Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Parliamentary staff to learn communication skills

Representatives of parliaments from 13 countries across Africa are attending a workshop in Kampala, Uganda which began on Monday to develop the skills needed to inform Parliamentarians about the scientific aspects of the issues they face in making policy decisions.

The workshop which includes Nigerian participants is being organised by the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS), the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), and SciDev.Net (the Science and Development Network).

Financial support has been provided by the UK-based Gatsby Foundation and SciDev.Net.

The workshop, which takes place from September, Monday 22 to Friday 26, is a response to a need identified by African nations for better communication between scientists and policymakers as part of their efforts to build science and technology capacity.

A key group of policymakers that could benefit from improved communications are members of national parliaments. The purpose of the workshop is therefore to help increase the extent to which policymaking across Africa ­ in areas such as health, agriculture, environmental conservation and climate change — is based more firmly on scientific evidence.

“Parliamentarians are increasingly required to tackle policy issues with a basis in science and technology. They rely to a large extent on parliamentary staff to provide them with the information they need to scrutinise government effectively,” says Chandy Nath of POST.

“Parliamentary staff, therefore, often act as ‘middlemen’ in the communication between scientists and policymakers. However, as few staff come from a scientific background, they may lack the skills needed to relay scientific information effectively to parliamentarians.”

“The main role of the workshop is to provide an introduction to some of the skills required by parliamentary staff to improve the communication process. A secondary function will be to reinforce the importance of communicating with scientists.”

Participants in the workshop have been selected from the staff of African parliaments made up of clerks, researchers and librarians from Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Somaliland, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

The conference opened by Rt. Hon. Edward Ssekandi Kiwanuka, Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda. The Parliament has already been working with POST and other organisations, such as the Ugandan National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society, to identify ways of strengthening its capacity to handle science issues.

The workshop will combine hands-on training from course tutors — such as science communication experts, scientists, and policy advisers — with group discussion where participants share best practice and present their own ideas.

Those addressing the workshop will include Charles Wendo, a science journalist who is the editor of the Saturday edition of New Vision, one of Uganda’s leading newspapers.

The meeting will also hear presentations from Kevin Urama, Executive Director of ATPS, and David Dickson, Director of SciDev.Net, who will present the results of an international survey carried out by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London into the information needs of policymakers.

Teaching material produced for the workshop will subsequently be made widely available, with the aim of stimulating similar workshops in other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The workshop will be held at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala.

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