Kenya hopes to host Africa’s first World Conference of Science Journalism

August 22, 2012


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

Kenya’s science journalism body, the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) will bid to host the 2016 World Conference of Science Journalism (WCSJ), in partnership with the African Federation of Science Journalists.

The body will be seeking support from WCSJ affiliate bodies in its bid to host the event in Kenya. If successful, this would be the first time the conference is staged in Africa.

MESHA Kenya chair Violet Otindo told delegates at the official opening of the African Science Journalist Conference (ASJC) on Tuesday night that the experiences gained from hosting the first ever ASJC had given them enough courage to bid for the global event.

“The fact that we have successfully hosted the ASJC event, the first ever on the African continent, has given us enough confidence to bid for the world event,” she said. “We do not feel the event will be any different from what we are hosting today – the only difference is that the world conference will be much bigger,” she added.

Press conference in Kenya. Photo credit: Commonwealth Secretariat, flickr

Kenya’s minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Margaret Kamar, said the Kenyan government will support Kenya’s bid to host the event, saying that such a move would put the country and Africa’s science journalism on the world map.

“I’m assuring you of my personal and government support in seeking to host the event, and indeed we will support you in whichever way we can,” said the minister when she officially opened the ASJC in Kenya’s Rift Valley town of Nakuru.

With over 100 journalists present, enthusiasm for the bid spread quickly. Former BBC Africa editor and Knight Journalism fellow Joseph Warungu said that Africa must not again miss the chance to host the event.

“We feel the 2011 WCSJ was a missed opportunity for Africa and this time we must make sure we succeed,” he said.

The last WCSJ event was staged in Doha, Qatar after it was moved from Cairo, Egypt at the last minute following political upheavals in the north African country. Next year’s conference will be hosted by Finland.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

Research needs “radical transformation”

August 21, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

A radical transformation in the way research is carried out by universities and institutions is needed to improve the use of evidence by policymakers in the global North and South. This is what John Young, director of impact assessment, partnerships and RAPID at the Overseas Development Institute, UK, argued on the first day of the International Conference on Research for Development.

Young’s talk, on enabling research in global transformation, focused on influencing policy on what he refers to as ‘wicked problems’. These are global challenges that are difficult to define, multi-causal, socially complex and experience chronic policy failures. Needless to say, perhaps the most pressing wicked problem of our time is climate change. And as we have seen, despite the urgency of the problem and its prominence in research and political limelight, collective political action has been, and still is, lacking.


Policymakers do not use evidence to inform decision making for a number of reasons, Young explained. These can be neatly summarised as (quoting British politician Vince Cable): speed, superficiality, spin, secrecy and scientific illiteracy among policy makers.

He urged the need to recognise that policymaking involves a range of factors other than evidence, such as economic, social and political factors, resource limitations and increasing pressure from NGOs, and called the process “chaotic”. To appreciate the reality of this complex situation, he suggested a shift from using the phrase evidence-based policy to evidence-important policy.

While it is quite easy to become discouraged and complacent about these challenges, Young explained that research carried out in the right way can be hugely influential.

But how?

Young argued that research requires a radical transformation. As it stands, classical research takes too long, is expensive and focuses on academic questions and not practical solutions.

So first of all, evidence needs to be relevant. The key to this is a transdisciplinary approach, focusing on practical solutions. Researchers can no longer work alone; it is crucial to build a coalition for change with individuals and organisations not necessarily from the research community.

Collaboration of Indonesian women. Photo credit: vredeseilanden, Flickr

For this, researchers need to become good communicators and networkers. It is important to understand what the policy issues are and how these are likely to change what research is carried out. Incentives for researchers also need to be reconsidered, as publishing in peer-reviewed journals is not relevant or timely for transdisciplinary work.

Innovative communication and advocacy work is needed to improve access to research for policymakers. Demand for research can be created by presenting information in a policy-friendly way: focusing on what is known about the issue, how strong the evidence is and the likely effects of new legislation. Simplicity is key.

The importance of think tanks should not be underestimated, Young explained. Many carry out research, and have extensive policy and public affairs programmes. There is an increasing number of think tanks in the global South with strong networks of key actors, and this is crucial to influencing policy.

Young referred to exciting projects such as the Indonesia Knowledge Initiative and the Climate Development Knowledge Network that aim to improve the use of research in policy by working on capacity development with researchers and policymakers. These programmes are needed in developing and emerging countries for a vibrant knowledge economy and research to influence policy and practice.

More information on ODI’s work, and its various tools for researchers using evidence to shape policy making can be found here.

Do you have any advice or tips on how to make research more policy friendly or successful examples on the uptake of research into legislation? If so, please leave a comment below.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.

ICRD2012 research agenda draft published

August 21, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

During his opening speech yesterday, Hans Hurni, director of the NCCR North-South programme, emphasised the need to learn from current experiences. From this, he hopes that the conference will end with the finalisation of an agenda to improve the conduct and impact of research on tackling global challenges.

For those who were unable to attend the conference, a draft version of the research agenda is available online here.

Attendees at ICRD 2008. Photo credit: NCCR North-South

It was drafted by the organisers, session leaders and participants of the conference, and provides information on the background of the NCCR, ICRD and why a research agenda is needed. The agenda discusses choosing a research topic for sustainable development, lists the challenges involved, and considers research approach, capacity development and how to increase effectiveness.

If you would like add your voice to the discussion, leave a comment below by 14.30 (BST) Wednesday 22 August, before the final session on the research agenda, and I will pass it on to the organisers of the conference.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.

Poor show at ICRD 2012

August 21, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

After a short flight from London to Bern, I finally made it to the International Conference on Research for Development.

As I explained in my previous post, the conference is focused on showcasing the NCCR North-South programme’s work on addressing global challenges, such as climate change, poverty and conflict, through its research and capacity building in the global South.

Despite the programme’s key focus on the global South, and the fact that this is the final conference before the NCCR’s funding comes to an end next year, there is not a particularly strong representation of southern researchers.

Only around one third of the 360 participants present at the conference are from a country in the global South; 16 per cent from Africa, 16 per cent from Asia and six per cent from Latin America. Unsurprisingly, women represent less than half of the total number of participants.

While the figures are disappointing and not a problem unique to this particular conference, I look forward to hearing about what this programme has achieved for the global South through the interesting 11 key note lectures, 29 sessions and 66 colourful posters.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.

Transforming global development through North-South research partnerships

August 17, 2012

Gozde Zorlu
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

Global change through sustainable development is urgently needed to address many of the pressing challenges facing our world today. Stabilising the world’s population, producing sufficient food, improving health systems and managing urbanisation, migration and conflict are just a few examples of major challenges that affect all countries.

The National Centre of Competence Research (NCCR) North-South programme has put science, research and capacity building at the very heart of its drive to overcome some of these problems. The programme is hosted by the University of Bern and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

With a network of over 350 researchers in more than 40 countries, the programme works on the development of sustainable and practical solutions to global challenges through research carried out by individuals and institutions in its North-South partnerships. Research focuses on the needs of developing countries in the global south, as this region is considered the most vulnerable to risks of climate change, poverty and conflict.

Next week, I will be attending NCCR’s third and final International Conference on Research for Development in the picturesque city of Bern in Switzerland.

Bern, Switzerland. Photo credit: eGuide Travel

The conference aims to share and discuss development-oriented research carried out through its North-South partnerships, and to develop a research policy agenda for equitable and sustainable global transformation.

I’m particularly interested in finding out about the success of the programme, lessons learnt and the innovative ways in which research — especially from the South — can help to change or shape the future of how global challenges are addressed.

If you have any questions or would like to get involved in the discussion, leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter using the hashtag #ICRD2012.

This blog post is part of our 3rd International Conference on Research for Development: Research for Global Transformation blog that takes place in Bern, Switzerland, from 20-22 August 2012. To read news and analysis on research for development please visit our website.

Over 700 voluntary commitments at #rioplus20 – but few on S,T&I

June 23, 2012

Daniela Hirschfeld
Latin America regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Every day of the conference, the number grew. When it reached the first hundred, it seemed quite good. Two hundred was unexpected; four hundred a surprise. On Friday afternoon, at a press conference, it was announced that the number was 692 and last night the automatic meter posted on the Rio+20 official site read 705.

“What differentiates a commitment from a good intention?”, asked Jose Maria Figueres, president of Carbon War Room. Flickr/ UN_PHOTO_CONFERENCE

This is the number of voluntary commitments — formal promises to deliver concrete results for sustainable development — that the UN encouraged everyone, from governments to civil society, to make.

Registration of a commitment required deliverables and a target date. The 692 are supposed to be worth US$ 513 billion.

Brice Lalonde, executive coordinator of #rioplus20, said these commitments were a “major” success of the conference, and Nikhil Chandavarkar, UN chief communicator at Rio+20, said that they demonstrated that all the world community is engaged.

The commitments are divided inot 23 areas ranging from biodiversity to communications on sustainable development to technology and innovation.

For example, the government of Mauritius has committed to turning at least a quarter of its territory into a protected area by 2030, and the Pacific islands have agreed to empower 100 women entrepreneurs in green economy businesses by 2015.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) said it would create a Resilient Cities and Nations Collaborative Platform by 2016.

Science did not stand out in the list. Only two commitments have been assigned to the Technology and Innovation category, although other commitments include some science.

“I think the problem of science is that there are still two worlds [politics and science] that don’t speak enough to each other”, Lalonde told SciDev.Net.

In fact, the Science and Technology Major Group is practically hoarse after its efforts to talk to politics leading up to Rio+20. Perhaps scientists ought to register the major new research enterprise, Future Earth, which has its sights firmly fixed on the problems of sustainable development, in the compendium of commitments.

Chandavarkar urged the signatories to now fulfill their commitments.

“What differentiates a commitment from a good intention?”, asked Jose Maria Figueres, president of the nongovernmental organisation Carbon War Room.”Accountability. And I look forward to all these promises being kept”, he added.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.

A bleak day, a disastrous meeting – NGO verdict on Rio+20

June 21, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net

A group of bitter NGOs held a press conference this morning to denounce the Rio+20 conference.

This followed yesterday’s public request to world leaders by the NGO Major Group representative to remove reference in the first paragraph of the final agreement to its having been achieved “with full participation of civil society”.

Today Lasse Gustavsson of WWF told journalists: “This is a bleak place to be in”.

From peaceful vegans to conscientious corporates, everyone has had an event at Rio+20

It is hard to believe that the document had been put together by the planet’s best diplomats, he said. Greenpeace’s Daniel Mittler added that Rio+20 had been an “epic failure … developed countries have given us a new definition of hypocrisy”. Oxfam agreed that the meeting, which doesn’t end until Friday, had ‘failed’.

They highlighted the fact that there was no decision on the elimination fossil fuel subsidies and glacial movement on regulating the high seas. No new money for developing countries, Oxfam pointed out.

But they also turned for solace to the quantities of effervescent activity going on outside the conference itself. As well as the stunts and demonstrations (20,000 people on the streets of Rio yesterday, the People’s Summit and other displays we have covered in our blog in the last few days) there have been some serious meetings of powerful people other than heads of state.

These events include the Corporate Sustainability Forum, and a gathering of chief justices and attorneys, highlighted by Peter Lehner of Natural Resources Defence Council, which is seeking ways to implement environmental laws. “It’s critical we do not equate Rio+20 with the document,” he said. “If you see it as a gathering of people from around the world then it’s a different view. Completely separate from theUN document we have seen companies, countries, cities, come up with new initiatives.”

He highlighted the World Bank-driven pledge, made at Rio+20 this week, by 86 companies and 57 countries, to measure their natural wealth as part of their natural accounting.

It’s true there are thousands of separate events going on, and hundreds of voluntary pledges (the latest official tally is 517, including a $1 billion pledge by SINOPEC (China Petrochemical Corporation), one of the world’s largest companies, to improve its energy and environmental footprint.

The question is whether multiple actions by thousands of individuals, networks, businesses and professional groups can effect global change at the level that could be achieved if governments between them took some radical decisions. That’s a question of where real power lies.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.

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