In October 2019, The Danida Fellowship Centre and Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences organised a workshop aimed at building bridges between Danida supported scientists and researchers and the media in Ghana.
The two-day workshop trained researchers on how to communicate research to the general public – and how to get attention from the media, as well as social media skills. Journalists were also trained on how to find news stories based on the latest scientific results or research from Ghana. The focus of the workshop was based on the fact that communication to the public is increasingly recognized as a responsibility of researchers and scientists. The facilitators, emphasised the importance of good communication skills for winning funding, as well as increasing scientific citations through media attention.
On the first day of the workshop, researchers and scientists discussed their main concerns about media communication, which largely bordered on miscommunication of their research findings by journalists. The facilitator for the session, science journalist Lise Brix, made a presentation on why media communication is important for researchers, some of the reasons include:
Reaching a wider audience
Sensitization of the public based on research findings
Inspiring the next generation of researchers and scientists through visibility
She then outlined some criteria to keep in mind when preparing to communicate your research through the media:
Timeliness: are the findings new?
Importance/impact: how many people could your research affect?
Identification/proximity: of what interest is it to Ghanaians?
Sensation: is it fascinating?
Conflict: do your findings contradict existing understanding/ knowledge in some way? Or an actual conflict.
Trending: does it throw more light on a trending topic?
It is important to tick two or more of the above criteria to make research findings appealing to journalists or the media.
Explaining your research to a twelve-year-old
Communicating scientific or research material to the public, according to Lise, is like explaining your research to a twelve-year-old. It is important to keep it simple. However, the challenge with scientific reporting through the media is finding the balance between communicating factual information, and presenting that information in an accessible language for a non-scientific audience. During the workshop, researchers and journalists had the opportunity to interact and share ideas aimed at bridging the current gap. We were then taken through the “Hey-You-See-So” model of communication:
Hey: Catch the attention of your audience by surprising them with an eye opening statement in one sentence.
You: Give your reader something to identify with and explain why they should care
See: Explain the situation or what you want to say, for which you have grabbed the reader´s attention.
So: Now show your perspective on the situation – give your solution, new direction, etc.
This model presents information in a catchy, accessible format for easy communication to the general public.
An investigative journalist, Emmanuel E. Dogbevi, also shared his experience in science research reporting. He made some suggestions as to how researchers can work with journalists to disseminate their findings to the general public, thereby establishing themselves as the experts in their fields. He encouraged researchers to engage editors by finding ways to introduce their research to them and excite their interest, in a friendlier environment. He drew our attention to the fact that both journalists and researchers are interested in one thing: facts. Therefore, there is a need to build bridges to strengthen this common interest for the public good.
At the end of the two-day workshop, researchers and journalists deliberated and agreed on three actionable steps for building bridges moving forward:
Journalists and Scientists/researchers to co-produce fact-based publication for the general public
Nurture the current network of DANIDA-sponsored scientists and journalists who participated in the workshop through the WhatsApp group created for participants
More capacity building programmes to bridge the gap between scientists and media communication
Overall, the workshop was very beneficial as it threw more light on the importance of making research findings accessible to the public. It also enabled researchers and journalists to dialogue on some misconceptions that created mistrust on the part of researchers, and uneasiness on the part of journalists. As public engagement is a key value to ACIG, some of these communication skills and tools will be employed to engage meaningfully with our stakeholders.
By Rashida Resario