Communique from the African Science Literacy Network (ASLN)

16 February 2021, 18:00:00

Communique from the African Science Literacy Network

This communique from the African Science Literacy Network is to inform you of several important key messages that we have learned from our community since our launch in 2019, which may be of use to universities and media organisations.


The African Science Literacy Network (ASLN) was launched in Abuja, Nigeria on Monday 14th October 2019, with a mandate to promote science in Africa through accurate science communication and skills-based partnerships between scientists and journalists.


The Network was launched by TReND in Africa, in partnership with the University of Sussex, UK and the Francis Crick Institute and is supported by the Wellcome Trust.


Highly motivated scientists and journalists were selected from across Nigeria to become ASLN Fellows and were trained in a 3-day workshop, during which they also shared their knowledge and built connections. In summary:


  • 35 scientists and 35 journalists participated in the conference.

  • Every region of Nigeria was represented by at least one scientist and journalist.

  • Scientists and journalists were paired to produce at least three news stories (https://www.africanscilit.org/publications).

  • Scientists’ expertise was developed in science communication, story-telling and the journalist’s perspective.

  • Journalists’ expertise was developed in science communication, accessing and interpreting scientific data, and the scientist’s perspective.

  • The trained professionals have been featured on the ASLN website (www.AfricanSciLit.org) to make it easier to find and access expertise across Nigeria.


Working collectively, the members of the ASLN plan to build sustainable developments in science communication that will lead to a significant culture change in science reporting and support, increasing public perception of science and greater trust in scientists.


Below are the several key outcomes from the workshop relevant to universities:


  • Scientists raised concerns about the lack of public relations (PR) support for engagement initiatives within their university. This is essential for dissemination of research coming from institutions, as these teams are able to build connections between the university and journalists. We suggest that universities build capacity in PR and ensure that their departments are aware of the support provided by the university for liaising with journalists.


  • The lack of training in science communication at universities results in scientists with little expertise and confidence in engaging the wider public with research. With better support and training, scientists will be able to raise the profile of their work and their institute, resulting in positive feedback for the university. We encourage universities to evaluate their current provision of science communication training and implement opportunities for undergraduates, postgraduates and practising scientists to receive training.


  • A lack of investment in science communication and no recognition for scientists who do engage externally demonstrates there is little or no senior support within universities, resulting in scientists also not valuing this as part of their job. We recommend that universities include science communication in job descriptions, appraisals and promotion criteria for scientists. Alongside the increased training, this will greatly increase capacity within your institute.


Below are key outcomes from the workshop relevant to journalists:


  • Journalists raised concern about the lack of senior support for science stories, particularly those originating from Nigeria or Africa-based scientists. We suggest media organisations build scientific expertise capacity within their senior management, including acknowledgement of the significance of accurate reporting of science for the public. Increasing collaboration with local scientists will help journalists to increase confidence in the quality of African-based research. ASLN provides an opportunity to increase connections with scientists via our website.


  • The lack of science communication training results in journalists with little expertise and confidence in producing scientific stories. With better support and training, journalists will be able to produce more accurate stories that will engage a wider readership. We encourage media organisations to evaluate their current provision of science communication training and implement opportunities for journalists and editors to receive relevant training.


  • A lack of investment in science communication and no recognition for journalists who do engage with science results in journalists also not valuing this as part of their job. We recommend that media organisations include science communication in job descriptions, appraisals and promotion criteria for journalists and editors. Alongside the increased training, this will greatly increase capacity within your company.


We appreciate that making these changes within universities and media houses will take time and will have challenges. The members of the ASLN are here to work with you, provide recommendations and support you as required.