‘Writeshops’ help scientists reach a global audience

Written by Marion Davis

Sunday, 20 March 2011 17:25

Researchers at the Anglophone Africa writeshop, last month in Ghana, discuss the best way to present their findings in a journal article. SEI PHOTO/Lisa Schipper.

An SEI project works to bring more voices from developing countries into the journals that shape policy and global knowledge on climate change.

SEI and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/SDR) are sponsoring “writeshops” for early-career scientists and practitioners in the developing world who want to bolster their writing skills so they can publish their work and reach a global audience.

The project directly addresses a known problem: Though climate change is expected to take a particularly big toll on developing nations, and many are actively engaged in adaptation efforts, very few articles in peer-reviewed journals are written by developing-country researchers.

“Many people working in NGOs are doing really interesting work on adaptation, but aren’t publishing their work because they don’t know how to write in the right way,” says Lisa Schipper, SEI senior research fellow and coordinator of the writeshops.

“When work doesn’t get published,” she adds, “it doesn’t end up being reviewed by the IPCC, so it is almost considered ‘non-knowledge.’ Yet these people are involved in projects in their countries, and their local knowledge helps contextualise the findings in a way that is difficult for outsiders who come in as ‘parachute consultants.’ ”

Stepping in to make a difference
SEI first hosted a pilot writeshop for NGOs in 2008, Schipper says, and discussions had continued as SEI’s journal Climate and Development sought to attract more contributors from the developing world. Then, last year, UN/SDR approached SEI with similar concerns, and the new series was born.

The first writeshop was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in September, and a second one, for Anglophone Africa took place in Accra, Ghana, last month, supported by the UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa. Sixteen slots were available for each event, and the applications were overwhelming: around 115 researchers for the first, and over 70 for the second.

Asia2The program targets early-career academics, Ph.D. students, and NGO staff with research backgrounds who have already done work on adaptation and disaster risk reduction. They are paired with mentors who have a strong background in the field and in peer-review writing and mentoring. A key part of the writeshops is to help participants identify the most compelling findings from their work, find a suitable journal and learn how it works, and then support them as they prepare and submit a manuscript and deal with reviewer comments.

Feedback has so far been encouraging, Schipper says, and “results are becoming tangible. Most participants continue to work actively with their mentors, and a few have submitted their papers to journals already.”

This year, additional writeshops will be held for small island developing states, Latin America, the Middle East and West Asia, and Francophone Africa. For more information, or to inquire about becoming a local partner in this project, contact Lisa Schipper at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Read an article on this project by SEI executive director Johan Rockström, published on IISD’s Climate Change Policy & Practice.