mGenAfrica is an internet-based platform and mobile application designed to promote engagement between research staff in genomics and other health research fields with high school learners (16-19 year olds).
mGenAfrica aims to increase awareness and interest in careers in genomics and other related health research fields. Although the key aim of the project is around research careers the project team found there were three things that they wanted users to come away with once they had engaged with the content:
Careers: Ability to develop a career plan in Genomics/Genetics
Research: Ability to make an informed decision about participating in a research study
Health: Uptake of healthcare services based on increased awareness of genetics and genomics
These three themes continued to come up throughout content development and are embedded in all of the resulting content. For the research staff, the platform aims to improve skills and attitudes towards public engagement.
Caption: Vicky Nembaware, H3Africa Coordinating Centre, South Africa, presents the mGenAfrica project.
Creating Content and Two-Way Exchanges
mGenAfrica is an H3Africa consortium programme-wide activity that goes beyond an individual research project to engage communities with genetics and genomics more broadly. It also goes further in its approach than many of the H3Africa projects' engagement activities by fostering engagement that is more two-way and using creative methods to do so.
The content for the app was developed through needs assessment of young people and researchers; co-creation with researchers, potential users and their teachers; and advice and feedback from developers of other online activities (like the I'm a Scientist project) and experts in engagement of the target audience. Formative evaluation, alongside summative, will also be undertaken throughout the project to continually develop content in line with need.
The resulting content is relevant and engaging to its target audience, and includes:
- profiles and backgrounds of career researchers to give an idea of what working as a researcher means and what kind of person can be a researcher;
- live chats with researchers;
- training opportunities for young people;
- themed knowledge areas with media resources;
- areas for the young people to provide ideas for translation of key terms such as "gene" into their local language or into simple terms;
- "have your say" section where users respond to a question to do with ethical concerns or other important issues in research.
The translation feature, the chat function, and the "have your say" area ensure there is an opportunity for users to contribute to the site so that the interactions are two-way in nature.
The project also trialled podcasts but found that whilst they were popular amongst teachers, students were not engaged by them so they were not used for this particular project.
Teachers tended not to be comfortable with genomics/genetics concepts and were concerned that they would not be able to answer pupil's questions. There were also negative cultural associations between DNA and crime and paternity tests. Teachers asked for there to be more focus on healthcare in the content, which has been taken on board.
Senior researchers have been reluctant to engage so the project instead engages with more junior enthusiastic researchers in the hope that the enthusiasm will filter upwards. There were barriers among researchers related to the "publish or perish" environment of research and finding incentives for researchers to get involved with engagement activity was important.
The content on this page forms part of the online report for the 2017 International Engagement Workshop "It's Complicated: navigating scientific complexity in public and community engagement". To read more about complexity in genetics and genomics engagement visit the genetics and genomics theme from the workshop. To read more about the full workshop and access the rest of the report including video presentations, discussion summaries, and tools, visit the workshop page.
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