SANTHE and the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) recently hosted over 30 delegates for the second annual Africa Asia Communications Forum (AACF).
The first AACF, hosted by Wellcome Trust in London, encouraged all Africa and Asia programmes to take ownership of the forum, and AHRI and SANTHE were the first to do so. This year’s meeting brought together communications specialists from Wellcome funded African and Asian research units in 12 countries from Côte d'Ivoire to Zimbabwe (alphabetically speaking). A robust debate with several of our researchers around the purpose of science communication, and how communications can better serve science, set the tone for three days of intensive discussion and learning. The forum included practical sessions in storytelling and communicating science (including in languages other than English), photography, pitching stories to media and measuring results. Keynote speaker, Dr Marina Joubert, a senior science communication researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University, spoke at the meeting about “Bridging the gap between science communication and practice.” She says, “The ‘science of science communication’ is a collective term for a body of evidence that helps us understand how people form opinions about science, and why some communication efforts do (or don’t!) work. It urges science communicators to base their practice on evidence of what works, rather than on a ‘gut-feel’ of what might work. Clearly, closer interactions between science communication practitioners and researchers promise a number of mutual benefits, including mutual learning and improved practice based on evidence. However, practitioners may doubt the value and relevance of academic research, and there may even be some tensions between the cultures of scholars and people who work as science communication professionals. Another obvious barrier is that it takes time for practitioners to keep up to date with newly published research and find new insights relevant to their work. This is where funders and networks, such as the AACF could play a key role in igniting purposeful conversations and useful collaborations between researchers and practitioners. By inviting researchers to join practitioners in face-to-face meetings and online dialogue, the AACF could play a key role in helping to bridge the gap between theory and practice and nurturing a new groups of science communication researchers and practitioners that are not only keen to collaborate, but also benefit from these collaborations in terms of future research and practical impact on relevant societies. Including a session on ‘the science of science communication’ at AACF19 was a good starting point.”
Our meeting hashtag, #AACF19, trended in South Africa. You can pick up on some of the conversations here.