In 2020, SciDev.Net carried out an unpublished study for which scientists, journalists and communicators discussed what they viewed as the biggest concerns facing science journalism in East Africa.
Focusing on Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, among the challenges the study’s findings surfaced was a lack of access to scientific information. And where journalists had access, they struggled to understand the information in front of them, further hindering accurate reporting on science-related topics in East Africa.
“One of the challenges journalists faced was how to find a credible researcher to interview for a comment or an original story,” said Charles Wendo, a training coordinator at SciDev.Net involved in the study. To address the issue, Wendo and his team developed a training and networking resource called Script Connect, which helps connect journalists with scientists and researchers in the region.
“We designed an app that makes journalists’ work easier by helping to find the experts to interview,” he explained. “At the same time, the app helps researchers to find journalists who would be interested in writing stories about their research.”
Officially launched in July 2022 during a science communication conference at Moi University in Kenya, Script Connect had 135 researchers and 40 journalists in its database at the time of this writing. The app enables journalists to find a researcher by their topic of expertise, and then message them. In its pilot phase, the app has focused on agriculture and recruiting experts in Kenya and Uganda. “We plan to expand to other countries and topics later,” said Wendo.
While there exists a significant amount of research across scientific disciplines produced by universities in East Africa, limited amounts reach the people who need the information most: for instance, farmers, manufacturers, and automakers, explained Ambrose Kiprop, deputy vice-chancellor of administration, planning and strategy at Moi University, and one of the first researchers to use the app.
“There is an urgency to pass this information on, to have a higher effect other than shelving journals in the library for scientific community consumption only,” said Kiprop. “The idea was appealing to me since a simple channel is created to share paramount findings with the consumer. This should be the optimum goal for every scientist who has the well-being of the consumers at heart.”
Although Script Connect is still in its initial stages, the app has allowed Kiprop to connect with fellow researchers in fields as diverse as agriculture, animal health, human health, and the environment sector in his pursuit of local and cross-regional scientific collaborations.
He also sees tremendous potential to expand the app, for instance potentially scaling it to include more disciplines, and to increase the pool of journalists using it beyond East Africa, into Europe, Asia and the U.S. “It can be a thrilling experience to communicate [East African scientists’] groundbreaking findings in USA Today or The Daily Mail newspaper,” said Kiprop.
Mercy Korir, a doctor and journalist based in Kenya, said the app helps link her to relevant scientists for her stories: “I need not worry about the credibility of the scientists because I am assured that they are the right experts, with the relevant skill sets and knowledge to contribute to a story that I am doing, or that colleagues need help with.”
Beth Waweru, a doctoral student in bioscience engineering, at Ghent University in Belgium, helped sign scientists from the agricultural sector up to use the app. “It’s the scientist’s role to identify journalists from the app that suits them with an objective of conveying their findings to the public,” said Waweru, adding that scientists should take the initiative to report their findings and connect with journalists in different communities.
The first stories facilitated by Script Connect will be published in early 2023, and new features are lined up over the next 24 months, too. To this end, Script Connect is working with journalists from New Vision, the largest media group in Uganda, to help refine the service.