15 April 2019

By Karien Joubert

Public engagement is a growing and increasingly important field within science communication. Novel ways of public engagement came under the spotlight at CREST at a ‘Science Friday @Stellenbosch’ event held on 12 April 2019.

Gill Black, director at the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation enlightened the audience about new approaches towards public engagement, with emphasis on getting audience members to participate. Using examples from two projects, namely “Heart of the Matter” (2016/2017: dealing with lifestyle and heart disease) and “Bucket Loads of Health” (2018: dealing with draught, grey water use and sustainable water resources), Gill explained how visual methods can facilitate two-way engagement between researchers and communities.

Both of these projects grew out of locally identified needs and worked extensively with local communities from Delft and Enkanini. In terms of science communication, employing visual methods, such as hand maps, creative filmmaking and body maps, were demonstrated to be effective ways of overcoming limitations inherent in more traditional research including language and literacy barriers; and presenting science and research as accessible and relevant to communities’ lived experiences. As part of these projects, the participants were given the opportunity to present their lived experiences of heart disease and water usage to the scientific research teams. These presentations allowed researchers to see their topics in a new light. Researchers, in turn, were asked to use hand maps to illustrate their personal research journeys. Such activities made them as individuals more accessible to their local communities. Through such projects community participants increasingly have the opportunity to become active contributors to knowledge in the research experience and researchers’ knowledge and experience continues to grow and expand in new ways.