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Open up! Scientists urged to move innovations from the laboratory to the market

In the Ugandan society, scientist feature less as celebrities. In fact, it is common for a small politician like an LC 1, an artist with basic education and even a sex worker to make headlines in the media than a University professor who burns fingers in the laboratory for 20 years to invent a product to improve millions of lives.

Scientists and communicators pose for a group photo after the science communication workshop in Kigali


Communication experts attribute this to the demanding nature of the work by the scientists and humbleness to blow their own trumpet and poor networking that keeps them off the public sphere. Consequently, as the rest of the world moves very fast, scientists are lagging behind yet they are the best brains.

However, it is now time for a paradigm shift for scientists to improve the visibility and credibility of science as a fundamental aspect in improving society welfare, even if it means going the religious way to preach on the streets, stepping out to the beaches, playing golf, logging in onto face book, twitter or U-switch to make their presence felt.

Researchers as such are reminded that  communicating  science  is an ethical and  moral obligation for people to talk about their work to contribute to society’s  understanding and acceptance of science, securing  public and   private support for  funding,  influencing policy  decisions and cultivating  useful collaboration with researchers outside individual  disciplines.

To achieve this there is the need for scientists to learn and appreciate the needs, roles, beauracracies, languages and values of other stakeholders like policy makers, media, development partners and communities they strive to improve.

Scientists and communicators attending a science communication workshop in Kigali Rwanda

In a Science Communication workshop organized by the Bio sciences Innovations Policy Consortium for Eastern Africa(BIPCEA)  that was held in Kigali Rwanda on July 2nd- 5th,2012,  participants expressed concern that whereas the Eastern Africa countries are swimming in scientific knowledge, the masses  remain  largely starved and thirsty for this knowledge .

The  workshop  brought together  communication experts and scientists working on bio sciences innovations in  six eastern  Africa countries of  Rwanda, Burundi  Uganda, Kenya Tanzania, Ethiopia  and Kenya to  provide science communication skills to build their  capabability  to effectively engage with the different stakeholders.

The Principal Investigator BIPCEA who is also   Assistant Director Uganda National Council for Science and TechnologyDr. Julius Ecuru said the project seeks to address the problem of poor access to new affordable and eco-friendly technologies for crop production and agro processing, weak information and knowledge exchange mechanisms for bio sciences innovations and the limited sustainable financing mechanisms for value addition activities and bio based business enterprises.

Dr. Ecuru Julius centre, handing over certificates to participants

“Our focus is on the policy both national and regional level. The BIPCEA project is there to assist these projects to overcome policy barriers and create an enabling policy environment that should promote movement of bio innovations from the laboratory to the market.”Dr. Ecuru said

Dr Ecuru emphasized the need for scientists to start communicating and make themselves visible to guide policy makers in decision making. He said the global developments are moving towards a green economy and that  Eastern Africa can take advantage of its rich genetic and biological resources to develop competitive enterprises which are based on innovations from these resources.

"Eastern Africa needs to invest more in bio sciences as the future. These days bio science is the next revolution that we expect in the same way we have had the ICT revolution .In the 21st century, we are really going to have economic growth and developments driven more by bio science innovations. So the take home message is, we need a bio economy in order to be competitive in the 21st century”. he emphasised.

In this particular meeting participants were equipped with skills and knowelge about the general principles of effective communication, developing communication strategies, identifying key target audience, developing key message maps and  communicating science for policy influence. They were also introduced to the process of initiating and maintaining effective media relations, how to pitch a story, social media platforms, responding to challenging questions, interviewing techniques and issue management among others.

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