December 11, 2018

What Science Can Learn From Radio

There are a two things that hold true in Ghana; firstly we have 29 million football coaches and secondly, everyone is a specialist in at least one health condition. I do not know the reason for the former but for the latter it’s easy to hazard a guess. That is the abundance of health talk shows across all media platforms. Although admirable, many platforms have stayed true to health, while completely ignoring all the other facets of science. It was only a matter of time before this changed.

A year ago, the Ghana Science Association (GSA) was approached by the producer of the morning radio show on Starr FM; the Morning Starr. His request was simple, he wanted a segment on the morning show every Wednesday to be dedicated to conversations around Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). As providence would have it, the GSA had been contemplating ways to improve our engagement with the public, so this opportunity was not to be taken lightly.

Three weeks later on Wednesday 1st November 2017, The Horizon was live as the first STEM based show on morning radio in Ghana. As the regional secretary of the Ghana Science Association I help produce the show, advising on topics to be discussed and sourcing professionals with specialist knowledge required for the show. After a year of doing this, here is what I have learnt.

Feedback is golden

I first realised the value of obtaining feedback while working with Teach for Ghana and it appears that when doing radio, feedback is golden. So when we first started the show I actively sought feedback from anyone who tuned in. This included friends, colleagues, employees at the StarrFM, listeners and most importantly the guests who we hosted on the show. As STEM professionals, their insights on how to improve the show was important to be able to attract more professionals to come onboard. This was necessary to ensure diverse conversations on the show.

Failure is an opportunity to Iterate

There have been some episodes that didn’t go down well, but the feedback provided insights for evidence based decision making. As such, The Horizon has seen a few iterations since the first episode. What was initially a straightforward conversation on a topical subject is now introduced with “Top 3 Science News for the Week” and interspersed with a “Fun Science Fact”. There is even a look at the guests educational and professional journey as a way of informing listeners about careers in STEM.

 

The art of storytelling

Francis Abban, the host of The Horizon once said how it’s important for national media to celebrate exceptional persons in STEM for international media to subsequently highlight. Over the last year, The Horizon has hosted a number of researchers and Innovators who have gone to receive international recognition. Now I will not be so bold as to claim The Horizon is responsible for this but it is comforting to be celebrated at home even as you are recognised abroad.

Story telling has become an integral part of our identity and it is no longer acceptable for international media outlets to be the ones painting a picture of Ghana and Africa. For a scientists and science communicator, I have picked up quite a bit about how to promote The Horizon, having the right conversations to ensure that the public gets engaged.

This is probably the biggest learning that has taken place and yet also the biggest learning that needs to take place. The art of story telling is ever evolving and as a science communicator so must I.

Someone has to foot the bill

Radio is great for mass communication, especially in Ghana where internet penetration is only 35%. However radio is also expensive, especially morning radio (6 – 10am). As it stands now, the Ghana Science Association is providing content and StarrFM is providing airtime, no one is directly spending and no one is directly benefiting financially.

What this means is that there have been the odd occasion where we have been unable to secure a special guest or someone has bought out the airtime. Either of these cases emphasise the fact that it is not just the basic science and research that needs funding, but even disseminating STEM information for public good also suffers without someone footing the bill

Having a champion makes a difference

I always assumed everyone working in the field of STEM would jump at the opportunity to share their work on one of the leading radio stations in the country, however this is not the case. With that being said, there is one place I can always rely on to provide guests with specialist knowledge and that is the West African Center for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP). As an academic center of excellence, WACCBIP has really placed value on public engagement and I have been privileged to work with WACCBIP on other projects.

Many wrongly assume that STEM is a niche area, not taking into consideration that STEM underlies every form of development we hope to achieve in the future. The Horizon has taken a very diverse approach to STEM conversations, hosting directors of research institutes and young undergraduate innovators.

We have hosted world class researchers working on areas ranging from malaria to AI and astronomy. We have even hosted educationalists to share their insights on how to build the appropriate STEM environment in Ghana.

It has only been a year, but I have had the privilege of meeting many great personalities within the Ghanaian STEM space and as The Horizon enters its second year, I cant wait to see what iterations this year brings.

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