by Jay Gribble, vice president, International Programs
Sitting in the conference hall of the Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, as the National Leaders Conference on Family Planning, Population, and Development is about to open, I can feel a sense of optimism along with a sense of challenge at the same time. It’s a great feeling to return to Malawi after several months and see people again—knowing how hard many have worked to make this conference a reality. There is a sense of hope as President Joyce Banda has assumed leadership of the nation that issues of reproductive health and development will be prioritized in the administration. Yet there is also challenge. Yesterday, the Malawi currency was devalued by almost 50 percent, gasoline continues to be difficult to find, and there are other indications that the situation is slow to improve.
Our colleagues have worked hard to make this meeting an opportunity to share information and evidence about advances in the health of Malawi. The conference will galvanize support for family planning and development. And it’s needed, because even though use of modern contraception is high, 42 percent of married women report using modern methods, fertility remains high. During her life, the average Malawian woman has almost 6 children. This situation poses a quandary that will be discussed: Though the use of effective contraception is high, fertility also remains stubbornly high. We will hear from a colleague at Kenya’s National Council on Population and Development (NCPD) on how they have disseminated evidence-based messages to national and subnational audiences to get family planning and population growth on the policy agenda. Tomorrow, I’ll be presenting on Malawi’s chances of reaping a demographic dividend—but only if the country first focuses its attention on the health and education of the poor, and subsequently enacts policies that can stimulate job creation and needed economic reforms.
So it’s an exciting time. Malawi is confronting the challenge of population growth and looking at how it is critical to advancing economic development. Over the next few days, I’ll be providing periodic updates of what comes from the conference.
This week, a bunch of us from PRB are in Accra, Ghana for the 6th Annual Research Conference on Population, Reproductive Health, and Economic Development as part of the PopPov Research Network. The Population and Poverty Research Network (PopPov) was created in 2005, when the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation formed partnerships with funding agencies and program implementers, bringing together researchers from leading higher education institutions worldwide. PopPov’s goal is to provide clear evidence that investing in reproductive health can provide economic benefits at both the household and country level, and how to reach policymakers and donors with these messages. This week, conference participants will present their ongoing and completed research on population, reproductive health, and economic development; identify gaps in evidence and methods that inhibit the development of sound policies on population and economic development; and discuss examples of the influence of research on policies and how to communicate research findings to policymakers.
We’re honored to be co-hosting the conference with the University of Ghana. Fred Sai, Former Presidential Advisor on Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS, will give the keynote address tomorrow. I’m excited to hear his perspective on the progress and challenges since the International Conference on Population and Development (the “Cairo conference”) in 1994. (Dr. Sai was the chair of the conference’s Main Committee.) Since then, the focus of global family planning efforts has shifted to women’s rights and empowerment, for women to be able to decide the family size they desire and have control over their fertility. Donor funding and programming for family planning is increasing, but the links to economic development is not as clear. And with many other public health and development issues competing for donor and policy attention, strong evidence is needed. I expect Dr. Sai, and the conference in general, to discuss many of these issues.
Throughout the week, I’ll be blogging from Accra and interviewing researchers on various population and economic issues and their implications for public policy. Stay tuned for more posts from Accra and quite a few videos on the PRB site over the coming weeks. Want to learn more about the conference? Visit the PopPov website for the agenda, conference paper abstracts, and more.
by Fafanyo Asiseh, Gina Yaa Oduro, and Patricia Anafi, PRB 2011-2012 Policy Communication Fellows
At the recent PRB 2011 Policy Fellows Communication Workshop, we gained insight into something that we have not really thought about: to write and present our research in a simple, concise, yet professional manner to affect policy change in society. These struck a chord because many times as graduate students and researchers, our aim is to get into more publications and better jobs. We publish our research in peer-reviewed journals, keep them in libraries and on our bookshelves, while those who need the information most— taxpayers and policymakers—don’t have access.
Fafanyo Asiseh, Gina Yaa Oduro, and Patricia Anafi, PRB 2011-2012 Policy Communication Fellows, with Shelley Snyder of USAID.
This context has set us thinking more about our research and responsibility to society. It has oriented us toward seeking answers to questions that are more relevant to societal problems that demand attention. As individuals, each of us has come to the realization that “my research is not just about me or my knowledge, but more importantly, it’s about making it available and relevant to policymakers and other target audiences who may be able to translate our findings to something more productive.”
Prior to the workshop I proposed to write a policy brief that was standard for a technical audience, specialists in the field of public health who knew the difference between “relative risk” and “odds ratio.” This is an acquired habit for most PhD student after spending some time in grad school. The best thing that happened to me during the workshop was to unlearn this habit and understand the virtue of writing for a wider audience, specialists outside of public health and possibly policymakers. I am also unlearning the habit of relying heavily on abstract words like “initiation,” “utilization,” and “assessment” and replacing them with action verbs like “initiate,” “utilize,” and “assess.”
In our information age, it isn’t very hard to find demographic, health, environment, and economic data as more organizations and government agencies collect and publish data sets for the public to use. But how can we know which data are accurate, and how can we make use of the glut of data out there? How do we sort through the numbers to find a story? That’s what drives us at PRB and in light of that mission, we’re pretty excited here about the launch of our revamped and improved DataFinder tool.
Over the years, it’s remained the single most popular destination on our website and with the new version, you can search hundreds of indicators, thousands of U.S. and international locations, and easily create custom reports to print, download, and share. You can display your search results as a ranking, map, trend graph, stacked bar, or horizontal bar. We’ve greatly expanded what you can find about the United States, adding indicators from the 2010 U.S. Census, American Community Survey, and Population Estimates; and data for Census divisions and regions, states, metro areas, and counties. International data from PRB’s2011 World Population Data Sheetare also in DataFinder.
For example, here’s a stacked bar chart showing the racial/ethnic composition of the U.S. population under age 18 in 2000 (click on the images to view a larger version):
And in 2010:
By hovering over each of the racial/ethnic proportions in DataFinder, a pop-up box shows the exact data point. In these graphs, we see that the proportion of the under-18 population that is Hispanic grew from around 17 percent in 2000 to over 23 percent in 2010 and the non-Hispanic white population proportion declined from over 60.9 percent in 2000 to 53.5 percent in 2010.
Now that we’ve launched the tool, we don’t expect to rest on our laurels. As we have always done with DataFinder, it will continue to be updated. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be adding more with data from PRB’s The World’s Women and Girls 2011 Data Sheetand as new data is uncovered from the 2010 U.S. Census. Also, PRB president Wendy Baldwin is tweeting regularly with interesting data points and findings from DataFinder. You can follow her at WendyPRB.
Earlier this year, the UN predicted that our planet will be home to around 10 billion people by the end of this century. Scary as that sounds, we are already at the 7 billion mark and we still have around 90 years to go. India alone makes up around 17 percent of the current world population, and that is worrying because the population is still growing. As a doctoral student at Arizona State University who is interested in fertility issues, India’s growing population and diminishing resources are causes of concern for me. A PRB policy communication fellowship that would teach me how to bring my concerns to a wider audience was an opportunity that I did not want to pass up.
For the past couple of years, I have spent day after day sitting at my desk looking at data. I mainly work with the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) from India. I look at how things have changed over time and where India is going with its population growth. I think about issues that I feel are important for my country and how I can bring them to light by presenting at academic conferences and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. I’m a researcher-in-training, and this is what I do all the time. I feel like I am getting my concerns out there…or am I?
PRB staff and 2011-2012 Policy Communications Fellows at the August DC Workshop. Photo: PRB.
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.
by Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam, PRB Women’s Edition Journalist
My name is Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam, and I’m a freelance journalist, writer, and editor from Pakistan. My passion is writing about human rights with a special focus on gender issues and reproductive health. Blogging is a personal joy to me, as I put my heart into my writing and blogging allows for a more personalized style. Digital journalism is a sign of evolution – one I happily accept. My pet peeve is marginalization on any grounds. I am a mother of a teenage daughter and live in Karachi.
As part of PRB’s group of journalists in Women’s Edition 2010-2012, I recently had the chance to travel to Ethiopia on a visit that was unforgettable. The visit inspired a series of seven brief travel-blogs, based on my seven days there. Women’s Edition is a wonderful opportunity to connect with other like-minded female journalists from developing countries around the world, and learn solutions to the problems from this interaction. The program has reaffirmed my belief that our commonalities are more than the differences.
Hello from Addis Ababa, where I am blogging from the 5th annual general assembly of the Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) Consortium of Ethiopia. Along with the Philippines, Ethiopia is the largest PHE programmer in the world, both in terms of number of programs and people affected, and for good reason: The country combines dire need, willing donors, and a great deal of local capacity and will.
Ethiopia is currently home to 85 million people – second only to Nigeria as the most populated country in Africa – and the average woman has 5.4 children, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Ethiopia is also extremely rural, with only 16 percent of the population living in cities, which, combined with its rugged terrain, poses challenges for delivering health services and improving land management.
The PHE Ethiopia Consortium is a coordinating body made up of 48 organizations that implement integrated PHE development programs at more than 30 sites across the country. At the general assembly, more than 80 members from around the country reported on their efforts to improve livelihoods and communicate the effectiveness of integrated development.
Jason Bremner of the Population Reference Bureau, speaking on the state of PHE across Africa and globally, showed a data chart created using Hans Rosling’s Gapminder tool that tracks the progress of poverty and life expectancy indicators over the last 50 years. He pointed out that the “world is a better place today in many ways.” But, he said, the PHE community must get better at communicating its successes. “Even by the best case scenario we will be 8 billion by 2050…and if nothing changes…we could be as large as 12 billion,” he said.
In June 2010, 16 individuals who are leading the way in Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) programs in East Africa gathered in Nairobi to participate in one of PRB’s highly acclaimed policy communications workshops. Through this training, participants learned how to better communicate information about effective PHE interventions and advocate for policy change that promotes PHE linkages and integrated approaches to policymakers in their home countries.
Since 2005, PRB has partnered with the National Coordinating Agency for Population (NCAPD) based in Nairobi, to facilitate these workshops. While the workshop provided participants with a number of take-home messages, three of the main principles of the workshop were: know your audience, use empirical evidence to support your message, and provide specific recommendations that encourage policymakers to act. Workshop activities showed participants how to implement these principles in written formats, when communicating in person, and when providing formal presentations. It was an intensive week-long experience; participants attended panel sessions and group meetings during the day and worked on individual exercises at night.
This year’s workshop, not unlike workshops in years past, brought together a remarkable group of professionals. The participants were from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda and they worked on a diverse range of PHE issues, including public health and endangered wildlife, HIV/AIDS and environmental linkages, and reproductive health advocacy as a conservation strategy. Given the incredible resumes and experience of our participants, I was curious to see how they would respond to the workshop activities. Would the experience meet participants’ diverse needs? Would it be challenging to even the most seasoned professionals? And lastly, would it leave participants more confident in their abilities and energized to reach out to decisionmakers?
The answer to all of these questions was yes. Despite the numerous qualifications and years of experience that participants possessed, the workshop still provided a unique opportunity to spend a concentrated period of time thinking about and practicing communication techniques with constant feedback from policy communication experts and their peers in the field. They learned new skills, built new connections, and reinvigorated their enthusiasm to share evidence and findings with decisionmakers.
On the last day of the workshop, each participant gave a formal presentation to the group. Despite the level of comfort that comes from spending a week together, for some participants, the presentation was still nerve-wracking. The presentations were filmed so that participants could see their own strengths and weaknesses as communicators, and the feedback from the group was honest. Still, every participant rose well beyond the challenge, proving that policy communications is a critical skill that can be cultivated, and that good mentoring, peer support, and hard work pay off. The participants also demonstrated that the process of growing as a communicator is never done. We all can continue to challenge ourselves to be strong policy communicators, and learn new techniques to improve the success of our messages, regardless of where we are in our careers.
Two participants share their thoughts on the workshop: