Breaking down research to build connections
Updated: Jun 13, 2019
Beatrice Ouma is the senior communications manager at the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), a non-profit organisation with a mission to transform the lives of smallholder farmers. In this interview, we talk with her about the importance of ensuring research information reaches those most in need.
You have been in communications for development for over 15 years, what attracted you to this career?
I have always been interested in sharing information with others. When I was growing up, my dream job was to be a journalist and that is what eventually attracted me to communications, so I worked really hard on my English to realise that dream, and have always subscribed to the opinion that people need to have information to be able to make informed decisions and to hold people accountable. Working in development communication has helped me share knowledge, participate in debates, connect with people to understand what they are looking for, and learn about the tools researchers need to reach their audiences.
How has your work in communications changed since you first started? What do you enjoy most about what you do now?
A lot has changed since I started working in communication, largely driven by technology. In the past we relied a lot on the traditional media to pass on key messages to the public. Although still important, it has now become easier to connect with our target groups through social media. A lot of people have become citizen journalists and influencers, reaching millions of people with the click of a button, which would have been hard in the past. I enjoy sharing my ideas and sharing technology, especially with Africans, so that they can participate in their own development and take charge of their destiny.
You are now working as the senior manager for communications at GALVmed, which works to develop livestock vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for smallholder farmers. How do you ensure that the vaccine research reaches farmers in the field to improve their livelihoods?
I work with our product development department to ensure that information on our work reaches as many people as possible so that we can prepare the market for these products. We have a commercial development department that is tasked with ensuring that the final product reaches the farmers, and I work a lot with our partners on the ground to make sure that farmers are fully aware of these innovations.
Many development projects, when in the design phase, tend to overlook communication and when it comes to implementation, fail to connect to the farmers and reach their commercial targets. At GALVmed, we have come to acknowledge that communication is a vital part of project design and creating a connection with our target population.
You worked with Susanna on communications for the Future Agricultures Consortium – what were some of the highlights of working together in supporting researchers across Africa to disseminate their work?
I first met Susanna around 2003 when I was an intern at the International Livestock Research Institute. She had some great ideas about working with and training African journalists so that they were able to report on science. Her work with journalists to tell the African development story inspired me – and was quite groundbreaking at that time because few others were doing it.
At the Future Agricultures Consortium, my key highlight was the trainings with young and seasoned African scientists on communication and media techniques. Susanna and I also worked on a number of high-level conferences that involved bringing dull topics to life through a series of campaigns using social media and writing techniques such as blogging. We were a small team and were really punching above our weight, giving the impression that we were a well-resourced, well-oiled organisation when we were just four people!
When working with researchers, it can often be challenging to get them to be clear about their key messages, do you have a top tip for scientists to be more impactful in their communications?
Having researchers communicate well is something that I have struggled with for a long time. They argue that research is a laborious and technical process which, until finalised, will not generate interest. But I think this mindset is changing. We work with researchers to let them know that even when research is underway, it is important to explain to people why you are conducting that research. What is in it for them?
My top tip to researchers is to break it down for people so they can understand why your work is important. Short videos and podcasts about your research not only connect you to the general public, but it brings your work to life and is more accessible than reading an entire report for instance. Communication should be interesting based on what people easily identify with on a daily basis. Furthermore, you should utilise communication specialists and journalists, and not be afraid to connect with them and share your progress rather than waiting until the end.