Former Irish playwright the late George Bernard Shaw famously remarked that, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” This quote succinctly embodies the problem with communication while underscoring importance of effective engagement and messaging.
As scientists work around the clock to grapple with intractable challenges such as food insecurity, pandemics, environmental pollution and so on, it is emerging that social sciences, such as science communication, play a crucial role in actualizing research efforts, and ensuring solutions benefit society. Unfortunately, communication has often times been treated as an afterthought, and applied using a one-size-fits-all approach, as opposed to following a strategic planning and implementation process.
Scientists need to put more effort towards contextualizing their communication and help stakeholders understand their research outputs so as to make evidence-based decisions. Strategic communication enables researchers to get through, strengthening the connection between science and society, and building the much needed confidence towards scientific information.
Researchers applying the One Health approach have a complex issue at hand due to its multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary nature. One Health is a collaborative and transdisciplinary approach with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognising the interconnection between people, animals, plants and their shared environment. Consequently, experts need to be more deliberate about applying strategic communication and outreach efforts, given there is an urgent need to break down the silo mentality typified in the research world, as well as in One Health related line ministries.
In Africa we believe that if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, walk with others. To address the silo mentality plaguing research, one proposed intervention is starting with stakeholder net-mapping. Net-mapping is a reflective tool for advanced problem solving. The tool can help in understanding relationships and linkages among One Health actors, thereby informing stakeholder engagement strategies and identifying where resources are best invested to achieve impact based on the desired goal. Identifying shared values and addressing territorial issues cultivates togetherness and team work in implementing One Health related activities. Efforts to increase engagement and collaboration across relevant sectors, and especially among the right actors, while addressing any existing conflicts identified through the net-mapping linkages is key.
Another fundamental issue that can potentially affect implementation of One Health related research and governance is the lack of effective soft/interpersonal skills among those tasked with driving the agenda. Consequently, ensuring the right actors are equipped with requisite skills to engage and influence is paramount. To establish cross-sectoral collaboration, there is need to strengthen negotiation skills and team dynamics among actors in government entities with One Health mandates, as well as researchers. Additionally, establishing or strengthening of national One Health platforms depends largely on such soft skills.
ISAAA AfriCenter has joined a strong coalition of partners comprising of the International Livestock Research Institute and CIRAD, a French agricultural research and cooperation organization working for the sustainable development of tropical and Mediterranean regions, to facilitate rapid uptake, adaption and adoption of solutions to issues that can be dealt with using a One Health approach. Dubbed Capacitating One Health in Eastern and Southern Africa (COHESA), the project will work towards increasing relevance of One Health research and policies, enhancing cross-sectoral collaboration, as well as equipping education and research institutes to train the next-generation workforce tasked with tackling One Health issues. ISAAA AfriCenter, leading a work package centred around promoting national and regional One Health collaboration and governance, will bring its vast experience in working with multi-stakeholder platforms and strengthening the soft-skills of those needed to effectively work together across sectors to operationalise the One Health approach.
Dr. Margaret Karembu is the Director, ISAAA AfriCenter and Co-Lead of the Capacitating One Health in Eastern and Southern Africa (COHESA) project