Connecting local responses around the world
Two weeks ago. I open my inbox. An invitation to a workshop near Chiang Mai. I wasn’t sure what to think when I rwas invited for the workshop of the UK-based Wellcome Trust on ‘Community Engagement: under the microscope’. The main topic was the engagement of the public and communities in bio-medical research. Research was not my area of experience. Would I be able to contribute and get value out of this 3,5 days time investment?
Well, the answer is a solid YES. Let me describe briefly the 4 areas that I learned most on that are relevant for the Constellation:
1. The world of research! I was fresh to this, but it’s very encouraging to see that especially Wellcome Trust explores deeply the question of community engagement, ownership and ethics in research. This issue is applicable to much of the development work as well. Do we just make communities aware of things? Or do we want them to understand exactly why we do certain interventions? Or do we even want them to develop a critical consciousness about all that is happening and the intention that each player has? Do we really want this or we prefer to see communities as passive recipients of our interventions? We know the answer in the Constellation’s values. When we answer this question, imagine a scenario that researchers are planning a research that includes your family, group of friends or neighborhood. What would you respond if you’re not the development actor or researcher, but the ‘target’ community?
2. A study on the Social Vaccine. We call the AIDS Competence Process the ‘social vaccine’. What if we could research the social vaccine with the same rigor as any other vaccine? And show the added value that community ownership makes to the response? We weren’t sure who would be interested in exploring such a research. The Wellcome Trust showed openness to explore this further through their Investigator Awards http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/Funding/Ethics-and-society/funding-scheme.... If you are interested reflect further on this idea and possible research question, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org).
3. The use of Participatory Video. Wellcome Trust showed the results of an inspiring participatory video project in Kenya, Thailand, UK and Nepal. Thanks to some great interactive sessions, I realized the even bigger potential of participatory video in community work than what we explored so far in the Constellation. The main breakthrough for me was the shift from a traditional communication model (source- message- channel- audience – effects – feedback- source) to a participatory communication model (a Venn diagram with Self-reflection of the group involved – finding common ground – involving a wider community – actions). The implications of this shift in thinking are big. We don’t record videos in communities to share necessarily with others. The process itself can be highly valuable and contribute to the local response and horizontal transfer to other communities. Also I learned about how the camera can make people more positive (less realistic?), the importance of a technically good result and how video can be used to increase confidence in a group setting.
4. The gap between Policy and Research/ evidence. At the Constellation, we have seen that evidence on the power of local/ community response is available in many places. An extensive external evaluation of UNAIDS and other actors are on our website. Now why doesn’t policy follow the evidence? This question applied to research outcomes and policy was discussed in the conference. Why don’t great Lancet studies lead directly to adoption in policy? A striking example in Pakistan showed how if we don’t involve the policy makers or the ‘targets’ of our research in the research design, the probability of adoption of recommendations will be very low. This showed me that for the study under point 2, we will need to involve the policy makers we want to address from the beginning. We plan to involve the most critical and skeptical minds in the HIV domain into the research design. What evidence would they like to see exactly and how can we make it as user-oriented as possible? Let me know if you want to think along with us.
Finally, I have to say that the event was very well facilitated. I learned some new innovative facilitation techniques and the small group work, involvement of poetry, theatre and arts made it nice for both sides of the brain! A great thanks to Sian and the other organizers for making this possible.