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LIDC and partners help One Health researchers place audiences in centre of communications

On 27-28 March LIDC and its partner Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS) held a communications workshop for researchers working on human and animal health (One Health).

Researchers at various levels of seniority (from PhD students to professors) from Tanzania, Zambia, and Democratic Republic of Congo spent two days at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro, Tanzania, reflecting on and developing skills in strategic communications and audience engagement. A team of facilitators, Yunus Karsan from SACIDS and Anna Marry from LIDC, introduced the participants to techniques of stakeholder mapping, theories of behaviour change, and encouraged discussion and experience sharing with respect to engagement with SACIDS’ core audiences: policy-makers, local communities, health workers and media.

Throughout the two days, participating researchers worked on a variety of group assignments. Among others, they edited an article on anthrax prevalence into plain English, planned content for a policy brief on foot-and-mouth disease vaccination, and, through a role play exercise, tried their hand at convincing a Maasai leader to grant them access to study participants from a pastoralist community. The final session focusing on media engagement featured a guest speaker, Mr Mkinga Mkinga from the Citizen newspaper. The editor helped researchers understand the needs and constraints of journalists and addressed concerns such as fear of being misquoted or ‘dumbing down’. Finally, each participant had a chance to talk about their work in front of a camera and practise skills such as speaking in plain language, staying on message and controlling their body language.

Reflecting on lessons learned from the workshop, researchers mentioned that they understand stakeholders’ needs better and are better able to translate complex research finding into language and format accessible to non-experts.

Before we came here, we had been working together for a long time without reflecting on communications. Now, after the training, we are better placed to share our research with audiences. Through engaging with audiences, you can gather useful feedback and make an impact. – Said Professor Aaron Mweene from University of Zambia.

As the next step, LIDC and SACIDS will work with the researchers to develop a suite of written materials on One Health, and a radio format to be used by community media in SACIDS countries.

The communications workshop is a second event, following a successful pilot in October 2013. It is the first step in a new project jointly implemented by LIDC and SACIDS and funded by Wellcome Trust as part of International Public Engagement Awards. The two-year project will intend to train community radio journalists in reporting health research, as well as engage with policy-makers and health practitioners. A range of outputs will be developed including evidence briefs, brochures, videos and radio programmes.

LIDC has been collaborating with SACIDS for the past five years as part of a Wellcome Trust grant to support research and training in African higher education institutions. LIDC is coordinating activities delivered jointly with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Royal Veterinary College (RVC).