FSNet-Africa Science Communication and Publication Write Shop

FSNet-Africa Science Communication and Publication Write Shop

The Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) hosted an 11-day Science Communication and Publication Write Shop in Muldersdrift, South Africa, from 3 to 12 July 2023. The Write Shop provided an opportunity for the FSNet-Africa fellows to strengthen their capacities to translate research evidence into academic publications as well as communications outputs for non-scientific audiences. This was the fifth major FSNet-Africa event since the project’s inception in July 2021 and offered an opportunity not only for training but also for in-person networking and strengthening of relationships.

The Write Shop was divided into three main components – namely, an academic output writing workshop (3 to 7 July), a grant-writing and management workshop (9 July), and a science communications workshop (10 to 12 July). The first week consisted of a series of short, interactive training sessions facilitated by members of the FSNet-Africa Academic Leadership Team (ALT). The first day was kick-started by Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee, FSNet-Africa Senior Researcher and Networking Learning Lead, based at the University of Pretoria, with a session on expectations and timelines. Fellows were divided into groups based on where they currently are in the writing process and linked to a ‘buddy’ to serve as an accountability and support partner throughout the Write Shop.

Image: FSNet-Africa Write Shop participants

Prof. Claire Quinn, Co-Director and Co-Investigator of the FSNet-Africa project based at the University of Leeds, and Prof. Andy Dougill, ALT member based at the University of York, introduced the fellows to the “Power of 3” – i.e., the power of thinking in 3s, through their presentation on “What makes a great paper and how to be a paper writing ninja”.

Image: Prof. Claire Quinn (University of Leeds) and Prof. Andy Dougill (University of York) presenting

The Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems journal Chief Editor, Prof. Stephen Whitefield (FSNet-Africa mentor based at the University of Leeds) and Journal Manager, Chloe Boyd, facilitated an online session on the Frontiers journal, including an overview of the journal, the publishing models, and the review process, offering tips on good practice when submitting a paper.

As a journal, we have a fair review process that is non-discriminatory and encourage geographical diversity. Our focus is on the scientific soundness of the article” – Chloe Boyd. This remark by Ms Boyd was in response to earlier discussions by some fellows who felt anxious about submitting to international journals due to previous experiences of discrimination by some journals against authors from developing countries.

Dr Tshilidzi Madzivhandila, FSNet-Africa ALT member and CEO of the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), shared the following valuable insight during the training session on incorporating policy impact into your journal article: “Research is not an end in itself but a means to an end. New knowledge is not enough if not shared and used. The sharing or communication of this new knowledge for policy influencing should avoid jargon and focus on language simplicity and robust recommendations.”

Image: Dr Tshilidzi Madzivhandila (FANRPAN) presenting on incorporating policy impact into your journal article

The grant-writing and management workshop was a one-day event facilitated by University of Leeds Research and Innovation Development team members Dr Siân Evans and Dr Susannah Hopson. The workshop focused on how to develop grant applications to give fellows the best chance of funding success. In Dr Evans’ presentation on searching for and identifying relevant funding opportunities, she said, “as an early-career researcher, calls for funding grants might seem overwhelming, but you should remember that you do not have to know it all; collaboration is key.” Dr Hopson shared some tips on how to secure partners for grant applications: “The key take-away points are: (1) it takes time to build partnerships [so] make sure you develop long-term relationships; (2) always read the guidelines; and (3) it’s a co-productive process, thus stakeholders should be engaged right from the beginning and throughout the project.” There was also an online session presented by the University of Leeds Knowledge and Transfer Partnership Support Office. Fellows were encouraged to reach out for support in writing grant applications.

Image: Grant-writing and management panel discussion. From left to right: Dr Siân Evans (University of Leeds), Dr Susannah Hopson (University of Leeds), Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee (University of Pretoria), Prof. Claire Quinn (University of Leeds)

The final component of the Write Shop focused on science communications training and spanned three days. Fellows received training from science communications experts (such as ScienceLink and The Conversation Africa) on crafting and presenting messages from their research clearly and confidently through various platforms and techniques, including popular writing, media interviews, audio-visual presentations, and social media. The fellows were supported to finalise their opinion piece pitches for The Conversation Africa and to develop science communication plans for their research projects.

Image: Science communication participants with ScienceLink and The Conversation Africa trainers


A unique and engaging highlight in the programme was training on dissemination of research through participatory arts facilitated by Dr Aylwyn (Ally) Walsh (Associate Professor of Performance and Social Change, University of Leeds) in collaboration with Dr Marié-Heleen Coetzee (Postgraduate Programme Coordinator at the School of Arts: Drama, University of Pretoria). Fellows had an opportunity to build a story and characters that are part of the ‘Umshanelo Community Forum’. The characters developed for the forum included a chief, researchers, farmers, government officers, and the private sector. A short play showcasing the Umshanelo Community Forum was implemented with various stakeholders discussing a real-life challenge (pesticides polluting community water sources) in the food system.

Image: Umshanelo Community Forum panel discussion

The overall emphasis during the concluding days of the FSNet-Africa Science Communications and Publication Write Shop was how to make research accessible to as wide an audience as possible so that people can benefit from it. Through mutual learning, fellows explored the aims, audiences, messages, platforms, skills, and resources needed to communicate their research creatively and effectively.