A new web app has been launched to make it easy for journalists in Kenya and Uganda to find researchers for science stories.

The Script Connect app is part of the Script science communication programme by SciDev.Net, funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation.It works like a ‘speed-dating’ app, linking journalists to scientists in East Africa.

Since 2018, ‘speed-dating’ between journalists and scientists has been a key component of Script training. It is built upon the premise that journalists and scientists should continually engage with each other – to communicate research for the benefit of society.

Improved science journalism

The app aims to increase the quality and quantity of science stories in the online, print and broadcast media by helping journalists find researchers who can provide newsworthy information or comment on their stories.

Script Connect will also help researchers find journalists who can report on their research accurately.  Ultimately, Script Connect seeks to improve reporting of science in the African media.

The launch of Script Connect is a result of a Scoping Study for a Science Media Centre for East Africa conducted by Script in 2020. The study discovered a number of challenges facing journalists, researchers and communications specialists in the region. It found that journalists do not have access to scientific information. When they do access scientific information, they struggle to understand it. They also struggle to get science story ideas.

The study involved focus group discussions with scientists, journalists and communication specialists from six countries: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. And it included interviews with staff from five science media centres from around the world.

Greater access to experts

Dr Mercy Korir, a medical doctor and Health and Science Editor at The Standard Group in Kenya, is among the many journalists who have been looking forward to the app. Dr Korir said when journalists and scientists work together, media audiences receive factual, legitimate and detailed information. This, in turn, facilitates development by helping people to make informed policy and personal decisions.

“If journalists have a platform on which the scientists are a click away, then it’s easy for them to get the information they need. This helps them to publish good factual stories that advance the development agenda,” Dr Korir said.

She added, “It helps scientists to find out the journalists publishing stories in their areas of interest. This makes it easy for them to find and talk to the right journalist when they want to disseminate information.”

Script Connect was launched as a pilot in Kenya and Uganda on 9 July 2022 at the Moi University Science Journalism Conference – initially only signing up researchers to connect with journalists.

Sir Prof Ambrose Kiprop, Deputy Vice Chancellor Administration, Planning & Strategy at Moi University, Kenya, was one of the first researchers to sign up to the app. Now, Script Connect is working both ways – connecting journalists to researchers and vice versa.

Prof Kiprop said universities have an important responsibility to carry out research and disseminate the findings in order to influence development. “Through Script connect app, researchers will be able to contribute to global development by sharing research findings with the journalists, who will then communicate the findings to the end user in simple language,” he said.

Valuable asset

Dr Charles Wendo, Training Coordinator at SciDev.Net and himself a qualified vet and journalist, said, “Script Connect is ground-breaking in bringing to journalists’ fingertips a broad range of experts who are willing to help them inform their stories.”

he noted that the app is important, especially in today’s age of ‘fake news’ and misinformation as journalists now have quick access to reliable and authoritative information sources.