- Journalist: “Your research is boring, and you won’t return my phone calls”
Academic Researcher: “Reporters often misquote me and take my work out of context, why are you any different?”
- In August, I helped our team--GCFSI (Global Center for Food Systems Innovation) and LUANAR (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources)--implement and evaluate a workshop designed to help scientists explain their research story to funders, news organizations and others. As part of the workshop (#5 out of 5), we organized a panel discussion with our LUANAR partners, local and national journalists, government ministers, and researchers about sharing research findings. Following the morning panel with our Malawian colleagues, journalists interviewed scholars at their research sites, putting stories in print, and helping to share the compelling research and agricultural innovations at LUANAR. You can read about the workshop here and read and hear a few of the Malawian stories here and here.
I’ve selected a few key moments to highlight from the week because they illustrate the “tip of the iceberg” of effort of the ISP (Innovation Scholars Program) faculty and MSU (Michigan State University) partners. Trust was the silent but essential winner in what emerged as a debate between scholars and journalists. Here are some of the images from the week that show how LUANAR scholars and our MSU team worked together:
Lead, follow, or get out of the way, says the pragmatist. The leaders pictured here do all of those things, but most importantly, they show up. Here they were taking a formal picture to commemorate the panel discussion event. This honor of being centered in the photo was bestowed upon them because of their credibility, their vision, their skills in creating good partnerships, their talent in recruiting strong faculty and staff to implement, their abilities in attracting funding, and their responsibility for the success of others.
We partner with lots of people and their organizations, notably USAID (United States Agency for International Development), LUANAR, and MSU. The (outgoing) Acting Vice Chancellor (AVC), Emmanuel Kaunda, was a fervent supporter of our work and made the ISP project a reality on the ground. Emma Delva from USAID has been a strong supporter of the ISP project and jumped into our process, even helping out with data collection. Dr. Delva is seen here interviewing AVC Kaunda about potential benefits to the LUANAR faculty, campus leaders, and ultimately, the whole institution.
For every workshop, we stretch, strive, and make big plans. And for each planned activity, we build in time to regroup, reflect, and recreate our agenda. No matter the good intentions and sound planning, something goes wrong. This trip was no different. Logistics and scheduling was bumpy, multiple groups were trying to meet multiple other groups…so, after a debrief and reset with our team, here we were (Bill and Kurt), remaking the agenda to make the next day better.
Innovation Scholars practiced pitching their research 6 to 8 times in the days before they interacted with journalists who were, in turn, practicing capturing the context and telling the story of agricultural innovations at LUANAR that could benefit Malawi. Safe spaces to practice, fail, get feedback, and improve are essential to the success of our Innovation Scholars.
Public engagement requires a level of public trust, but trust only develops when we share ideas and discuss and debate those ideas responsibly. Scholars and leaders from LUANAR and Journalists and Media House leaders debated the ways academics communicate their scholarship to the broader public during a panel hosted and organized by LUANAR. After the debate, scholars and journalists visited three agricultural innovation research sites to gain depth and understanding on the stories.
Learning to be a better storyteller has some lighter moments. Here Amol Pavangadkar was demonstrating audio and video on a smartphone. Fun is a joyful outcome of trusting each other and we are better for it.