Reporting Research

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‘Academic spring’ all year round

Yesterday, 10th April 2012, the Guardian reported that one of the world’s largest funders of science research has given its support to a growing campaign for publicly-funded research papers to be shared openly online.

Sir Mark Walport, the director of Wellcome Trust, who is also a fellow of the Royal Society, Britain’s premier scientific academy, said the results of public and charity-funded scientific research should be freely available to anyone who wants to read it, for whatever purpose they need it.

The campaign dubbed the ‘academic spring’ was sparked when nearly 9,000 researchers protested against academic journals restricting free sharing of scientific findings in hope of revolutionising the spread of knowledge by making research widely available to the public.

Cameron Neylon, a biophysicist who will take up a position as director of advocacy at Public Library of Science, an open access publisher, says:  “If you look at the way the web works and what makes effective information dissemination on the web, then it’s clear that open content spreads further, has more influence, is used in more ways than the people who wrote it could ever expect”.

This move coincides with the announcement made by the World Bank to launch its Open Knowledge Repository, which will store all of the World Bank’s research papers and is a first step in the World Bank’s new open access policy.

Caroline Anstey, World Bank Managing Director highlighted the benefits of this policy:

“…there is now unlimited potential for intermediaries to reuse and repurpose our content for new languages, platforms and media, further democratizing development by getting information into the hands of all those who may benefit from it.”

The initiative for open access has been praised both by researchers and research users but Alistair Scott from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) highlighted the need to include Southern research in the debate to make it truly global:

“The demand for Open Access is increasingly coming from researchers and research users in developing countries themselves. But there is a common perception in many developing countries that Open Access discussion are mostly dominated by those in northern, developed countries”

The motivation for the Open Access initiative  is also at the heart of the Relay programme which works to strengthen relationships between researchers and journalists and to ensure that research on critical development issues is reported in the media in developing countries to reach wider audiences.

One of our beneficiaries highlights the importance of making research available to wider audiences in Kenya, saying:

“People become more empowered, people become more knowledgeable, they know what is good for them and in the process they improve their living standards” –Luke Anami, Relay’s fellow journalist and a reporter for the Standard in Kenya.

The Relay Programme has recently published two working case studies which are examples of recent project work to improve the communication of research on issues of tax and governance in Kenya and Uganda and mega-dams and their impact on people and the environment in India.  The case studies reveal the potential for research findings to contribute to informed media coverage for wider public consideration.  The case studies are works in progress, and we invite feedback and comment.

The Wellcome Trust has also funded two of the Relay’s projects, which were designed to strengthen research reporting on sexual and reproductive health in Kenya and Bangladesh.

Read Relay’s new case studies!

“I have learnt [about] many issues that I was unaware of earlier and also got a chance to become familiar with new researchers.  The fellowship really inspired me to know about dams, to read more, to study more, and to publish it as news articles too” – Dhanabanta Loukrakpam, staff reporter at Poknapham Daily in Manipur, Northeast India and Relay Fellow

“We think we can improve our networking with the media.  [The Relay programme] has opened an opportunity for us as researchers to work with one another, share our experiences, and, as a priority, to do more joint activities” – Walter Akwat, Communication Officer, Uganda Debt Network, participant in Relay training for researchers and the media

These testimonies have been documented and highlighted by our regional partners in recently published case studies which aim to share results, approaches and learning from the Relay projects in Northeast India and Eastern Africa.

Relay has worked in Northeast India to strengthen media capacity to report research on the controversial, and often polarised, issue of dams and development, while our project in Kenya and Uganda was designed to promote reporting on tax and governance research findings, foster relationships between researchers and journalists, and strengthen multi-stakeholder networks.

The case study on Reporting research on dams and development describes Relay’s strategies to address existing research communication gaps in Northeast India, and the programme’s successes and challenges. The report also highlights the value of journalist engaging with research that sheds light on the social and environmental impacts of mega dams, and speaking to those most affected.

The Engaging media on tax research in Kenya and Uganda case study illustrates Relay’s strategies implemented to foster relationships and encourage knowledge-sharing between researchers, journalists and a wider group of stakeholders including civil society groups. The report highlights results of Relay’s interventions such as media coverage that makes links between taxation, service delivery and governance.

Both case studies provide a set of recommendations for other organisations interested in using or adapting Relay’s approaches.

The reports represent work-in-progress.  Comments and feedback are encouraged!

‘Dammed’ communities?

Today marks the celebration of the International World Water Day held annually on the 22nd of March. Each year World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater, advocating for a sustainable management of its resources. This year’s focus will be on the understanding of the linkages between water and food security.

And this year, it seems there is a good reason to celebrate! The UN have announced at the beginning of March that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on safe drinking water have met its target. The Guardian reported that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation (JMP) found that between 1990 and 2010 over 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water.

With water management solutions re-surfacing on the development agenda, there was also a lot of discussion centred around the controversial issue of mega-dams construction in the last couple of weeks.

Large dams are being built to meet the energy and water needs and to promote food security against the backdrop of the climate change. While the process of dam construction is still very much top-down, there is a promising global trend towards approaches that are more inclusive of local communities, highlighted in a series of recent events and reports:

Bringing the voices of those affected the most by the construction of dams is at the heart of Relay’s most recent project in Northeast India, which aimed to strengthen media capacity to report research on this critical development issue.

Through a fellowship programme for local journalists, Relay sought to engage different stakeholders in a constructive debate concerning dams and development, highlighting underreported perspectives for audiences in the Northeast region of India.

More than 300 dams are scheduled to be built in Northeast India in upcoming years, but these large infrastructure projects may pose a threat to local inhabitants’ livelihoods, environment and culture.

“There needs to be a recognition that hydropower can supply much needed energy, but also a recognition that the size and scope of the dam projects are a cause for concern because of their impact on residents and environment” – said Arup Jyoti Das, Panos South Asia’s Relay Programme Manager.

What makes a good tax story? – video

It is not very often that an article on taxation is described as “heart-wrenching”. Yet our journalist fellow from Uganda – Alon Mwesigwa – managed to spark an online debate by linking taxation with governance and focussing his story on the healthcare system in Uganda.

Alon highlighted in his article, published in The Observer, how the administration of the tax regime is directly related to the quality of services that the government provides to citizens.

He captured the voices of those affected the most by the issue, telling the story of five-year-old Fred, who suffers from AIDS, and primary school teacher, Cecilia, who died at Mbale hospital, allegedly after health workers neglected her because she had not paid for her caesarean section. The article uses multiple sources, grounding the argument in research done by the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a local think tank. Alon also quotes a World Bank report and cites World Health Organisation (WHO) findings, as well as making reference to the Millennium Development Goals and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

By linking the issue of taxation and governance with the healthcare system, his article opened a channel for a discussion among readers. “It was a good article because it led to questions being asked … It evoked a lot of emotions and a lot of response,” says Maureen Ndahura, Relay’s Research Assistant in Uganda.

In this video clip Maureen explains what she believes makes a good story on tax.


During a Roundtable Dialogue that is being held today in Kampala, bringing together different stakeholders to inform a debate surrounding tax and governance, Alon is being presented with a certificate in appreciation for his contribution to improved reporting on tax and governance in Uganda.

Alon Mwesigwa participated in Relay’s fellowship programme, which brought journalists and researchers together and encouraged them to work together to strengthen research communication of critical development issues in the media.

International Day of Action for Rivers

Today, March 14th marks the 15th Anniversary of the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams.

The International Day of Action for Rivers was adopted by the participants of the first International Meeting of People Affected by Dams, March 1997 in Curitiba Brazil. The aim is to raise anti-dam activists’ voices worldwide in unison against harmful impacts of water development projects.

Relay’s recent project in Northeast India has focused on the issue of mega-dam construction and the effects on the local population. More than 300 dams are scheduled to be built in the region in upcoming years. Although hydropower is considered as clean, efficient and largely renewable source of energy, its social and economic impact on local people and their environment can be detrimental. Examples of loss of livelihood, displacement and threats to biodiversity in Northeast India were covered by our journalist fellows.

To celebrate Day of Action for Rivers, The Guardian published an interesting series of photographs of controversial dam projects.

You can also have a look at Relay’s photo essay featuring the Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric project being constructed in Arunachal Pradesh!