Making your research accessible

Restless Development: Using cartoons to communicate research

By 11 December 2012

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.