Continuing our drive to ensure research is both understood and applied globally, we travelled to Ghana for the second round of our science reporting workshop ‘Reach & Turn’. Along with our sister institute UNU-INRA and the UN Info Centre Accra we led two days of learning and debate with around 50 researchers, communications officers, and journalists from five mainly West African countries (Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Togo and Rwanda). For some this was a real innovation: the first time they had shared a platform with people from outside their field.
Why now and why this format? At a time when scientific consensus is increasingly dismissed by politicians, we as members of the ‘ecosystem of knowledge’ decided to take a stand and to stand together. It was a chance to build capacity, new networks, and new alliances.
On the one hand, we have academics who are slowly coming out of their ‘ivory towers’, joining the public discourse, and improving their reach. This is crucial because if research is not properly mediated, then it is unlikely to influence either policymakers at the top of the pyramid or the general public at the base.
On the other hand, we have communications officers and journalists, who are tasked with interpreting and disseminating the knowledge produced in research institutes and universities. They are often experts in their own right – experts who know that to communicate science requires creativity, commitment, and the conviction that evidence-based research should be at the forefront of the public conversation. By way of guiding researchers on how to navigate the troubled waters of the endless news cycle they provide a service to the institutions they work with and ultimately to science itself.
Future format: Co-creation
A core philosophy of ‘Reach & Turn’ is to gather a range of selected participants, international and local experts and engage them — as equal partners — in lively debate. The knowledge brought to the table by participants complements that of the trainers and adds value in various ways. In short, we listen and learn as much as we lecture.
Over our two days in Ghana we exchanged both good and bad practices, and found common ground in the opportunities and challenges we face no matter where we live. Also, the international composition of participants allowed us to discuss the common challenges of mainly West African countries and how they can be solved through trust and cooperation — because for science reporting to succeed all involved need to feel part of a ‘team’.
The first day focused on science communications and was led by UNU-INRA, UNU-MERIT and the UN Information Centre Accra. Our combined know-how allowed for a number of interactive sessions where we discussed the importance of making communication an integral part of the research process, rather than a final flourish. This is not only to raise visibility and reduce the risks of last-minute ‘surprises’; it is because some funders insist on communication activities being planned and integrated into research programmes from inception to conclusion.
The second day focused on science journalism and was led by seasoned Ghanaian journalist Ama Kudom-Agyemang, who discussed how researchers and communications professionals can best engage with journalists and vice versa. She and the participants discussed the intricacies of science journalism, particularly environmental journalism, including its various challenges (see the images below for the intense debates circulating our round tables — debates and knowledge sharing that continued via a ‘Whatsapp’ group formed by the participants during the event itself).
Ultimately, ‘Reach & Turn’ aims to shed light on the social responsibility of science, and to show how all members of this ecosystem of knowledge can partner up and co-create. Now that we have successfully concluded the second edition, we look forward to continuing this global project. This is our way of contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (particularly SDG#4, #13 and #17) and to ensuring that evidence-based research continues to inform the international political agenda. Please check the Twitter feed below for live updates via the #reachandturn hashtag.
MEDIA CREDITSUNU / E.Akaho, S.Brodin, H.Hudson