Thursday, June 10, 2010

Journalists have a very critical role to play - Dr. Ayuk Elias

From our newsdesk - “Journalists have a very critical role to play in disseminating research” says Dr. Ayuk Elias, Director International Research Centre (IDRC) in an interview. He spoke to The Vanguard in an exclusive interview shortly after a three day media training workshop of Members of Cameroon Union of Journalists on Reporting Development Research in Cameroon.

Senior Programs Specialist, Globalisation Growth for West and Central Africa Regional Office, Doctor Ayuk Elias, the Director of International Development Research Centre has observed that journalists have a very important role to play in development research as their publication influences decision makers.

To begin with Dr. tell me why your research institution sponsored this workshop?

Dr. Ayuk Elias:
For us, at IDRC, we believe that we cannot inform policy makers if the research has not got the attention of those who need it. We have sponsored activities that linked researchers with policy makers but we think a missing element was the mass media - journalists because they are the people who complete and carry out information.

We thought it will be appropriate for them to have a basic understanding on what Developmental Research is and how they can report on it. So, for us, it is an important element in our time to link the different partners and different stakeholders in informing policy making in developing countries.

How are you going to assess the impact of the seminar on researchers?

Dr. Ayuk Elias:
Well, we hope the journalists who have represented the people of the media will take this forward. We hope that they will take some interest in development research work and of course we have post-workshop activities which are planned to ensure that this does not just end with the closing of the workshop but that we can carry one step forward by having people do concrete activities which we can access and actually reward those who come out the best.

How many research projects have you sponsored in Cameroon?

Dr. Ayuk Elias:
We have so many developmental projects in Cameroon. This one is particular because we are targeting journalists. It is also because we are looking at how to strengthen the capacity of journalists to report on Developmental Research. We have many research projects in Cameroon on different issues. Including: tobacco use, micro finance, and reform and so on.

So, we have other development projects that have been going on in Cameroon for quite a while. Unfortunately most research work in Cameroon ends up in the drawers of researchers.
Yes, we think that researchers as their profession, they do not have the skill some times to bring their research results out to the public and we think communicators in a broad sense of it i.e. the journalists, prints, video and television can have an important role to play in bringing the available information.

Some times researchers do not have the skill to write down their messages in a format that can be understood by a lay person. Journalists have the advantage that they can present research finding in a language easily understood by the lay person.

So we think it was very good to have journalists who are in contact with the public everyday to be a comrade of information from researchers to the public and why not to the policy makers in the respective units and countries we operate in.

It was observed during the seminar that there is a missing link between researchers and journalists all because your research information system is completely different from ours.

Dr. Ayuk Elias:
Well, writing a research result is another aspect of research. Some researchers have the skill to write research results well such as research papers or research output. But research papers or outputs that are meant for the scientific community may not be digestible by the lay person.

Some researchers do policy briefs that are written in lay languages i.e. simple language which can be understood by the general public. But we want that additional role played by the journalists as they are people who can really synthesise messages which are very technical in a format that can be understood.

It thus requires the journalists to be in contact with the researchers to understand the sense of the message and to encourage researchers to write in a format that can be understood by every body as a whole.

What is your take on wish for journalists to actively participate in research works from conception to completion to enable them give apt reports on research findings. What is your opinion?

Dr. Ayuk Elias:
That is a very critical point and we believed that the research projects that are being developed must have media components. If you have a research finding that has no dissemination or diffusion component, you should try to involve the people who have the skill and techniques from the on set.

They will actually strengthen the quality of the proposal by the researcher in the sense that they can give pointers on what media activities and media tools needed in the project to ease diffusion of information needed to get the attention of the general public. We encourage those who are developing projects to actually bring into play all the different partners, different stakeholders and different interesting parties.

That is the journalists, policy makers and of course the researchers should come to a common ground on what it is they want to achieve. If you want to disseminate research results of course, it will be nice to involve journalists from the on set.

What, in your opinion, are some of the problems faced by researchers in Cameroon?

Dr. Ayuk Elias:
The most common of these problems is the lack of resources to undertake a project well. Most government departments are financially weak such that they do not have the resources to provide enough funds for researchers and that is where institutions like IDRC come into play because it provides funds for the developing countries researchers.

The second element is that some of the researchers do not have the skills to actually present their research results in a format which can be understood. That is the raison d’être of this training seminar for the media to bring researchers together with the media people to enable them speak in a common language.

In my mind, journalists have a very critical role to play in disseminating research results to the general public those are two of the most common problems that researchers in developing countries face.

In summary, they lack the resources and the capacity to write in a format that would be digestible by members of the public. This could be a serious impediment to the dissemination of the research results.

What would you be expecting from seminar participants at the end of this workshop?

Dr. Ayuk Elias:
I hope that when I come back here in the next three four months I will see an increase in journalists having interest in reporting research results that have been undertaken in this country.

I would like to see very many creative ideas identified during this workshop. I would also love to see how this have been taken forward in terms of how these are coming out in different news papers and journals that we have present here at the workshop.

So, it is going to be self assessment on every body’s part what it is to gain in this workshop in terms of the output that comes in the next three or four months to come.

Any last word?

Dr. Ayuk Elias:
It was a pleasure being here looking and observing this dynamic group of journalists who are very interested in looking at the different aspects of their work in development research which probably does not get much attention but we think through the media the situation is going to change.

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