Dam development versus social and environmental cost

Graphic: Coralie Legrand.

Sharing findings from development research

A new series of dialogues on development research kicked off in April, an initiative taken by the Development and Aid Policy Team at SEI Headquarters and the Swedish Development Research Network (SweDev). Our research-based community has raised the need for learning spaces and dialogue platforms for development research.

“Through the dialogues, we aim to spread findings of development research by creating a learning space where researchers can share ongoing research and findings on crucial development issues. ”

— Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev and SEI Development and Aid Policy Team Lead

“We invite development researchers around the world; both Swedish researchers, international researchers, and researchers from the global south, to give a short talk about their ongoing or finalized research,” added Vähämäki.

Climate change, security and renewable energy

The dialogue held in April 2022 highlighted an ongoing research project about low-carbon development and renewable energy in East Africa led by SEI Research Fellow Matthew Osborne.

While aiming for greater human security and resilience, the development of renewable energy sources directly impacts land access and livelihood resources, and therefore has the potential to weaken resilience and exacerbates insecurity, especially in regions affected by fragility, conflict, and violence.

The overarching aim of this specific research project is to produce policy-relevant knowledge about the opportunities for conflict-sensitive development and sustaining peace through different renewable energy projects.

SweDev and SEI launched the dialogues on development research by inviting Belgian motion designer and illustrator Coralie Legrand to display how effective communication can promote research to different audiences.

Video: SEI / YouTube.

The power of images and stories

Our brain loves stories. Over millennia, humanity has not changed. Illustrations, images and stories have always been used to convey a message. Visual images can create an enjoyable interaction and break down the complexity of certain topics. We may think of visual storytelling being used in advertisements, but communication is also crucial in research. Societal challenges need to reach everyone now more than ever, and we can use visuals as a tool to connect with people.

The power of metaphors and illustrations

Visual communication tools are a wonderful way to communicate science. In two animated videos co-created together Osborne, Legrand illustrated the “Low-carbon development in East Africa” research project.

According to Legrand, the combination of research and storytelling can be particularly powerful for sustainability science. She explained that a key component is the use of visual metaphors and their ability to break down complexity into something that is more easily understood by the viewer.

There are two opposing forces at work in the modern digital communication space. We experience digital fatigue due to a large amount of news and data. At the same time, users have increasingly fragmented attention spans. Combining storytelling and illustrated videos can play a role in creating an emotional investment through the use of colours and other visual aspects.

The message remains anchored in the research, but the creative way to express it may play a crucial role to reach different audiences. Visuals connect to viewers on an emotional level, which is where decision-making takes place.

Concepts of river use

Concepts of river use. Graphic: Coralie Legrand.

Making science more engaging

How can we make science more digestible and engaging for society? The best way to start is by knowing the goal and purpose of the research communication. We must respond to these questions and identify the audience:

  • What exactly are you trying to communicate? What is the core message?
  • Which impact are you trying to make by illustrating your findings? what is the desired outcome?
  • Who are you trying to reach? Is it the general public, policymakers or others?

Legrand reminded us that stories are both contextually and culturally bounded, and that one story does not work everywhere.

Long story short: make room for imagination and find the things that people will understand and feel engaged about. Illustrations can help us to reach our target audiences and extend the impact of our sustainability research, allowing us to create societal changes and actions that science aims to do.

Feature written by Alessandro Giacardi , Communications and Research Intern at  SEI  for the Development and Aid Policy Team and SweDev, and Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer at SEI  for SweDev, Mistra Geopolitics, Trase and several other projects.