January 11, 2011

Scriptoria Blog

Defending DFID and development aid

Here at Scriptoria, remarks like “we shouldn’t be spending on aid abroad when we’re suffering cutbacks at home” get right up our nose because they’re facile and thoughtless. But people usually say that sort of thing because they don’t know much about the subject, so as soon as we hear such comments, we roll our sleeves up (metaphorically) and start educating the hell out of them.To do that, it’s always useful to have up-to-date figures on foreign aid to hand to sprinkle through your argument, and these used to be a little difficult to find. But that’s no longer the case, as there’s a cracking defence of development aid by the UK Department for International Development available on its website.

A quick read shows that every year, our taxes help lift three million people out of grinding poverty around the world - that’s around 342 people an hour. You’ll also learn, among other things, that the UK’s contributions to overseas aid last year brought food to 13 million starving people and vaccinated four million children against measles (a killer disease in the young).

Of course, politically, this kind of philanthropism is also very shrewd. So at a time when many governments in the affluent world are slashing their spending, it’s good to hear the UK government state that “we believe that promoting global prosperity is not only a moral imperative but also in our national interests” because “it is good for our economy, our safety, our health and our future”.

“If we don’t tackle the root causes of these problems [such as drug-resistant disease, climate change and conflict] now, we’ll spend much more in future trying to deal with the symptoms.”

It’s also good to hear that spending on overseas aid will continue to rise. UNICEF UK has calculated that total British government aid will rise from £8.4 billion ($12.6bn) in 2010 to £12.6 billion ($18.9bn) in 2015. The government has pledged to increase aid as a proportion of gross national product from 0.56% now to 0.70% in 2013, and to keep it at that level until 2015.

So a hearty well done to DFID when they say “we want to be the best, most transparent, cost-effective aid organisation in the world, delivering life-saving aid on behalf of the UK taxpayer.”

Photo: Newly installed solar lighting in a village in Madhya Pradesh, India, a project funded by DFID. Copyright MPRLP/AM Faruqui  

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January 4, 2011

Scriptoria Blog

Happy New Year to all our readers and welcome back to work

Over the holiday season, the staff here at Scriptoria took the chance to catch up with what our many clients are up to by browsing the web. We thought we’d share some of their news with you over the next couple of weeks.One of our favourite sites is that of CABI, which always has some fascinating stories to tell. CABI is a UK-based organisation that applies science to solving problems in agriculture and the environment.

CABI celebrated its centenary last year, but it’s as active and vigorous as ever, and this week it’s reporting on the costs of invasive non-native species, on a major push for improved soil health knowledge across Africa, and on a workshop in India to improve the livelihoods of farmers.

CABI’s research on invasive species in the UK suggests that they cost £1.7 billion ($1.2 billion) every year and can result in the loss of crops, ecosystems, and livelihoods.

CABI has also received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (another Scriptoria client) that will help to radically change the understanding and use of Integrated Soil Fertility Management techniques in Sub-Saharan Africa. These techniques help smallholder farmers grow more and better crops.

Improving crop yields was also the subject - along with safeguarding the environment and improving access to scientific knowledge - of the two-day workshop in New Delhi towards the end of last year.

You can find out more about all these news stories and more at www.cabi.org.

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December 23, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

Bright idea

Left your Christmas gift buying too late? Stumped for a gift for someone who’s got everything? Can’t get out to the shops because of the snow (or because it’s too hot if you’re one of our friends in the south)? Don’t worry, because Oxfam has gifts you can order online and help someone live a better life. Pay anything from £5 to £80 to buy a goat, teach a teacher, fit solar panels or buy mosquito nets.

Here at Scriptoria, the team loves this sort of thing.

Visit the Oxfam website to find out more.

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Scriptoria Blog

Cancun: Climate effort back on the road

Now that the dust has settled in the aftermath of the Cancun climate change summit, what does the world think of the outcome? The reaction has generally been positive, perhaps because so little was expected of Cancun that almost anything would have been welcome. But maybe that’s being just a bit too cynical.

Tim Gore of Oxfam told The Guardian newspaper: “The UN climate talks are off the life-support machine. The agreement falls short of the emissions cuts that are needed, but it lays out a path to move towards them.”

The China Daily - whose view is significant because of China’s previous lack of enthusiasm for climate change agreements - hailed the outcome as a success and declared that the Kyoto Protocol had been reaffirmed.

Writing for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news website, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, gave the summit agreement two cheers - just.

It had, he said, “put the world back on track to renew international efforts to combat climate change, albeit at a pace and a scale that will leave many onlookers frustrated”.

We at Scriptoria, along with everyone else involved in international development, cannot fail to have noticed the effects of climate change in the fields, in the forests and in the seas of the countries where we work. So we are inclined to welcome anything that will keep the momentum going.

Steiner said no one should underestimate the magnitude of the challenge facing South Africa, the host of next year’s summit. But at least there will be talks next year and the delegates will have something serious to talk about.

Let us celebrate that.

Photo: International Rice Research Institute, reproduced under a creative commons licence.

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December 7, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

Photos and messaging - key issues for sustainable development communications

The importance of pictures to sustainable development communications
‘A picture says a thousand words’ may be a cliché, but it’s true. Good quality photographs are an absolute must for any organisation that wants to communicate its messages well and change people’s behaviour (whether those messages are about climate change, poverty, health or any one of the so-called ‘hard-to-communicate’ issues).

Of course, most of you already recognise the importance of photos on some gut level I’m sure. But, you’d be amazed just how many organisations don’t give enough thought to the photos they use. Now, as a communications strategist, this always upsets me, because running really strong (strategic) communications campaigns almost always means having access to really good photos - which requires long-term planning.

The sad thing is that almost all sustainable development organisations should be able to produce fantastic pictures - particularly those working overseas. Every day opportunities for amazing photographs present themselves, ranging from people on the project interacting in offices and children playing, to people collecting water (that old standby), or feeding livestock.

Some example of photos that grab and communicate
The United Nations Development Programme’s international competition ‘Picture This: We Can End Poverty’ is a great example of the opportunities for photography that exist in developing countries. Take a look at the competition (click here for the website) for positive eye-catching images of schooling in India, Bangladesh and Tanzania. Or click on the buttons at the top of the page to see the winning entries for other Millennium Development Goals.

For yet another stunning collection of images, go to the winners’ page for the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management’s Environmental Photographer of the Year competition (click here for the competition website). Clicking the links at the bottom of the page will show you the winning entries for each category. We loved the photo of the phone on a bike in the category ‘Innovation in the Environment’.

Now what I’d like you to note particularly is that almost all these entries show things that happen every day (people casting nets, carrying bricks, speaking on the phone, etc.), which just drives home the fact that the opportunity for a good photo is always there.

Do it yourself
Of course, not everyone is an award-winning photographer. But, you don’t have to be a fantastic photographer to take good photographs (many of the examples at the sites given above were taken by amateurs using a decent camera).

Usually all you need to get started is a good quality camera (a cheap, bottom of the range digital SLR is your best beginner’s option), 30 minutes’ training in how to use it, and some quick lessons in the rules of perspective and what makes an interesting picture. If you want to get started, a good place to begin is with Scriptoria’s Field Guide to Photography, which we produced in partnership with a UK government programme a few years ago. You can download it by Clicking Here.

You should also remember that most large projects have a few keen (and very good) amateur photographers working on them. They just have to ask (or better still, run a photography competition for staff) and suddenly they find that they have lots of photos.

Or hire a professional
Or, you can buy pictures from a photo site or employ a professional photographer to go out and shoot photographs for you. Just make sure that you look at examples of their past work and give them strong guidance on the subject you want your photos to address (our photography guide will also help you to give the professional guidance).

Organising and storing your photos
But, whether you take your project photos yourself, or hire a professional to do it for you, you need to take the time to ensure that they are stored properly and will remain easy for the project to retrieve for years to come (i.e. after you’ve left). This is the planning ahead bit, and it’s really the subject I want to deal with here.

Projects shouldn’t have to ask themselves whether they have particular pictures showing a certain subject. And project staff certainly shouldn’t be saying things like “I’m sure we have a picture showing that subject - whose computer is it on?” Or, “so and so had a good picture of that - but unfortunately he’s left the organisation”. Instead, you should put your photos on one of the free online photo sites.

There are several options to choose from - some of which are better than others. Just make sure that whichever site you chose allows you to upload and download large (high-resolution photos). Some sites reduce the quality of your photos when you upload them, which means that they look good on screen but don’t come out well if you need to print them professionally in (for example) your flyer or brochure.

Personally, here at Scriptoria, we like Flickr. By creating a photo library on Flickr you’ll be able to organise your collection with ease, use the search facility to quickly find the photo you want, and share images with specific people as you so choose.

With the help of Flickr, organisations should be able to provide and distribute most of their photos themselves. And, unlike images from professional photographers, in-house photos will have most relevance to the work an organisation is doing, and are available free of charge. I can think of many large organisations that are doing this already. The Global Water Partnership (GWP) is one example. With more than 2,300 partner organisations, this worldwide network (with 13 regional offices) is working towards a water secure world, by supporting the sustainable development and management of water resources at all levels.  A quick glance at the materials they produce plainly demonstrates that a non-profit organisation can (with a little planning) reach the point at which it looks great while hardly ever having to buy a photo because it takes, stores and catalogues its own.

The only downside to Flickr is that it is a little hard to use when you’re first getting to grips with it. To help to overcome that, we at Scriptoria recently produced a simple ‘How To’ users guide to Flickr that will quickly tell you and your colleagues how to use Flickr to store and distribute your best photos - making them available whenever you need them. To download this free guide to using Flickr, Click Here. So good luck, and happy snapping.

All the best, Jim (Weale) Find out more about me >>>

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October 30, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

MOOdunnit: there’s nowhere for the monkeys to live!

Hats off to Friends of the Earth who have managed to combine a series of complex messages centring around climate change, deforestation, and factory farming into a very watchable (and very funny) short video. You can watch the film at http://snipurl.com/1dd4fx.

 In only a few seconds, the video manages to explain complex links between factory farming and the shipping of soya beans as animal feed, the cutting down of Amazonian rainforest to grow the soya, and the UK government spending which encourages this practice. This means that they’re mixing three hot topics in the public’s eyes (government budget allocations, climate change and biodiversity loss through deforestation), any one of which is likely to make a different segment of the UK public audience sit up and take note.

Here at Scriptoria, we love this use of comedy to interest people in issues that can be very technical and which can easily be portrayed in a very boring way. It’s been done before of course. Remember the EU Chemical Party video designed to make chemistry and molecular bonding interesting in order to encourage more kids to become scientists? And yes, they really did manage it - you can watch that film here http://www.scriptoria-blog.co.uk/?p=560.

Of course, not every subject is suitable for a humorous twist. And done badly, you can offend rather than interest. But come on non-profits, if the subject’s right you should be trying to make these important messages stand out from the crowd by mixing humour with serious issues.

All the best, Jim

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October 25, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

Give me some Shuga – top-class sustainable-development communications

Watch and learn - Africa’s cool new ethical drama Shuga is taking Africa by storm, and educating people about AIDS and HIV. If you’ve spent more than ten minutes with anyone from Scriptoria, you’ll know it’s our mission to raise the standards of communications for sustainable development. That’s why we’re so pleased to see MTV teaming up with UNICEF to produce a TV drama that does just that.

Shuga deals with complex social and ethical issues surrounding AIDS and HIV - from the lifestyle choices that increase your chances of catching the virus, to the need to have regular tests and ensure that your partner gets tested too.

These are important messages in Sub-Saharan Africa, which remains the region most heavily affected by HIV. As of 2008, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 67 per cent of HIV infections worldwide, 68 per cent of new HIV infections among adults and 91 per cent of new HIV infections among children. Plus, most transmission in this region occurs in heterosexual relationships – as opposed to among injecting drug users, for example.

What makes Shuga different? The audience it’s trying to reach for one thing. Shuga’s fast-paced storylines (more…)

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August 23, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

Facebook page for DFID Livelihoods

The Livelihoods team of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has used Scriptoria to unleash the power of Facebook to promote its work throughout the international development fraternity. The Scriptoria team set up the DFID Livelihoods Facebook page just last autumn - now it has more than 1,600 ‘fans’. 

To get the ball rolling, Scriptoria conducted a marketing campaign, specifically targeting professionals working in leading NGOs, the World Bank and other development organisations, as potential fans. Now, the Livelihoods Facebook page is self-perpetuating as fans spread the word to their friends and colleagues.

The Facebook page includes news, photos, videos and links, all providing quick updates of the work the DFID Livelihoods team does to help some of the poorest people in the world climb out of poverty. Since the Scriptoria design and initial write-ups were put in place, the Livelihoods team has managed the page itself, creating several new posts each week.

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August 16, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

Eldis development portal is spot on

We’re always on the look out for useful resources on the web that we can bring to your attention, and the ‘Eldis’ website and online community definitely fits the bill.Why is it so good? Well, the Eldis site aims to “share the best in development policy, practice and research” and includes content from more than 7,500 development organisations. Article subjects range from the relationship between high food prices and the seed market to the empowerment of adolescents in Bangladesh.

It’s free to join the online community to link up with others and create your own profile. But if you don’t want to do that, you can still access news, events, links and jobs information, and download resource guides and dossiers (for non-experts) and the bi-monthly IDS Insights magazine.

The Eldis site is well organised and easy to use - you can access information on a topic- or country-oriented basis. We’d say it’s a good one-stop-shop for anyone interested in international development.

The portal is actually hosted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, Brighton, on the UK south coast.

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August 10, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

Scriptoria intranet up and running

Hi all, just a quick note to let you know that we’re having a bit of a techno-geek moment here at the Scriptoria office, as we’re all really pleased with our new all-singing, all-dancing intranet server. It has a huge capacity, enabling us to store and exchange not megabytes or gigabytes, but terabytes of information! And it is accessible from anywhere in the world, providing an invaluable tool for our team of international experts.This improved communication system will help all our staff around the world to work smoothly together. And it means we can further cut down on corporate travel like the daily commute or international air flights, and reduce our carbon footprint. Hurrah!!!

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