The Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) and Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE) recently hosted over 30 delegates for the second annual Africa Asia Communications Forum (AACF).

Supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Forum brings together communications specialists from Wellcome-funded Africa and Asia-based research units in 12 countries from Côte d’Ivoire to Zimbabwe (alphabetically speaking).

A robust debate with several AHRI and SANTHE researchers around the purpose of science communication, and how communications can better serve science, set the tone for three days of intensive discussion and learning. The Forum included practical sessions in storytelling and communicating science, including in languages other than English;  photography; pitching stories to media and measuring results.

Keynote speakers included Mia Malan, founding editor and director of the Bhekisisa Health Journalism Centre at the Mail & Gaurdian; Shirona Patel, head of communications at the University of the Witwatersrand; Marina Joubert, a senior science communication researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University, and Sibusiso Biyela, a science writer at ScienceLink.

Dr Joubert, who spoke at the meeting about ‘Bridging the gap between science communication and practice’ commented that closer interactions between science communication practitioners and researchers promise a number of mutual benefits, including mutual learning and improved practice based on evidence. “The ‘science of science communication’ is a collective term for a body of evidence that helps us understand how people form opinions about science, and why some communication efforts do (or don’t!) work. It urges science communicators to base their practice on evidence of what works, rather than on a ‘gut-feel’ of what might work,” she said. “By inviting researchers to join practitioners in face-to-face meetings and online dialogue, the AACF could play a key role in helping to bridge the gap between theory and practice and nurturing new groups of science communication researchers and practitioners that are not only keen to collaborate, but also benefit from these collaborations in terms of future research and practical impact on relevant societies.”

The meeting hashtag, #AACF19, trended in South Africa. You can pick up on some of the conversations here.