Monday, 23 March 2015

Master Class to learn and share experiences in communicating research to stakeholders

Each year, the Crawford Fund hosts Master Classes across a variety of topics. This past week, I was lucky enough to attend the Master Class in Communicating Research to Stakeholders, held at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi and run by Jenni Metcalfe from Econnect and Toss Gascoigne from Toss Gascoigne and Associates.

I was excited about the opportunity to attend to:
  • Meet fellow agricultural researchers and science communicators from the Africa region
  • Learn about ACIAR stakeholders located in Africa and the best way to communicate with them and how this differs from stakeholders in Australia
  • Learn how to improve my own communication style with stakeholders – both external and internal, using a variety of channels

After leaving Canberra, I boarded three flights, crossed eight time zones and landed 30 hours later. After my first sleep under a mosquito net (with an ominous buzzing noise that I could hear but not see), I was ready to take on the five day workshop.

Twenty-three participants from 11 countries came together to learn about communicating research to stakeholders, to teach each other about their experiences, and to share knowledge on agricultural research.

23 participants from 11 countries. [Source: Elise Crabb]

Each day of the workshop was divided into various sessions, but the broad structure was:
• Day 1 - communications planning and a stakeholder panel
• Day 2 - social media
• Day 3 - presentation skills
• Day 4 - communication planning and writing skills
• Day 5 - media skills with a journalist panel

Each of us took something different away from the workshop – myself, I had to get over my fear of being filmed. Each of us were filmed presenting, which was then played back to the whole audience with (constructive) feedback. Daunting to say the least! As much as I disliked this part of the workshop, it really was effective. Being able to watch yourself speak gives you great insight into what you do well, and what you don’t do so well.
What was great though, was as the week went on, you could see everyone gaining confidence and taking on board the suggestions given earlier in the week. Needless to say, by Day 5, I was convinced of everyone’s projects!
Practicing our presentation skills [Source: Jenni Metcalfe]

On Friday, we had a stakeholder panel consisting of agricultural science journalists from Nairobi who provided useful insight into what journalists want in a story and what they seek from the researchers who are sharing their projects. The key take-away from this – MAKE YOUR KEY POINT FIRST. Engage people straight away by telling them about the great work you are doing and how it will benefit them, then go in to more details of the project itself. True advice, as too often a key message gets lost in details.

Journalist stakeholder panel on Friday [Source: Elise Crabb]

What I found revitalising was the positive vibe of the whole group – there was encouragement of peers, constructive feedback, and well-deserved congratulations for great presentations and discussions. We had a lovely awards ceremony to receive our certificates of completion from the Australian High Commissioner of Kenya, John Feakes and Director General of ICIPE, Dr Segenet Kelemu.

At the end of the workshop, I walked away feeling a sense of accomplishment, it was an intense week with early starts, but I felt I learnt new things about myself, particularly how I actually communicate with others and not just how I think I communicate. In particular, I have found I need to be more concise with my audience, and remember to speak more slowly (as sometimes I get a bit too enthusiastic and talk too fast!).

Australian High Commissioner and Director General of ICIPE present certificates [Source: Elise Crabb] 

I learnt about the best ways to communicate with farmers, who are often the key beneficiaries of research, yet, often mis-informed or don’t have the time to find out about new agricultural techniques and technologies that could provide them many benefits including time and resource savings. Far too often, we don’t think about our target audience for our brochures, newsletters, fact sheets and pamphlets – if we are trying to teach farmers about our work, we have to make sure it is accessible to them, otherwise – what is the point in doing great research in the lab if it doesn’t lead to practical implementation?! We tackled this throughout the week as we all had to develop a communications plan, which identified key stakeholders, communications messages and channels. This plan will provide the groundwork for ensuring we are sharing our fantastic research to the right people, in the right way. At the end of the day, isn't that what communications is all about?

By Elise Crabb, External Engagement and Media Presence Officer, ACIAR


  1. Great post! Sounds like a very useful course.

  2. Nice summary, Elise.

    And as well as learning stuff on communication, a nice opportunity to network with researchers in sub-Saharan Africa on agricultural issues.


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