A curious thing happens when you mention Web 2.0. People tend to begin by explaining all the technical aspects, without actually referring to the practical outcomes. Then, the facilitator assured us that we had all been using it already, which caused us to pause. "Who uses Facebook?" we were asked. Hands went up. "How about Google maps, RSS feeds, Twitter, Linked In, blogs, or wikis?" More hands went up, accompanied by an "Aha!" and a sheepish look.
Needless to say, this was a fun training experience. The ways that these tools can be used for development, as well as social purposes, were new to most of us. But the possibility of using them for remote collaboration, networking and improving literacy was something we began to take very seriously.
From Uganda and Chad and as far away as the Netherlands, case studies showed us how livelihoods could be improved with the use of Web 2.0 and social media tools. We also learned that, despite the fact that these tools have been used socially, there was a need for scientists to rebrand themselves online using Web 2.0, so as to make their work as accessible as possible.
So, how was this training relevant to me? I am not a scientist. Most professionals in the development world would define my role as 'communication intermediary'. We come in various forms: communication managers, publication officers, development communication specialists and science communication specialists. I fall in the last of these groups. My job is to help scientists communicate their research, and I have been involved in this activity for the last seven years at the Training Centre in Communication (TCC), based at the University of Nairobi, Kenya.
In that time, we have probably trained over 1,500 research scientists, but the workshop dubbed as 'Web 2.0 and social Media learning Opportunity' taught me something new. During the course I realized we take a lot for granted, particularly when it comes to packaging information and making it accessible to different audiences. The scientists in my group needed to learn the same lesson, but over the five-day workshop they reluctantly, almost petulantly acknowledged that communicating research needed to go beyond academic circles (journals) and that non-scientists would easily access this information through Web 2.0 and social media tools.
After the training, I shared what I'd learned with the TCC trainers, and we incorporated the curriculum as part of our programme. In 2013, we run the course ten times, in Kenya, South Africa and Liberia. Recently, in early 2014, we delivered the same to the Food and Agriculture Organization-Somali Water and Land Information Management System team (FAO SWALIM). Sharing that 'Aha!' moment with the technical officers – the same one I'd had myself two years ago - was exhilarating.
It took me three years to be shortlisted for the Web 2.0 and Social Media Learning Opportunity, but it was worth the wait. After rebranding myself online, I've attracted followers, from donors and research institutes to science communication specialists and eminent professors from some the leading universities in the world that focus on science communication. I must say I have been doing a really good job online! Above all, has been the feedback and requests I have got online. These have included donors seeking for partners in my field and research institutes seeking help to improve their research communication. At this point, I believe I have come full circle on the use of Web 2.0 and Social Media.
Joy Owango is the Centre Manager and Founding Director of Training Centre in Communication (www.tcc-africa.org)