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International workshop aims to boost public engagement work in developing countries

Public engagement practitioners from across the world are to share skills and experiences at an innovative conference to be held in South Africa, organised by the Wellcome Trust.

The conference entitled "Science and community: engage to empower" will take place from 2-5 December at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, KwaZulu-Natal. It will bring together practitioners working in the fields of public engagement and communication of biomedical and health research.

The programme of activities and workshops will include interactive sessions on the theory and practice behind public engagement, as well as the ethics of involving communities. Hands-on sessions will look at how to equip researchers with science engagement and communication skills, and ways of building bridges between scientists and policymakers. Delegates will be able to explore the potential of science cafs, theatre and cultural events, science centres and science journalism as public engagement tools.

"This conference will be one of the first of its kind, with public engagement professionals from around the world coming together to share their knowledge," says Dr Bella Starling, who heads the Wellcome Trust's international public engagement programme. "Many of these practitioners will be working on their own, with only virtual communication with counterparts in other countries. Meeting face-to-face will enable us to develop a strong and dynamic network, leading to valuable improvements in the field."

"We look forward to welcoming public engagement experts from countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil and many more to the Africa Centre," says Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Head of External Relations at the Africa Centre. "It will be fascinating to compare experiences of sharing science from such different parts of the developing world."

Resources from the workshops, including session reports, daily news updates and audio and video casts, will be posted online at during and after the conference.

Justa Wawira is responsible for the strategic development and management of external relations for the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Programme in Kilifi and Nairobi, Kenya, liaising with health-related public and private stakeholders from the international to the local level as well as with the community, the Ministry of Health, civil societies, professional bodies and the media.

"This is an important networking meeting that will give us the opportunity to meet other professionals involved in public engagement from across the globe," says Ms Wawira. "We want to share our work and experiences and learn what others are doing to engage communities with science in the developing world. We hope this interaction will enable us to keep in touch with the latest thinking on this very important topic and arm us with innovative approaches that we can adapt back at home."

The Wellcome Trust, the UK's largest medical research charity, is one of the world's leading funders of biomedical and health-related research. Through its public engagement activities, it aims to develop new pathways of communication and interaction between scientists, policy makers and communities, as well as to stimulate informed debate about the interface between science and society.

The Trust has recently made a significant investment in international public engagement projects through its International Engagement Awards. Recently funded projects include establishing Caf Scientifique events for adults and schools in Uganda; a cinema workshop to produce short films on health research in Coastal Ecuador; and a project to engage teachers in rural areas of Brazil with ongoing pesticide and health research in order to communicate research results promote good practice when using pesticides.

Recipients of the International Engagement Awards will join researchers and outreach staff from Wellcome Trust-funded centres in the developing world and a number of other key stakeholders in networking with science communicators from around the world.


Contact: Craig Brierley
Wellcome Trust

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