Belling the ‘Policy Cats’: How Can Communication Help? Talk to PEER Science Conference 2013

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at PEER Science Conference 2013 in Bangkok, 3 Oct 2013

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at PEER Science Conference 2013 in Bangkok, 3 Oct 2013

How to ‘Bell’ the policy ‘cats’?

This question is often asked by researchers and activists who would like to influence various public policies. Everyone is looking for strategies and engagement methods.

The truth is, there is no one sure-fire way — it’s highly situation specific. Policy makers come in many forms and types, and gaining their attention depends on many variables such as a country’s political system, governance processes, level of bureaucracy and also timing.

Perfecting the finest ‘bells’ and coming across the most amiable and receptive ‘cats’ is an ideal rarely achieved. The rest of the time we have to improvise — and hope for the best.

Good research, credible analysis and their sound communication certainly increase chances of policy engagement and eventual influence.

How Can Communications Help in this process? This was the aspect I explored briefly in a presentation to the PEER Science Participants’ Conference 2013 held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 1 to 4 Oct 2013.

It brought together over 40 principal investigators and other senior researchers from over a dozen Asian countries who are participating in Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) Science program. PEER Science is a grant program implemented by the (US) National Academies of Science on behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and in cooperation with the National Science Foundation (NSF).

I spoke from my professional experience and long involvement in public communication of research, especially through the media. I referred to key conclusions of the International workshop on Improving the impact of development research through better communication and uptake, held in London, UK, in November 2010 where I was a panelist.

I flagged some key findings of a global study by SciDev.Net (where I am an honorary trustee) which looked at the different contextual settings within which policymakers, the private sector, NGOs, media organisations and the research community operate to better understand how to mainstream more science and technology evidence for development and poverty reduction purposes.

I like show and tell. To illustrate many formats and approaches available, I shared some of my work with LIRNEasia and IWMI, two internationally active research organisations for which I have produced several short videos (through TVE Asia Pacific) communicating their research findings and policy recommendations.

PowerPoint (with video links embedded):

Serendib Quiz: Dawn of a new era of quizzing on the island of Serendib

Quizmaster Nalaka Gunawardene smiles — is it because he knows ALL the answers? Photo by Dhara Gunawardene

I just finished hosting the first edition of Serendib Quiz, a new live quizzing event in Sri Lanka.

Here’s a short promo text we produced just after the event:

A team of private individuals, called the ‘Invictus Team’, emerged overall winners at the inaugural Serendib Quiz held at the Galadari Hotel, Colombo, on 29 July 2012.

Invictus beat 40 other teams from all over Sri Lanka to win the top prize of Rs. 100,000 and the specially designed Serendib Quiz glass trophy.

Two other individual teams – Chamara Sumanapala’s Team and Imran Furkan’s Team – secured second and third places respectively.

A total of 205 players, in 41 teams, took part in this live quizzing event compiled and hosted by Nalaka Gunawardene, a leading quizzing professional. Participants’ ages ranged from 13 to 65 years. Many teams came from schools, banks and private companies while a number of quiz enthusiasts competed as private teams.

The team representing Dharmaraja College, Kandy, was the winner in the educational category, followed by Ananda College and the Royal College A Team. All members of these teams received British Council Library gold memberships, in addition to book vouchers and books.

Srilankan Airlines came first in the corporate category, while Seylan Bank was the winner in among banks and financial institutions.

Serendib Quiz was organised by Quiz World (Pvt) Limited and sponsored by Commercial Credit PLC in partnership with Sarasavi Bookshop (Pvt) Limited, Fast Ads (Pvt) Limited, the British Council, BT Options, TVE Asia Pacific and Kent Holdings.

Serendib Quiz involved 50 questions from all areas of knowledge, local and global, presented in five rounds. Contestants worked simultaneously in teams to write out answers that were immediately marked by a three-member judging panel.

Full press release and lots of images at: http://quizworldlanka.com/2012/07/30/invictus-team-wins-the-first-serendib-quiz-with-nalaka-gunawardene/

Victorious Invictus Team flanked by Vindana Ariyawansa (extreme left) and Nalaka Gunawardene (extreme right) – Photo by Dhara Gunawardene

Don’t Be a Fossil Fool: A case for valuing Biotic Carbon in climate talks

Cartoon courtesy Down to Earth magazine, CSE India


• To tackle enhanced global warming that leads to climate change, we need to better understand the global carbon cycle.

• Critical to this understanding is distinguishing between fossil carbon (coal and petroleum) and biotic carbon (photosynthetic biomass – living matter capable of absorbing atmospheric carbon).

• Biotic Carbon offers a ‘lifeboat’ to a world in search of solutions. Valuing biotic carbon can transform the role of farmers and rural communities currently sidelined in global climate change negotiations.

• Current methodologies of carbon trading have seriously warped both economics and ecology. What takes place today is more like carbon laundering.

These outspoken views are expressed in a new web video by Dr Ranil Senanayake, a globally experienced systems ecologist with four decades of experience across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Titled “Rethinking Carbon and Climate Change”, the 16 minute video is released on TVE Asia Pacific’s YouTube channel in time for World Environment Day 2012 and ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20 in Brazil.

This is edited from a long interview I filmed with the maverick scientist in mid March 2012.

Watch the full film online:

This film is released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Read Q&A style interview on Groundviews (covers much else):
Sri Lanka’s Fast-track to Post-war Development: Remember the Mahaweli’s Costly Lessons!

Do You HEAR Me? New film looks at voice-based emergency communications

Phoning each other during personal or shared emergencies is one of the commonest human impulses. Until recently, technology and costs stood in the way. No longer.

We now have practically all grown-ups (and some young people too) in many Asian countries carrying around phones or having easy, regular access to them. For example, Sri Lanka’s tele-density now stands at 106.1 phones 100 people (2011 figures).

What does this mean in times of crisis caused by disasters or other calamities? This is explored in a short video I just made for LIRNEasia:

Synopsis:

With the spread of affordable telecom services, most Asians now use their own phones to stay connected. Can talking on the phone help those responding to emergencies to be better organised? How can voice be used more efficiently in alerting and reporting about disasters? Where can computer technology make a difference in crisis management?

These questions were investigated in an action research project by LIRNEasia in partnership with Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest development organisation. Experimenting with Sahana disaster management software and Freedom Fone interactive voice response system, it probed how voice-based reporting can fit into globally accepted standards for sharing emergency data. It found that while the technology isn’t perfect yet, there is much potential.

Produced by TVE Asia Pacific for LIRNEasia with funding support from Humanitarian Innovation Fund in the UK.

Mano Wikramanayake (1951 – 2011): A Voice of Reason in Turbulent Times

Mano Wikramanayake (1951 - 2011): Image courtesy Commonwealth Broadcasting Association


We could always rely on Mano Wikramanayake to provide an incisive analysis of any given situation with a boyish grin on his face.

The senior Lankan broadcast manager, who died suddenly on 3 December 2011, was well informed and articulate without any intellectual or artistic pretensions so common in his industry. The one time cricketer turned avid golfer, he knew when to strike – with just enough force – and when to safeguard his wicket.

For over a decade, Mano was Senior Group Director of the Capital Maharaja Organisation and a Founder Director of the company’s electronic media operations, comprising three TV channels, four radio stations and three TV production houses in Sri Lanka. It is the closest the island nation has to an electronic media giant that is now extending also to the web.

Trained as a management accountant, Mano helped the Maharaja group to consolidate its pioneering ventures in privately owned radio and TV broadcasting. Media researchers and activists have faulted this liberalisation, which started in the early 1990s, as being imperfect, for example lacking a due process in the licensing. But one benefit is undeniable: it liberated us audiences from the tiresome state monopoly of the airwaves that had lasted for decades.

From the beginning, it was evident that the Maharaja group had a long time vision for their broadcasting ventures. In the early stages, they brought in Singaporean and Australian professionals but within a few years the company was run entirely by Lankans. Mano, in particular, groomed many young journalists, producers, technicians and business managers who shared his belief that a private broadcaster could do well while also doing good.

I cheered him every time he spoke out at national and international gatherings to broaden the traditionally narrow definition of public service broadcasting. In his book – and mine – PSB was not confined to state owned or public funded stations. Every channel transmitting on the public airwaves could serve the public interest, albeit in different ways.

Our paths crossed more often outside of Sri Lanka, at various regional and global media gatherings in Asia and Europe. He spoke at such events with authority, clarity and honesty. He chose his words carefully, but didn’t gloss over the thorny issues. While I tend to be cheeky and provocative – for example, calling former state monopoly broadcasters ‘Old Aunties Without Eyeballs’ – he was more circumspect. Yet he never berated Sri Lanka even at the worst of times, most notably when his main station came under a daring arson attack in early 2009.

If Mano was measured, sharp and articulate in his public remarks, he could still be jovial and easy-going in private conversation. We were regular (and vocal) participants at the annual Asia Media Summits organised by the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD). Another regular Asian broadcaster once called him the ‘Lankan pragmatist’ while labelling me the ‘Lankan idealist’. To him, at least, Mano and I appeared to bat on from the opposite ends, but working to a common goal.

During Asia Media Summit 2006, Mano spoke at a plenary session on ‘Local Content for Global Audience: An uphill battle?’ that my organisation, TVE Asia Pacific, put together on behalf of the UN’s regional body, ESCAP. It explored the role of broadcasters in promoting the Millennium Development Goals that all countries have committed to achieving by 2015.

Mano Wikramanayake (second from left) at MDG and Local Content Plenary Session at Asia Media Summit 2006

Soon after he’d spoken, my colleague Manori Wijesekera good-naturedly challenged him to “put his money where his mouth was”. He readily agreed — and kept his word. Two years later, we co-produced with his station a TV debate series called Sri Lanka 2048 that explored pathways for creating a more sustainable island nation.

“This could be a forerunner to programmes which encourage public debate on issues that concern all of us,” he said when the series premiered in May 2008.

Mano was always ready to partner with development or charitable organisations on well-conceived projects, but he had no time for random do-gooders with vague ideas. He ensured that the Maharaja group’s considerable presence in the airwaves was put to good use in support of carefully selected educational, cultural and sporting endeavours.

Mano was equally sharp with numbers as he was with words. As a senior manager, he minded the financial bottomline of the companies under his charge. He also realised that the media business was very different from, say, marketing soft drinks or manufacturing PVC. His team bore witness to how ably he balanced the regulatory, political, journalistic and commercial interests while raising the bar for quality news, information and entertainment for his audiences.

In later years, he shared this vast experience with other developing country broadcasters, for example through training programmes and manuals for the AIBD, and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) in which he was a leading light. From Afghanistan to Fiji, and from Barbados to South Africa, the voice of practical and pragmatic Mano Wikramanayake will be missed.

But he has energised a generation of broadcasters, and not just in Sri Lanka. In the evolutionary perspective, all of us are transmitters — we constantly pass on ideas, experience and values to our children, students, colleagues and others in our spheres of influence. Such transmission happens 24/7, in all directions and across generations. Some among us are better transmitters than others: they amplify and value-add before passing on.

Mano was one of the finest ‘transmitters’ in the broadcast business, and that is how I shall remember him. His “transmissions” will continue in the teams and establishments he leaves behind.

Ray Wijewardene website launched: Paying it forward…

We launched the Ray Wijewardene website at the British Council Colombo on September 28 evening to a packed house of friends and well-wishers. My colleague Nadeeja Abeyasekera and I introduced the site – product of months of work. Here are my opening remarks:

Nalaka Gunawardene introduces Ray Wijewardene website at British Council Colombo, 28 Sep 2011 - photo by Dhanushka Fernando

Introduction to the Ray Wijewardene website:
by Nalaka Gunawardene, Director, TVE Asia Pacific

It’s a privilege for me and my colleagues at TVE Asia Pacific to have built the Ray Wijewardene website as an entirely voluntary effort.

This is our DIGITAL TRIBUTE to Ray Wijewardene, an outstanding scientist and thinker, not just of Sri Lanka, but of the entire developing world. On top of that, Ray was also a good friend and supporter of our own development communication work for many years. This is our way of PAYING IT FORWARD!

Looking back, I can say that this website was conceived in a moment of frustration and outrage. Let me explain!

When Ray passed away in August last year, there was very little SPECIFIC information about him anywhere on the World Wide Web. And there were ONLY a couple of good photographs online, which most newspapers and websites used when reporting on his death. They really had no choice!

In the days and weeks that followed, many warm tributes appeared in our newspapers. These shared precious memories and anecdotes about Ray. But I couldn’t help noticing that many lacked specifics, and some even had inaccuracies…probably inadvertent? Some didn’t even spell his name correctly!

We all know how Ray led a very productive and creative life — but it was not easy to find specific and accurate information about his thinking and many accomplishments. The reality these days is that if Google can’t find you, millions will never get to know about you!

I wanted to bridge this info gap as fast as possible!

So when I joined the Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust as a Trustee, I offered to build a website as our first activity. We had no dedicated funds, but we just went ahead on a VOLUNTARY BASIS — relying on GOODWILL and IN-KIND contributions from many, e.g.
• We pooled information from Ray’s family members and friends;
• We sourced images from family and professional contacts; and
• We asked a few to write about different facets of Ray’s work/play.

This is what we call a NO-BUDGET ACTIVITY! We’ve harnessed the collaborative spirit very common on the Web. And we thank to all who joined this collaborative effort! They’re too many to mention by name – they know who they are…

Part of audience at the launch of Ray Wijewardene website, 28 Sep 2011 - Photo by Ruveen Mandawala

My colleagues at TVE Asia Pacific worked long and hard to weave all this material into the website that we launch today. As with all our products, we aim this at the interested non-specialist. We’ve tried to keep it simple, concise and engaging – we know that web visitors have very short the attention spans!

Let me ask my colleague Nadeeja Abeyasekera, who built this website, to take you on a quick tour…to entice you to browse more at your leisure!

In my view, a website is never really finished…so we will continue to add new content and links to this as and when necessary to keep it current and relevant. We also solicit more information and images from all of you, some of which can be published on this website and the rest can support the research effort for the proposed biography.

Nadeeja Abeyasekera (in yellow) & Nalaka Gunawardene take questions fron the audience

More images at http://www.facebook.com/RayWijewardene

Ray Wijewardene: Saluting a thinker who also tinkered

Working with a Genial Giant: Ray Wijewardene

As a communicator, I look for ways to say more with less. The ‘gold standard’ for brevity was set two centuries ago by the French poet, playwright, novelist and essayist Victor Hugo.

The story goes like this. Victor Hugo was travelling out of town and wanted to know how his latest book was selling. He messaged (telegraphed?) his agent: ?

The agent, not to be outdone, replied: !

Enough said. How I wish I could beat that economy of words…

I have a fondness for both question marks and exclamation marks — I used a good deal of both in my own speaking and writing. I use these as a metaphor in a tribute I just wrote about one of my mentors: Ray Wijewardene.

Ray Wijewardene: An Extraordinary Thinker and Tinkerer has just been published by Groundviews.org. It also appears on the official website about Ray Wijewardene, being formally launched today.

Here are the opening paras of my essay:

“If I had to condense the multi-faceted and fascinating life of Ray Wijewardene, I would reduce it to a whole lot of question marks and exclamation marks. In his 86 years, Ray generated more than his fair share of both.

“He was unpigeonholeable: engineer, farmer, inventor, aviator and sportsman all rolled into one. Whether at work or play, he was an innovative thinker who rose above his culture and training to grasp the bigger picture.”

Full essay: Ray Wijewardene: An Extraordinary Thinker and Tinkerer

The website was built by my team at TVE Asia Pacific (TEVAP) as a public education resource. read TVEAP News story:
TVEAP unveils new website on outstanding Sri Lankan scientist and visionary

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