of poverty
  • is experimental—AAS is researching how the new approaches are working, and documenting each step of the process

AAS has a chaotic element because, as soon as researchers start to talk to a community, the direction of the research is shared with the community and is no longer in the hands of scientists. In many ways, the role of the country communicators is to become the ‘holders’ of this chaos.

This style of science communication supports communities to work with scientists in directing their own future. As such, I believe it has a much greater chance of changing people’s livelihoods than the tired old one-way channel often used to disseminate knowledge from the scientist to potential users.

See my recent article in The Conversation about models of science engagement: Science engagement in Australia is a 20th Century toy.

Penang workshop participants work in small groups to discuss their roles

Penang workshop participants work in small groups, discussing AAS and their roles. 
Copyright: Econnect Communication

Lost in translation

By Robbie Mitchell

During recent work trips to the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste, Alison and I employed translators to help us interview local people about how climate change is having an impact on their community.

It was a new challenge for me and, after half a dozen interviews, I started to piece together a list of tips that may help you to make sure your message is not lost in translation.

Before the interview

  • Employ a local translator who is fluent in English and the language of your interviewees.
  • Brief your translator on the purpose of the interview and the questions you will be asking. They may have some insights on what words/questions are appropriate to use/ask.
  • Keep your questions short. This will help the translator who may have to rearrange the sentence structure and substitute words.

During the interview

  • Stick to the questions you have written down. If you think of another question during the interview, write it down in a short and succinct way that the translator can easily translate.
  • Be aware of time – using a translator doubled the time it took me to do my interview.

After the interview

  • If you need subtitles for a video, upload to YouTube only the segment of video you want to use, and send the link to your translator. You can make the video private if you don’t want other people to view it.
  • Have the translator transcribe the local language and include the translation under each sentence. It’s worth asking them to add a timestamp at 10-second intervals in the document or after recognisable pauses so that you can easily match the transcript to the location in the video. Here’s an example:

Dezafiu boot ne’ebé Governu Timor Leste hetan liu-liu kona-ba rekursu bee nian. (00.35 min)

The big challenges that Timor Leste’s government is facing are mostly on water resources. (00.35 min)

  • Using someone’s words verbatim is not always appropriate. Sometimes it will be best to translate the meaning, not the words. Make this clear to your translator, whichever way you intend to go.

Robbie interviewing the Chief of the Suco (village) Dato in Liquicia, Timor Leste

Alyairo Moritz (left), Chief of the Suco (village) Dato, in Liquicia, Timor Leste, is interviewed by Robbie (2nd from right) through a translator.   
Copyright: Econnect Communication

Have you ever lost something in translation?

Tweet me @RobbieMitch

Show your research through people’s eyes

By Alison Binney

While recently scanning reports looking for photos taken during community-based research done in Pacific islands, it occurred to me how many researchers’ photos fail to get close to their subjects.

Looking at photographic accounts of community-based research activities, I felt I was observing many strangers from a long, long way away. In any one photo there were either a lot of people, or a lot of people’s backs.

It made me wonder about how, through poor photography, we can perpetuate a feeling of distance from people in developing nations, and even between science and people.

Taking photos to portray research may not be a priority for researchers, but a more considered photo could improve the reader’s appreciation and understanding of the research, especially in developing countries.

Here are my top tips for taking photos of people:

1.     Avoid taking group photos at all costs. Aim for 1 or 2 people and get up close to them – use a zoom lens to be less intimidating.

2.     Get down (or up) to their eye level and take shots while they are participating in a research activity, rather than shots of them posing.

3.     Before taking your photo, look around and remove objects that you don’t want in the photo. Or position yourself so that the background is free of unnecessary objects.

4.     Always ask permission before taking a photo, and always get the name of your willing subject, with correct spelling and title.

5.     If you have time, think ahead about the various aspects of your research and how you might set up a shot with some extra props.

Sasamara Kera (left) and Bora Alen discuss organic cassava and sweet potato varieties in a field trial in the Solomon Islands.

Sasamara Kera (left) and Bora Alen discuss organic cassava and sweet potato varieties in a field trial in the Solomon Islands.
Photo: Alison Binney
Copyright: Econnect Communication

Tell a story 

By Tom Dixon

Last year we were invited by the Crawford Fund to run a week-long science communication course in Chiang-Mai, Thailand, for a group of agricultural researchers.

The 17 researchers came from countries across Asia, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

People in developing countries have less access to the internet than we do, and cannot rely on the technology. The Thailand workshop reinforced for us the importance of personal discussion-based communication.

This fits neatly with the philosophy of the Australian Climate Champion program, which we run. Rather than relying on publications sent out to farmers or web-based communication, we support leading farmers to tell their stories and share information at the local level. Farmers trust other farmers!

And so it is with Asian cultures, which rely on small communities much more than we do in Australia. In these communities, locally influential people can be a more effective force in telling stories about their own successes and failures in adopting new technologies than any brochure, website or official pronouncement.

We’re all aware that the most effective form of communication is two-way. But are we using this two-way communication to our full advantage? How much have we learnt from the past? Is a shift towards a more discussion-based model a step back to the old days of storytelling?

Jenni and colleague Toss Gascoigne recently ran a master class in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for African scientists and communicators from 9 countries. They found that telling stories is an important way of communicating science and local knowledge in African communities.

We can offer less developed countries pointers about public engagement techniques such as using the web and social media. But if we open our minds to a more local, storytelling-based model, maybe this would help the audience to take ownership of their interactions with scientists and the new practices and ideas that stem from this interaction.