Using citizen science approaches to ask questions about COVID-19

Learn more about the citizen science approaches used in the ACT Nairobi project in this blog
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About the project

One billion people make up the global population of urban poor living in informal settlements and slums (UN Stats). Informal settlements are densely populated and lack infrastructure for clean water, sanitation and waste management. As a result, it can be difficult to implement mitigation measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as hand washing, social distancing and physical isolation. And these measures may not be the highest priority. 

The overall aim of the ACT Nairobi project was to develop resources to support Mukuru, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, in the production of public health messages for reducing COVID-19 transmission. Mukuru is a densely populated community of over 500,000 inhabitants making public health measures such as social distancing challenging. Hygiene practices are therefore much more necessary during the pandemic. 

The project took place over 4 months from June-September 2020.

This project was funded by institutional funding from Research England QR Global Challenges Research Fund.

Key aims

  • Develop and distribute socially and culturally relevant COVID messages
  • Widen the impact of participatory arts-based methodologies in Kenya
  • Build capacity, share knowledge and enhance skills among all project participants

Our approach

Public health messages in Mukuru are typically disseminated using a process known as sensitisation. In this context, sensitisation involves raising awareness around local health and wellbeing issues and sharing public health messages via socially and culturally relevant media such as graffiti and music. Engaging and effective sensitisation campaigns are a critical factor in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in these communities.

This collaborative project helped to build capacity, share knowledge and enhance skills between creatives in Kenya and the UK. This was achieved through online workshops covering digital storytelling, cellphilming (cellphone and film production), comic creation, puppetry, music, citizen science, qualitative and quantitative data collection and evaluation methods. We consulted relevant experts during the development of the sensitisation outputs to ensure the messages were grounded in science.

Project outputs

The local partner, Mukuru Youth Initiative, and 21 community researchers are experienced in delivering public health messages. The community researchers included youth leaders and activists, school teachers, artists, musicians and filmmakers, all of whom live and/or work in Mukuru.

During the intensive 4 month project, the following content was produced:

  • 32-page comic strip
  • 4 murals
  • 71 digital stories and cellphilms
  • 12 recorded puppet skits
  • 2 songs with music videos — Kaa Rada and You Can Get It

The digital outputs were widely shared on school and community WhatsApp groups, YouTube and other social media. 4,250 printed comics are being made available to the community via churches, libraries, youth groups, health centres, recreation centres and schools.

Community artists and youth activist groups continue to use the new techniques introduced during this project. School teachers are using the project outputs and skills training they received in their own teaching practice. Many of these methods are novel to these classroom settings and are being received with great enthusiasm. 

Through the project we gained a greater understanding of the lived experiences of slum dwellers in the COVID-19 era. It highlighted the need for creative and effective public health messaging, which will inform knowledge exchanges in the global south.

Funding

This project was funded by the University of Portsmouth and the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, through their allocation of QR GCRF funds from Research England. 

Project Partners and Advisors

 

  • Professor Cindy Gray, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Sarah West, Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York
  • Dr Miranda Loh, Institute of Occupational Medicine
  • Cynthia Kairu, independent social scientist
  • Mukuru Youth Initiative (MuYI)
  • Dr Melaneia Warwick, independent consultant, participatory visual research methodologies
  • Sophia Collins, public engagement consultant

Related projects

ACT Nairobi extended the work of the community-based participatory research projects AIR Network and TUPUMUE, involving a team of local lung health champions that the University of Portsmouth has been working with for 3 years.

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