Organisations for science and science communication in developing nations

By Grant Jacobs 12/01/2012

One of the things I rarely see mentioned in the many discussions of science and science communication on-line are science and science communication in developing nations. My reading, like most of my readers, is no doubt biased to what’s happening in the ‘Western’ world. Nevertheless it strikes me as a notable omission.

Let’s introduce ourselves to some of the organisations that exist to assist or promote science or science communication in developing nations.

I’m going to look at organisations that support science in developing nations are well as those that support science communications. Part of the reason is that I am curious about what interaction, if any, occur between these two groups of organisations.

This will be limited to a (very) brief introduction of the larger players – a full coverage of the many organisations would be a major effort. (I may later tackle some thoughts on potential issues for working in or with developing nations.) This is something of a work-in-progress, but let’s make a start.

Let’s first look at science communication organisations, then tackle the science organisations.

If readers know of other organisations, please feel free to drop a note into the comments below. (I’m trying to introduce the larger organisations, or at least those with wider aims but feel free to mention smaller ones.)

Science communication organisations


The obvious starting point is the World Federation for Science Journalists an umbrella organisation of many science communication organisations, created in November 2002.

It’s particularly useful to view their ‘About’ page. Aside from introducing their aim and structure (an association of associations), it lists the 40 national, regional or international associations that make up their membership. To access the member associations’ websites, use the list on their member associations page. The initial links are to summary pages from the WFSJ files; within these are links that include the assocations’ websites. I would encourage people to explore what these groups are doing and what they see as their difficulties.

Their member organisations are from all nations, not limited to ‘developing’ nations. There aims, however, place emphasis on developing nations, e.g. ’Training and networking for science journalists, especially in the developing world, are key priorities.’

Not all organisations or all parts of the world are represented. For example, one part of the world not represented is Central Asia. Another is the Balkans. (Anecdotally neither region shows up as well-represented in my visitors according to the ClusterMap in my blogroll to the right of this article. New Zealand isn’t listed as being represented either. I’m not surprised as outside of radio journalism I’m not aware of dedicated science journalists. I probably notice this more than many would being biased from having travelled there, and intending to do so again.)

In similar fashion I believe Russia (or rather, the Soviet Union) was earlier present and you’d like to think with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the ’Stans took up membership in independent fashion, but they’re not listed on the website.

It would be interesting to learn the membership criteria.

Current projects by the WFSJ include:

SjCOOP – mentoring of science journalists, and establishment of associations of science journalists in Africa and the Middle East.

Elsewhere this has been described as ’encourages partnerships between well-established science writing associations and newly formed ones in the developing world. One highly successful partnership has been that between the Arab Association of Science Journalists, representing writers from the Middle East and North Africa, and the NASW in the US.’ (Source)

Online science journalism course – claiming to be ’The world’s first online course in science journalism’


A member of the WFSJ is the International Science Writers’ Association is an older organisation formed in 1967 whose primary objective ’is to provide such contacts and to enable members to assist each other when working in a foreign country.’

They particularly cater for those in countries without a national or regional organisation. In this sense they complement the WFSJ, whose members are organisations rather than individuals.


The International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ) was ’formed in Dresden, Germany, in 1993, and Darryl D’Monte, Chairperson of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of India, was elected its first president. The federation includes as members both associations and individual environmental journalists representing some 88 countries.’ (Their website was last updated 4-June-2010.)

Science organisations

As time is now short (hey! – where did it all go?) I’m not going to say much on these for now.


The World Association of Scientists is based in Trieste in north-eastern Italy (Trieste is a port city on the Adriatic Sea in the eastern ‘finger’ of Italy whose land borders are surrounded by Slovenia).

TWAS subtitles itself ’The academy of sciences for the developing world.’ and describes it’s aims to be ’an autonomous international organization, based in Trieste, Italy, that promotes scientific excellence for sustainable development in the South.’**


The International Council for Science.

Background articles

I’m not a scholar of this area (I’m a computational biology by training) so my ability to locate good articles covering the key issues of science writing (or reporting) in developing nations is limited, especially as this literature falls outside of the molecular biology, genetics, medicine literature that I am more familiar with. In the meantime the two articles below may entertain some readers. Please feel free to offer suggestions. As far as I can tell thus far, there appears to be no over-arching survey of the science communication industry in developing nations, it’s needs and so forth.

James Cornell’s Short history of international science writing organisations provides useful background. It’s interesting to note how early the Latin American countries were involved.

I haven’t yet explored the UNESCO Model Journalism Curricula for Developing Countries and Emerging Democracies (also available as PDF file from this page) myself but it is potentially a key document. A critique is also available as a PDF file.

About the ScienceOnline session

Some readers may know that one of the sessions for the ScienceOnline2012 meeting in North Carolina is titled Science writing in and for developing nations. This post is in part background material for this session. (I’m listed as co-moderating this session with Madhusudan Katti but my attendance is depends on a last minute rush of sponsorship funds, i.e. I’d be thrilled if I make it but realistically when you’re from a small country a long way from the event you don’t feel too surprised if there’s no funding to get you there!)

There is a discussion about the session on a wiki page on the ScienceOnline2012 site that Madhu has put up (thanks Madhu!) To get people started below are the initial details:

When: Saturday, 10:45-11:45

Where: Room 3.

Title: Science writing in and for developing nations

Format: Discussion

Moderators: Grant Jacobs and Madhusudan Katti


To what extent might good science coverage improve the lot of the so-called ‘developing’ nations, what practical steps might help achieve this, what are the needs of science writers/journalists in those locations, etc. This topic may seem to clash with the demographics of those attending scio with most attendees coming from North America, the UK & Europe, but it’s topic that appeals to a wish to improve the lot of “developing” nations. It also appeals in that I’ve seen so little discussion of science writing/journalism in developing nations. I’m taking ‘developing nations’ very loosely here to allow for examples from nations that might be considered further developed than the poorest of the poor. In Western nations we rally against pseudoscience and poor reporting of science. For developing nations these issues run deeper. Would it be idealism to aspire to shift the mindsets of those in pivotal positions in those nations? Mindsets are, in many respects, the hardest thing to shift and practical initiatives can come to nothing if the will and want to use them isn’t there. Would these nations be helped by media there showing ’heroes’ in sound science and practical science-based applications? Is there a gap in who traditional media reach (think of low literacy in these nations) – would alternative communication be more effective? (Travelling seminars, perhaps?) What case examples might serve as prototypes? What organisations will, or might, support ventures like these?

Some brief thoughts – I may later write up something more organised. (I’ll cross-post an equivalent of what’s below to the wiki later.)

I’m not to expecting anyone to read all of the links I’ve provided, but interested attendees might learn the current scope and range of options from them.

I hope discussion might focus on pragmatic things that might support ‘in the field’ work within the developing nations, if nothing else that attendees (or readers here) might give science and science writing in developing nations a moment of thought. When I (GJ) wrote the session abstract, I was looking for things missing in the topics already offered. One objective I’d like to see from this session is simply greater awareness of science communication outside of ‘Western’ nations.

One catch, mentioned in the abstract, is the likely of lack of experience of attendees in living and/or working in developing nations (for the most part). It’s important as it makes suggesting pragmatic things that might help difficult.


* South here used in the metaphorical sense of the North-South economic divide. Pendants can nitpick how this ought to be defined elsewhere…! (There are obvious Southern Hemisphere nations such as New Zealand and Australia that would not be considered ‘developing’.)

0 Responses to “Organisations for science and science communication in developing nations”

  • I’ve since learnt that part of the WFSJ membership criteria relate to ethical standards, e.g. no corporate sponsorship, by and for journalists, etc. (Thanks to @deborahblum.)

  • Hey There Sciblogs,
    On a similar note,, All countries of the world are faced with substantial numbers of major challenges. Among them are the provision for their inhabitants of good health, adequate education, opportunities for advancement, adequate housing, employment, sufficient income to meet material needs, a sense of personal security within the law, and a sense of security as a nation. Although individual countries may disagree about how to go about achieving those goals, there is agreement in a general sense about what the goals should be.

    Rapid expansion of the Internet holds substantial promise for developing nations, which can benefit greatly from the Internet’s communication and information delivery capabilities to help meet these needs. The accelerating transition of information to electronic media is making information resources of the world available to an increasingly global audience through the Internet. Developing countries have much to gain from that revolution in communication and information access. In contrast to the situation in the developed world, where transport and communications infrastructures for delivery of both physical goods and information services are well established, the alternatives available within developing countries are generally slow, expensive, or nonexistent.

    The communications and information delivery capability of the Internet serves all sectors of society. The areas of education, health, social policy, commerce and trade, government, agriculture, communications, and science and technology all benefit from Internet access to information and to individuals through electronic mail. These two resources are interlinked and synergistic: individuals can visit and exploit relevant information sources, which often point to additional sources of information and to knowledgeable individuals.

    The correlation between information, communication, and economic growth is well-known, making the usefulness of networks nearly self-evident. Electronic networking is a powerful, rapid, and inexpensive way to communicate and to exchange information. When networks are available, previously unanticipated collaboration seems to come into being almost spontaneously. The underlying cause seems to involve a latent demand that remains latent as long as joint work requires either the disruption of waiting for the mail, the continual retyping of texts transmitted by mail or fax, or the need to secure large budgets and approvals for extensive international travel.

    Networking is now crucial to scientific research and development efforts, many of which yield tangible economic benefits. Commercial economic growth is enhanced by access to information and improved contact with support and purchasing personnel as well as customers. Access to electronic networks also improves the effectiveness of the development community, comprising representatives of international agencies, nongovernmental organization staff, and others working locally and abroad. In addition, many developing-country universities are focusing on curricula that might contribute more directly to economic growth, and network connections for administrators, professors, and students will be increasingly important.

    Finally, as has been demonstrated in a number of countries recently, the link between the free flow of information and movement toward democratization cannot be downplayed. Access to information affects political democratization efforts at the global level as well as within nations. In developing countries where much of the media is controlled by the state and individual access to networks is currently limited, the need to decentralize control over information and over networks themselves is clear.
    I look forward to your next post

  • Hi Grant:

    I’d like to draw your attention to our organisation SciDev.Net (the Science and Development Network), which has been acitvely promoting science communication in developing countries for the past 10 years, both through its news-based website, and through practical training workshops. With almost 60,000 registered uses, we have close links with most of the organisations that you mention (WFSJ, ISWA, TWAS and ICSU for example), and our website contains a subtantial amount of training material.

    Let me know if you’d like further information about our activities.

    David Dickson
    Editor and founding director, SciDev.Net

  • David,

    Thanks so much for mentioning your organisation. It’s bothering me as I’m quite sure I ran into it while doing the research but it seems if I did it never made it into the article, which isn’t very good of me.