Communication gap as the greatest impediment to science’s role in development

David Dickson

David Dickson
Correspondent, SciDev.Net

It’s almost ten years since SciDev.Net launched its first regional network — covering Sub-Saharan Africa  — to promote science communication in the developing world, at a meeting held in Entebbe, Uganda.

At the time, the idea that science communication had an important role to play in African development was relatively new. Indeed, even support for science was still seen as a luxury not only by many African governments, but also — with some notable exceptions — by international aid agencies.

Today, few such doubts remain. If they do, they were not in evidence during the opening session of the two-day workshop ‘Making science and technology information more accessible for Africa’s development’, being held this week at the seat of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The meeting is bringing together about 50 science journalists and science communication specialists from across Africa. Their task is not to address whether science communication has a role in development, but how this role can best be fulfilled.

At the opening session this morning, Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, regional advisor for UNESCO, described how the workshop was the second of five of a series of five being organized across Africa, the first of which took place in Abuja, Nigeria, last November.

“The greatest impediment to the development of science, technologic and innovation in Africa, and its contribution to African development, is the communication gap that exists among the major actors and players,” he said.

The media could play a critical role in bridging this gap, Ilboudo added, since journalists played an important function as intermediaries between scientists, policy-makers and the public.

UNECA conference centre (Credit: David Dickson)

Thierry Amoussougbo, of the ICT, Science and Technology Division of the UNECA, speaking on behalf of the division director, Aida Opoku-Mensah, had a similar message about the important of building capacity in both science and science communication.

But be pointed out that there were many impediments to communicating scientific output. “For example, unlike areas such as sport, politics and culture, science reporting is not part of the daily routine in most media houses.”

Problems ranged from the preference of journalists schools to admit students with backgrounds others than science, to the fact that scientists have their own communication outlets, such as scientific journals, from science reporters were left on their own to extract information.

On the positive side, however, Amoussougbo noted that several science magazines and feature services, as well as programmes on TV and radio, have recently emerged. “There is currently an environment to improve and intensity science communication on the continent,” he said.

There was an equally positive message from Mohamuda Gaas,  State Minister of Science and Technology, Federal Republic of Ethiopia.

“In an era of globalization, the ability of any country to achieve a decent standard of living depends on the extent to which it can harness science and technology for development,” he said.

“It is therefore critical to promote science, technology and innovation, and strive to get the maximum benefit out of them by creating an environment conducive to accessing any information that could contribute to the enhancement of economic growth and development.”

All very positive so far.

There is general agreement — perhaps not surprising in a meeting of science communicators — that science communication is important, and needs reinforcing in any way possible.

The real test of the meeting will lie in the practical steps that some out of it. One already on the table, according to Ilboudo of UNESCO, is the creation of an East Africa of Science Journalists Network. Others will form part of a plan of action due to be approved at the end of the meeting.

More will be known tomorrow.

This blog post is part of our Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development blog, which takes place 19-20 September 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

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