Communication and Dissemination in Bi-regional Partnerships
Science, technology and innovation partnerships between African and European countries are characterised by geographically dispersed individuals and organisations, with varying technological, research, infrastructural, linguistic and management capacities. These differences in capacities of the participants in EU-Africa STI partnerships are both bi-regional and intra-regional (sic) in nature: there are differences in capacities between the individuals, organisations and countries in the two regions and varying capacities within the regions themselves. In order for cooperating actors to fulfil their partnership and project objectives within these contexts, they need to consider both how to disseminate information about their activities to a wider audience, and how to communicate relevant information with each other.
If we can improve our understanding of these contexts and share this information with funders and programme designers, more effective projects and programmes can be constructed that utilise the learning that has taken place. Put differently, we would like to compile the information and experiences our colleagues in the field have already gathered, to share lessons with the community on how communication and dissemination activities can be improved.
"Our research asks: What are the communication and dissemination needs and challenges in EU-Africa STI partnerships?"
In the first stage of our investigations, CAAST-Net Plus developed a working paper that aimed to bring to the surface some of the lessons learned within the CAAST Net Plus network itself, as well as its predecessor project, CAAST-Net. The working paper was developed using an exploratory research methodology, in which a small number of project partners were contacted and interviewed, and short buzz groups (sic) were conducted during a session at a CAAST-Net Plus annual meeting in 2014. The project’s external review panel provided comments on the working paper as have a number of partners, and the early findings of the working paper are given below.
In the second stage of our research, CAAST-Net Plus is reaching out to EU-Africa STI project coordinators and project participants through a short online survey in order to solicit their views and experiences. Data will be collected and analysed through a largely qualitative, rather than quantitative approach, and a final report will be available publically in December 2016.
*Note: Survey is closed.
Some Early Findings...
1. Mind the Technology Gap
One of the benefits of recent advances in information and communications technology is that there is significant choice in ways to communicate and disseminate information. It has become both cheaper and easier to set up things like websites and mailing lists than it was when the CAAST-Net project kicked off in 2008. But the advent of new technologies, including social media and Web 2.0 technology, also poses challenges for EU-Africa STI partnerships. Even with recent advances in internet and mobile technology access on the African continent, a gap remains between the two continents in terms of access to bandwidth and new hardware.
2. Dissemination is Easier than Communication
Network-based projects, like CAAST-Net Plus, require both dissemination and communication activities in order to fulfil their objectives. It is not helpful to think about these two activities in the same way. Dissemination requires a few simple tools—a website, newsletters, alerts, social media presence and so on.
Communication is trickier, as it is a two-way street between partners and stakeholders. What has worked very well in terms of encouraging communication in CAAST-Net Plus has been networking events and information days, where partners and stakeholders have been able to meet face-to-face and start discussions. It is easy, however, for these discussions to peter out if there is no formal way to keep them going, for example through a purpose-built website or platform.
3. Balancing Political Communication in a Political Landscape
CAAST-Net Plus operates within a highly politicised environment in which the interests of regions, countries, and organisations are at stake. However, CAAST-Net Plus communications, while linking intimately to political discussions and actors, does not express opinions about such discussions or actors. Its role is strictly defined by its overall objectives, work packages and their tasks and deliverables, and the requirements of the European Commission in terms of dissemination. All the information that is posted on CAAST-Net Plus’ website, in its magazines and newsletters, is vetted before publication to ensure its impartiality and neutrality.
4. Geography Matters
There have been pros and cons associated with splitting the communication duties in CAAST-Net Plus between *Research Africa, based in South Africa, and the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI), based in Austria. The pros include having communicators involved in the project who understand both the African and the European contexts and the varying needs of the audiences in the regions. This can be particularly important given the challenges posed by the technological gap referred to in Lesson 1. However, the geographical split of the communications team can occasionally result in duplication. The CAAST-Net Plus team solved this challenge by splitting the communication duties clearly between *Research Africa and ZSI, and by ensuring that regular coordination meetings were held between the two organisations.
Gerard Ralphs of *Research Africa in South Africa and Isabella Wagner of the Centre for Social Innovation, based in Austria, lead the communication and dissemination work package of the CAAST-Net Plus project. To receive a copy of the working paper referred to in this article, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*An earlier version of this article first appeared in the CAAST-Net Plus Magazine of June 2015.
[Image credit: Flickr, European Parliament]
This content was produced by *Research Africa for CAAST-Net Plus. To report an error, write to email@example.com. To learn more about us, go to www.researchresearch.com/africa.
Disclaimer: CAAST-Net Plus is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n0 311806. This document reflects only the authors’ views and the European Union cannot be held liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.