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Science and technology for sustainable development

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“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology” – Carl Sagan

It seems my destiny and science and technology are inextricably linked, but for one reason or the other I have always run away from it. The more I run away from it; the more it catches up with me. Science and technology is like a man’s shadow that cannot be run away from. While science explains myths and mysteries, technology simplifies an otherwise complex task. In a world where man is constantly in search of meanings and explanations to the ever-changing dynamics of his or her daily realities, science and technology become the saving grace. It is however ironic that despite the fact that we live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, majority hardly know anything about it! In fact, many have concluded that Nigeria is not doing anything or it is completely groping in the dark when it comes to inventions, discoveries, innovations and ground-breaking contributions in science and technology. This may not be correct. It is the way we tell the story of science and technology that makes it look so. The narrative has to change if the outcomes of our efforts will become useful and drive sustainable development.

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For over 14 years I have worked within the science and technology space in Nigeria. Initially, I thought like many others that nothing much was happening within the space until I started attending expos and meetings where inventions, discoveries and ground-breaking research outcomes in science and technology are on display. I have been exposed to so many eye-catching inventions and innovations, which emanated from local contents. I have seen several innovative products capable of solving the unabated unemployment challenge in the country. I have equally seen outcomes of researches which reveal how the nation is importing what is available within the country! Each time I see the wonders going on in the science and technology landscape, particularly within the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, the question that often pops up is: Why is so much going on and the relevant stakeholders do not know about it?

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No one lights a candle and puts it under the bushel. It seems much is not being done in terms of communication and advocacy. It is not that science and technology is not being communicated, but it is not being communicated the way it should. In most cases, our researchers rely on the conventional media to disseminate their research outcomes, since the essence is primarily for promotion, not necessarily for how it can impact development. The cliché is ‘it is either you publish or perish’.  To this end, media such as journals, conferences, workshops, monographs, books, etc are used to ventilate the outcomes of researches. After all, no one wants to perish. This thus reduces the impacts the outcomes of such researches could have had on the society. New media such as twitter, Facebook, Instagram, among others are hardly used by researchers let alone the mass mediated platforms such as newspapers, television, radio and so on. In this clime, not many researchers and scholars write columns in newspapers or host shows on radio/television to showcase what happens either in the laboratories or within the universities/research institutes. The resultant effect is that most of such outcomes end up on the bookshelves without getting to the end users who may translate it into development.

The media have also not helped the cause of science and technology. Only few newspapers have science and technology desks. The same thing goes for the electronic media. Many journalists consider science and technology as jejune and boring. In fact, some see it as too complicated to communicate as it is replete with jargons which make it appear esoteric to mere mortals. For this reason, majority avoid it like a plague!

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To make us understand science and technology which we are so dependent on, the narrative must change. We must move from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) concept to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). In emphasising ‘arts’ in the scheme of things, communicators and scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians must work together. The collaboration will enable those who have been trained to communicate to deploy various tools of communication to simply science and technology jargons in such a way that the story will not only be well told, but will make the necessary stakeholders to bond with its essence. Science and technology will continue to be seen as impenetrable as long as those who should tell the happenings are ostracised. If the narrative must change, what should be done?

While it is considered imperative for researchers and scholars to publish so as not to perish, especially for promotion purpose, it needs to be said that communicating outcomes of research should not be limited to the conventional media such as workshops, journal articles and conferences. Science and technology like life is dynamic, and so the players must not be fixated in the way they communicate outcomes of their research. A lot of things need to change if we want the key stakeholders, particularly entrepreneurs to make use of or translate research outcomes to products/services that will trigger sustainable development. The following suggestions may actually help change the narrative:

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1.The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology must as a matter of urgency establish science and technology museum. This museum will help serve as a one-stop place where prototypes of research outcomes, inventions, discoveries and innovations of the various agencies/parastatals under the Ministry will be displayed. Besides, such prototypes will stimulate interest of relevant stakeholders such as entrepreneurs, policy makers and communicators in science and technology.

2. Researchers should begin to use new media/ social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on to disseminate their research outcomes.

3. Researchers should begin to have columns in newspapers and magazines showcasing the outcomes of their researches.

4. Podcasts of important outcomes of research outcomes should be produced and made available to the public by researchers from time to time.

5. Agencies of government with expertise in science communication should start hosting webinars or organising seminars/workshops for those who will tell their stories so as to have better understanding of how science and technology works.

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6. Departments of Communication and Media Studies should place much premium on science and technology communication so as to have more equipped graduates of communication who will tell science and technology stories better.

The suggestions in this piece are not exhaustive. There are more initiatives that can help change our perspective about science and technology. What is deemed crucial is the need to change the way we tell science and technology story. Without doubt, as Zoltan Istan put it ‘science and technology can solve all the world’s problems, and historically it has been shown to make the world better and better.’ This further reinforces the critical nature of science and technology to human existence as pointed out by Carl Sagan in the opening quote of this article that “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology”. The narrative must change. We need to understand what the society is so dependent on for sustainable development. It is a collective responsibility, but the relevant stakeholders must champion the cause!

Oluyi is a personal development advocate and head of public relations unit of the National Centre for Technology Management, an Agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

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