August 25th, 2011 | Posted in PRB News
by Ashley Frost, senior policy analyst
Each year, PRB facilitates a Policy Communications Workshop for doctoral candidates from developing countries who are studying population and health issues. Supported by USAID, the workshop gives emerging experts the skills to successfully communicate their research findings to policy audiences who can act on their evidence-based recommendations.
During the first two weeks of August, the 2011-2012 Policy Communication Fellows filled the conference rooms of PRB with lively conversations about their ongoing research and the policy implications of their work. This year’s group of 11 Fellows hailed from six countries on three continents (India, Ghana, Pakistan, Peru, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe), and they are studying at prestigious universities in the U.S., Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa.
The Fellows’ research interests are as diverse as their countries of origin, ranging from the effects of rapid population growth on the provision of social services in Nigeria to the influence of social capital on child wellbeing in Andhra Pradesh (India). Many of the Fellows are in the final stages of their dissertation research, and they each made excellent progress in learning how to successfully communicate their research findings during the course of the workshop.
Each year PRB looks for new ways to improve the communication skills of the Policy Fellows. This year PRB introduced a new exercise called the “60-second sound bite.” Good policy communicators often use this type of short speech when they only have a few minutes to speak to a key decisionmaker. For this exercise, each Fellow recorded a 60-second statement on video that described their current research and its policy implications. The Fellows then provided feedback on each other’s soundbites and critiqued their own. Watching oneself on film can reveal a wide range of insights; Fellows noticed their own hand gestures, posture, voice intonation, and eye contact, and they could determine for themselves whether their message was successful. It was both a challenging and enlightening exercise.
This group of Policy Communication Fellows was particularly passionate, and often the toughest feedback came from their peers. During the final presentations, the Fellows got into lively discussions while roleplaying as policymakers, and more than one workshop session included debates that ran long after time allowed. Still, as the group challenged each other to improve their own communication skills, they formed friendships and professional relationships that will certainly extend for years to come.
According to Gina Yaa Oduro, one of this year’s Policy Communications Fellows, the skills she learned at the workshop were invaluable. “I simply wish to name the skills acquired at the workshop as ‘skills for life’ because they will be my communication reference tools throughout my working life as a researcher and lecturer.”