Strengthening local capacity is one of the triple mandates of the IHR Strengthening Project. To achieve this mandate, the project has innovatively designed and delivered a series of academic writing workshops (The Writeshop) for its project staff from Africa and Asia. It aimed to support and enable project staff to develop academic publications from the project.. Specific objectives of the Writeshop were to provide a general understanding of academic publications, the key principles and rules of publishing, to coach participants in developing a structure for planning and writing journal articles, and to build capacity to generate ideas and capture evidence from the project for wider dissemination.
The Knowledge and Library Services at UKHSA supported the Writeshop team in providing informative skills training sessions on academic writing to participants. Before preparing the teaching materials, a survey was undertaken to tailor the workshops according to participants’ profiles. A hands-on, interactive approach was used throughout the sessions.
The course started with a brief introduction to the principles and rules in writing academic publications. In order to be most effective, participants were asked to complete additional reading and writing assignments before each workshop.This was followed by a series of 7 workshops over 13 weeks with a minimum 2 week interval to allow participants and facilitators to prepare materials. Each Writeshop session lasted between 2 to 3 hours. Participants were expected to commit approximately 32 hours over 13 weeks, with 16 hours homework (such as drafting sections of their proposed papers, reviewing example publications and writing abstracts).
The process involved continuous rounds of identifying potential topics, conceiving research ideas, developing draft sections, peer-reviewing and revising. The workshop agenda was intentionally broad and flexible, working in accordance with different time zones and the availability of participants. Following each session, participants were provided with supporting materials to take away for future reference and usage, including copies of slides, referenced papers and materials for future literature searches with the intention of them being able to work independently to develop academic papers from these sessions.
The Writeshop was delivered between September and December 2021 with a total of 12 participants -3 from Ethiopia, 3 from Nigeria, 1 from Zambia, 4 from Pakistan, and 1 from Myanmar. The participants did preparatory work, shared opinions and their observations, and provided feedback and fruitful discussion with each other and the facilitators during the sessions.
After the completion of the Writeshop, 6 out of 12 participants had started writing academic papers based on their initial ideas.
A virtual platform (MS Teams) was used to deliver the sessions. Each session consisted of a combination of a live presentation with supporting slides, practical activities, homework and an interactive discussion to allow attendees to better understand ideas, techniques and put into practice skills covered in presentations. In order to get the full participation and interest of the participants, the pre-assessment survey before the sessions to tailor the contenst and assessg time availability of participants was helpful.
There were some challenges for both the facilitators and participants in conducting virtual training. From the point of view of the trainer, it was challenging to judge how engaged the attendees were, and whether content was being explained in a way which made sense to them. Attendees tended to have their video switched off, and the presenter was unable to see video feeds as well as the meeting chat while presenting. It was thereforedifficult to determine body language, facial expressions and whether the attendees were finding the session helpful. Some evaluation comments received for the first literature search session indicated that one or two attendees would prefer a face to face session, possibly because of above challenges.
Despite the challenges, overall the sessions went well. Most participants were able to access databases during the literature search session and able to carry out the assigned tasks before and during the session. Providing references and exercises during the session and the interactive discussions were effective for participants to easily understand the principles and methodology. Participants were also able to request a repeat demonstration of elements that they had not fully understood initially.