Restless Development: Using cartoons to communicate research

Posted on 11 December 2012 in Featured, Making your research accessible by

By Kennedy Oulu*

Cartoons have been used in political satire a lot. However, with new media, cartoon animations are increasingly being used to inform, educate, influence, and bring to public domain issues of significance including to the realms of policy and practice.  The word “policy” is Greek to most young people, too abstract to make sense of. “That is politicians’ stuff” they would say. It is needless to emphasize that inasmuch as they contribute to shaping policy at the local level, they mostly do so from an acute lack of evidence, which contributes among others to their perpetual marginalization in decision making arena.

Restless Development Tanzania, an international youth development agency working with and for young people faced a challenge of communicating researches done with/on young people to influence attitudes, behaviors on policy and practice,  and engendering meaningful youth participation.  The idea of using cartoons as a medium of communicating research therefore came as a result of some experiences in working with the youth:

  • When the youth access newspapers, they first flip through the cartoon section (mostly political satire), then focus on sports sections.  On TV, they prefer entertainment shows (music, movies, comedy and cartoon animations) and interactive youth programmes.
  • We realized that use of theatre for development is popular among youth but costly to implement, even though Restless Development has a well trained youth theatre group.
  • Our key interest was not only in communicating research findings, but encouraging discussions around findings to empower youth from all walks of life to chart their own development paths based on their different contexts.

This cartoon booklet  is a culmination of research done on “Youth attitudes and behaviors on sexual and reproductive health and rights, livelihoods and employment, and civic participation in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania”

It is currently being translated into Kiswahili and will be distributed through the theatre for development group and information resource centers in communities, schools, institutions of higher learning, and partners in print, electronic and via social media. The launch of the cartoon booklet with youth stakeholders will be done in March 2013 when funds are secured.

We believe that this initiative will not only generate evidence based discussions among young people but empower them to actively shape policy and practice at all levels.  We also welcome comments and or questions from users/potential users of the cartoon booklet to help us learn and improve.

*Kennedy Oulu lives in Tanzania as an independent consultant on children and youth research, evaluation and development.


  • Rex Joshua

    Great work Ken. Cheers

  • Fratern

    This is certainly a breakthrough in creating a youth-friendly research participation – very interested to see it beeing applied

  • Pamela

    Brilliant, very creative and informative. well done.

  • http://twitter.com/hassanalihassan Hassan

    I don’t agree with the use of humour to address stereotypes and beliefs. In light of the vast amount of research on the role that comedy via popular culture perpetuates discriminatory beliefs and values. Homi K. Bhabha does speak to this issue. He’s one of the preeminent thinkers in the field of post-colonial studies.

    At the risk of simplifying his work, he argues that at least in the context of colonialism, stereotypes serve to render the ‘Other’ as inferior by attributing certain traits to them and in the context of todays world the principal means whereby these stereotypes are perpetuated is in the realm of popular culture where art, film, literarture and humour constitute its central elements. bell hooks, a leading feminist theorists in the U.S. also explores this link between the use of humour to perpetuate stereotypes, but whereas Homi K. Bhabha explores the link in the context of the colonization, she does so within todays ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ society.
    Not take anything away from the project, its quite creative and abvisouly means well, but it’s important of these things.
    Cheers,

  • Aston

    I agree, there is a need to package or repackage information in a way that is best understood by the target audience. We assume that research information has impact when the researcher has done justice to it but we forget that most of the information is presented in a language that is foreign to the layman. Therefore there is a need to simplify it to the levels of the targeted audience so that it has maximum impact.
    Most of the research reports are presented using technical jargon, specialised language and may be meaningless to the intended beneficiary unless and until it has been simplified

  • Thierry Claudien

    Currently, entertainment education features are being used to bring in behaviour change in health and EE is a promising strategy.