August 23rd, 2012 | Posted in Health
by Funmilola OlaOlorun, PRB 2012-2013 Policy Communication Fellow
Funmi is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
In my humble opinion, this quote in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, sums up the messages we received during two-week workshop for PRB’s 2012/2013 Policy Communication Fellows. “Less is more” we were told time and time again. Challenged to move beyond our academic approach to communicating research findings, we were stimulated to write in a simple, conversational way that would keep our audience begging for more. We prepared for our prime moment with a policymaker—whether it was a 60-second elevator speech, a 5-minute chat, or a 12-minute presentation—and determined the main message of our research. We were encouraged to continually ask ourselves questions such as: What must I say to make my case? What can I leave out? What are my key messages? What do they imply? What recommendations can I make from these?
We were a dozen Fellows, a blend of economics, demography, sociology, geography, and medicine. We represented 12 graduate schools. We had to alter our way of thinking to understand why a policy audience is unique. Starting with a fresh slate, we were led—first with baby steps, and then with leaps and jumps—how to best translate our research into a format that could be easily digested by policy audiences.
Two weeks of 8-hour days with this multidisciplinary group of Fellows from Kenya, Philippines, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Peru, Bangladesh, Zambia, and Ethiopia was a most rewarding experience. Add to that the input from well-polished, expert, highly competent and engaging staff at PRB and you have the perfect environment to learn and grow. This unusual combination of Fellows, all with a passion for all things family planning, blossomed over time from a group clueless about how to share their dissertation work with policymakers to a group that felt confident they could describe what they were working on to anyone in 60 seconds or less!
This end is but a new beginning for us, armed with new tools that we will use to define the key messages suited to the right audience and presented in simple language. The energy of the PRB team was palpable, and it was simply amazing to observe how that translated into something we could all draw from, feel, and be motivated by. I doff my hat for these unsung heroes, these champions who are truly changing the world, one Fellow at a time!
The Policy Communication Fellowship, funded by USAID for 25 years now has about 400 Fellows from several different countries. I feel privileged to be one of the 25th group of Fellows. What was the best part of the workshop? Each Fellow probably has a different answer—PRB facilitators, Fellows, lectures, activities, working group sessions, visit to USAID, and visit to The World Bank—but for me, the whole package was an experience of a lifetime.
My last words, borrowed from the wisdom and insight of Mark Twain is for the wonderful Fellows I met in Washington as they remember the “DC experience”:
“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”