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Wellcome Trust

Theatrescience at The Eden Project

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Theatrescience, a United Kingdom (UK)-based theatre company dedicated to using theatre as a means of engaging the public in a debate on current scientific issues, developed an initiative revolving aro

Communication Strategies: 

Intended to be entertaining and engaging for the audience, these plays are based on the strategy of connecting the arts and sciences. This idea is symbolised by the partnerships between scientific advisors and playwrights upon which this initiative was built. In this case, Simon Turley, the writer of "State of Nature", worked closely with Dr. Anthony Pinching of the Peninsula Medical School to portray living with dementia as true to life as possible. The goal was that this personal partnership would be reflected in the marriage of drama and science in the play itself.

At the heart of the productions - "State of Nature" and the "pocket-sized" plays - lies the idea of transforming scientific debate into a human story. The plays are designed to open up biomedical issues - from loss of memory (dementia) to manic-depression to the comic alternative reality of DNA-matchmaking - to greater public engagement and redefining them as matters of the heart as well as the head. All of the pieces explore the societal implications of biomedical science, and seek to engage the public in debates surrounding the nature of genetics and the relationship between the arts and sciences.

In addition, Theatrescience arranges for after-show discussions of the play in order to talk about the issues brought up in the work.

Development Issues: 


Key Points: 

Theatrescience is dedicated to using theatre as a means of engaging the public in a debate on current scientific issues. According to the theatre company, "[d]iscussion and interaction between scientists, artists, and the public is fundamental to our artistic development process. Our projects involve workshops, debates, and mutual feedback between all involved. As well as providing initial stimulus and debate, scientists attend rehearsals and workshops and provide feedback on the work as it develops, to ensure that all the work we produce is scientifically accurate....Post-show discussions, which enable audiences to question both scientists and theatre practitioners directly, are also integral to the way we work. These inspire audiences to start exploring science for themselves, as well as encouraging participants and scientists to reflect upon their own work."

Partner Text: 

The project has been funded by The Wellcome Trust and the Arts Council England.


October 8 press release, "Drama in the Biome: Theatre Comes to Eden",
October 13 2010; emails from Eluned Gramich to The Communication
Initiative on October 15 2010 and November 8 2010; and Theatrescience at The Eden Project Facebook page, November 8 2010.

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Imagining the Future IV (ITFIV)

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This intercultural exchange involved theatre practitioners from the Theatrescience project in the United Kingdom (UK) co

Communication Strategies: 

This initiative drew on live performance - theatre - to spread awareness about scientific advances and scientific research in India on issues such as genetic modification, birth control, organ donation, pesticide pollution, HIV, and inherited diseases.

In the initial phases of the project, the company was invited to access all laboratories, lectures, and presentations, guided by their NCBS project partner, who indicated the research areas which he thought had the most potential to form the scientific bases for theatre pieces. Alongside their own visits to lectures and laboratories, the company invited scientists, researchers, and students to join initial discussions and early rehearsals to discuss how scientific ideas might be dramatically developed. The directors led theatre workshops, which focused on the creation of theatrical metaphors. Scientists also contributed, explaining to the group the neurological relationship between memory and affect, which was an effort to add to the group's understanding of how to make a story emotionally and dramatically effective.

What resulted from the wide-ranging discussions and 11 workshops with theatre writers, directors, performers, writers, and companies, and with science, technology, and arts students were plays titled Amol's Stories and The Clearing. Both shows were performed in the NCBS open-air amphitheatre on February 6 2009; an audience of 150 attended. On February 8 2009, both shows were again presented (after an evaluation session) in the Khincha Auditorium of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan cultural centre. Another audience of over 100 attended, this time made up of Bhavan members, students (some from Vidya Niketan School), and the general public. A long discussion was held after the performances concentrating on the process by which the plays had come about, the representation of Indian (as opposed to American/Western) attitudes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Amol's Stories, and the range of invasive species covered in The Clearing.

Development Issues: 


Key Points: 

According to Theatrescience, the ethical, economic, and political debate about biomedical science is keenly felt on a day-to-day basis. Shifting from a Eurocentric perspective, Theatrescience felt a need to explore Indian ideas and to investigate the connections between culture and science on the subcontinent.

Theatrescience was formed in 2002 as a way to explore biomedical science issues through the medium of theatre. It engages audiences and participants in discussions of social, ethical, and political issues relating to biomedical science and develops drama inspired by these issues. It has been supported by the Wellcome Trust since its inception.

NCBS is an affiliate of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, involved in research in biological spectroscopy, nucleic acid biochemistry, cellular neurobiology, human and population genetics, cellular networks, and cell biology.

Partner Text: 

Funded by Wellcome Trust.

See video

Theatrescience website, November 4 2010.

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Public Health Campaigns: Getting the Message Across

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Publication Date
Publication Date: 
December 1, 2009

This book from the World Health Organization (WHO) takes a historical look at the power of posters to persuade people to change their behaviour.

Free to download; Printed version: CHF 50.00/US$ 50.00 Developing countries: CHF 35.00

Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish

Number of Pages: 



WHO website, September 24 2010.

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Promoting Science in Schools: Research Institutes Play their Part

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Alun Davies
Bibi Mbete
Dickson Ole Keis
Samson Kinyanjui
Publication Date
June 17, 2010

KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Programme (Davies, Mbete, Kinyanjui), Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Kenya (Ole Keis)

This article discusses the potential role of research institutes to enrich school science, demystify health research in the communities in which they work, and encourage future generations of scientists and health workers. It focuses on the work of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)-Wellcome Trust programme (KEMRI-WTP) in Kilifi, Kenya.


Health Exchange - Summer 2010, June 23 2010, emails from Samson Kinyanjui and Alun Davis to The Communication Initiative on July 29 2010.

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Malaria Atlas Project (MAP)

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This initiative uses information and communication technology (ICT) to foster understanding of the challenges posed worldwide by malaria. The Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) is a multinational team of researchers funded by the Wellcome Trust that assembles medical intelligence and survey data to provide evidence-based maps on the distribution of malaria risk, human population, disease burdens, mosquito vectors, inherited blood disorders, and malaria financing and control worldwide.

Communication Strategies: 

The maps - published as an annual series - are collaborative creations by the MAP team, with contributions from over 200 scientists and malaria control groups across the world. The empirical data, analysed with what organisers describe as "state of the art mathematical modelling and spatial computing skills" is designed to provide a benchmark of malaria endemicity. The map and regional and national cut-outs are freely available on a website which is designed to serve as a resource for all those involved in malaria control. These maps are provided in alphabetical order for each of the 87 countries for which Plasmodium falciparum is endemic, for three global regions, and for the entire world. The global versions of these maps are also available here as a .kmz file which can be freely downloaded and viewed using Google Earth.


The data gleaned from MAP help support international advocacy around malaria. In the 2008 Global Malaria Action Plan, the Roll Back Malaria partnership (RBM), set targets for increases in intervention coverage and the impacts that these should have on the global toll of malaria cases and deaths. The RBM partnership also committed to elimination of the disease in countries where this was feasible and re-tabled the long-term goal of malaria eradication. The MAP series is designed to help RBM and others working toward malaria control and elimination to monitor and evaluate progress. As one Professor working with MAP explains, "[c]harting the future success of the international effort to control and eliminate malaria requires a map of the present-day situation which, when systematically updated, will indicate the progress achieved in 10, 20 and 30 years' time. Rather than guessing what's happened, the MAP's intention has been to record, model and map developments, giving donors and national governments an evidence-based perspective on what their investments have achieved." That is, the provision of information is a tool for advocacy. In the words of the Executive Director of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria: "With this kind of information, we can reassure donors by graphically showing progress and highlight where further investments are most needed".


MAP also provides information as part of a strategy for educating and engaging the global public. For example, estimates of populations at risk of malaria in 2005 and historical regional estimates derived from MAP products have been incorporated into the interactive displays at an exhibit at the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the US National Academy of Sciences. This exhibition is designed to educate the public by exploring the microbial world we live in, examining the emergence of new threats, and showing how our response determines the spread of disease. To cite another example, MAP has provided an unexpected benefit to MapAction's readiness for humanitarian emergencies in East Africa, in the form of detailed population maps of the region. This fills a missing information element in many disasters, which is a reliable indication of how many people are affected in a given area.


In October 2012, the project published an article in The Lancet: "Global Epidemiology of Sickle Haemoglobin in Neonates: A Contemporary Geostatistical Model-Based Map and Population Estimates." According to Dr. Fred Piel from Oxford University's Department of Zoology, who led the research, the aim was to use available evidence-based epidemiological data from the literature combined with modern mapping and modeling methods to bolster knowledge of the current distribution and burden of sickle cell disease as it affects newborns globally. The Wellcome Trust notes that there is "growing awareness about the burden of genetic blood disorders - sickle cell disease in particular - and it is crucial for public health policy makers to access evidence-based quantitative epidemiological data allowing the assessment of the current situation and to measure changes in the future."

Development Issues: 


Key Points: 

Malaria is the ninth most significant cause of death and disability globally. MAP's 2009 mapping publication (click here for access) describing the generation of a new world map of Plasmodium falciparum malaria endemicity for the year 2007 shows that over 70% of the 2.4 billion people at some risk of infection live in areas of unstable or low endemic risk, where the technical obstacles to malaria control are relatively small. The maps also show that almost all populations at medium and high levels of risk live in sub-Saharan Africa where the disease, death, and disability burdens from P. falciparum malaria remain high. One of the first uses for this new global map series will be to re-evaluate the estimates of the global incidence of clinical P. falciparum malaria made by the research group in 2005. Also high on their list of priorities is a similar mapping exercise for the distribution and intensity of infection by another malaria parasite, P. vivax, a species causing chronic illness in millions of people outside of Africa, and that has been largely neglected by the research community.

Partner Text: 

The Wellcome Trust. The Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford hosts the UK scientists of MAP. The Kenya-based scientists are hosted in Nairobi by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). The National Institute for Infectious and Tropical Diseases (NIITD) hosts the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology (EIMB) in Jakarta, Indonesia, hosts the Eijkman-Oxford Clinical Research Unit. The Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI) at the University of Florida hosts and supports the US scientists' work. The Corporación de Biotecnología, Quito, provides support to MAP in Ecuador. MAP work in the Asia-Pacific region has been additionally supported by a grant from the Li Ka Shing Foundation.


Email from Andy Tatem to The Communication Initiative on March 19 2009, including a media release from the Malaria Atlas Project; MAP website; and "Mapping the Global Burden of Sickle Cell Anaemia", Wellcome Trust, October 25 2012.

Global Health Histories Project

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Communication Strategies: 

This initiative involves sharing information about major public health events, trends, and issues - from a historical perspective - in an effort to guide thinking about health in the modern era. Among the books expected to be published is a history of global health in the last 60 years, written by health historians with assistance from current and retired WHO staff. Other printed publications underway are an official history of WHO in the 1970s, and a volume of "Public Health Classics".

Organisers are engaging in face-to-face interactions to shape this collection; retired WHO staff are gathering oral histories through interviews with people who have played a part in several key public health events of the world in the last 60 years. These interviews are being recorded, transcribed, and archived - and made available to historians, researchers, and others, with the potential also to be published or broadcast. These interviews are also accessible to the public through the WHO archive.

In-person experiences are also being used to facilitate interpersonal dialogue about these issues. With support from the Wellcome Trust and the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, a series of lunchtime seminars will be held in the WHO library's main meeting room beginning in March 2008; they are open to everyone.

WHO is providing full access to information about this project (including details about the seminars, bibliographies, links, and access to publications) on a dedicated page on its website.

Development Issues: 



Email from Thomson Prentice to The Communication Initiative on October 25 2007; and Global Histories Project page on the WHO website.

Raising Debate to Improve Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Information and Services in Bangladesh

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Developed by Panos London's Relay programme in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and BRAC University School of Public Health, this project aimed to raise awareness of gaps in media coverage of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues and research in Bangladesh. Conducted between 2008 and 2010, it focused on 3 areas: action-research, multi-stakeholder engagement, and advocacy for improved research communication around SRH through dissemination of a policy briefing.

Communication Strategies: 

The project used a mix of strategies to improve media coverage on SRH issues in Bangladesh. The action-research component comprised of a media scan to identify gaps in coverage of SRH issues and research and views of key actors. The media scan and mapping served to establish baseline information that evaluated the current levels of media coverage on SRH and assessed content. It was done on the news/programmes of three leading national dailies, one regional newspaper, state-owned electronic media, and a private television channel for the period of six months to get an idea about the status of recent media coverage of health related issues. Questionnaires and interviews were used to determine the attitudes, experiences, and views of key stakeholders.

Multi-stakeholder engagement was also part of the strategy. Editors, journalists, researchers, and civil society organisation (CSO) actors came together in a forum to discuss findings and generate ideas for improving media and public engagement on SRH. During the forum, panelists from the media joined a World Bank senior consultant and the General Secretary of Bangladesh to address some challenges for the media and health policymakers - from the reality of high mortality rate of children and mothers, STIs, and violence against women. Health reporters and writers from the media were also present to share their views. The proceedings were recorded and documented, with some analysis provided by a rapporteur. Questionnaires have been sent to journalists from the workshop to identify any media coverage resulting from the stakeholder forum.

What emerged was a policy brief that drew on documentation and analysis from the scan and forum. Dissemination lists and numbers are being recorded and uptake and feedback will be tracked and logged. Questionnaires have been sent to forum participants from media, research, and CSOs to gather feedback on what they felt was achieved, whether they have taken any action as a result, and how they think the project should be followed up to increase its potential impact.

Project learning will be consolidated and shared widely with donors, policymakers, northern and southern research institutions, and healthcare practitioners in an effort to improve access to SRH information and services in Bangladesh and beyond.

Development Issues: 

Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Key Points: 

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that unsafe sex is the second leading cause of disease, disability, and death in the developing world. Globally, over 340 million people acquire new gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia, or trichomonas infection. However, deaths resulting from SRH problems are largely preventable. Even though HIV prevalence in Bangladesh is low, there is low condom use, high turnover of clients of sex workers, and little knowledge of HIV and AIDS. Coupled with the effects of globalisation, rising age of marriage and rapid urbanisation have contributed to the heightened risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies. According to project organisers, there are inexpensive, effective interventions that could prevent unintended pregnancy, provide safe abortions, help women safely through pregnancy and childbirth, and prevent and treat STIs. Medical science may have the answers, but SRH issues remain invisible and taboo. This project endeavoured to improve communication and engagement around SRH issues in Bangladesh - especially amongst groups most at risk, who face limitations to discussing the SRH issues which affect them and face obstacles to demanding SRH services appropriate for their needs.

Furthermore, organisers state that there is a need for wider and more informed coverage of the issues and for scrutiny by the media of the responsiveness and adequacy of health services and plans, including scrutiny of the responsiveness to the needs of the most vulnerable. In short, journalists need support to cover SRH issues well.

In that context, in 2007 Panos London Relay programme and Realising Rights Consortium developed an SRH briefing that identified several issues that limit people's access to sexual and reproductive healthcare in the developing world. Moreover, the findings revealed that the media can play a role in getting important SRH issues to be debated publicly, as they can criticise claims made by traditional healers and health researchers alike. It was these findings that laid the foundations of the project to encourage journalists, civil society, and researchers to critically engage with research on SRH.

The media scan revealed that, while health was covered in all leading dailies and electronic media, coverage on SRH issues was considerably less. Other findings:

  • HIV/AIDS and violence against women were most featured.
  • Sexuality and adolescent (especially male adolescent) SRH and related rights and issues, as well as those of sexual minorities such as homosexuals, were found to be mainly absent.
  • Reporting was rarely based on research and often lacked validation and attribution of statements.
  • Press conference reports, verbatim use of statements, press releases, and transcriptions of expert "media roundtables" are regularly used as the basis of coverage - rather than in-depth investigation of issues.

According to organisers:

  • The media scan revealed many gaps in the media's coverage of SRH issues, which helped make a stronger case for why/what actions should be taken to address the situation. It highlighted some issues within the field of SRH that were being missed, even though they affect a considerable proportion of the population such as maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancies.
  • As a result of the stakeholder forum, champions in research, media, and human rights sectors emerged, committing to supporting their colleagues and other actors to engage and build stronger links to improve media engagement around SRH.
  • This project highlighted the need for media coverage on SRH and research to be sustainable. A policy briefing (titled "Unrealised Potential, Forgotten Priorities: Improving Reporting on Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Bangladesh Media" (please see contact information below to request a copy via email) outlines recommendations for researchers, the media, policymakers, and civil society organisations on how to include underreported SRH issues and research.
Partner Text: 

This Wellcome Trust-funded project was developed by Panos London Relay and Realising Rights Consortium and was implemented by BRAC University Public Health, Bangladesh, A4 Consultants, Bangladesh, and IDS, UK.


Email from Siân Aggett to The Communication Initiative on October 11 2010; Recently funded International Engagement Awards [PDF]; "SRH Issues Get Better Media Coverage", The Financial Express; email from Tania Ghosh to The Communication Initiative on November 8 2010; and Relay website, September 28 2011. Image credit: M B Akash - Panos Pictures

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Imagining the Future IV: Theatrescience India at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, India

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January 12th - February 8th 2009

Publication Date
May 1, 2009

This report examines an intercultural theatre exchange whose goal was to strengthen and broaden science-theatre connections already partially in place in the United Kingdom (UK) and Bangalore, India. As part of this exchange, practitioners from the Theatrescience project in the United Kingdom (UK) connected with those from the Jagriti Theatre in Bangalore, India.


Theatrescience website, November 5 2010.

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The Drum Beat 563 - Public Engagement in Science Research

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Issue #: 
October 18, 2010

This issue includes: 

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Telling Stories: How the Public Can Engage with Science

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Bangalore 2009 Conference Report

Publication Date
September 17, 2010

In December 2009 in Bangalore, India, 84 delegates from 22 countries participated in a conference about international public engagement organised by the Wellcome Trust and Tinderbox Consultants Ltd. The conference "Telling Stories: Why Narrative Matters in Public Engagement with Science" was the second workshop on this theme, following "Engage to Empower", held in December 2008 in South Africa. Delegates came together to share their experiences and to discuss lessons and ideas about engaging the public in science.


Email from Wellcome Trust to The Communication Initiative, September 17 2010.

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