Visualizing the world. Ratna Shrestha from VSO Nepal, on the power of pictures over words.

VSO Nepal

Every day (sometimes without realising it), people present ideas, views and facts about their lives. Only a limited number of interesting and logically prepared presentations are actually absorbed, or listened to seriously. In my opinion, having compelling presentation skills is an art form in itself. Learning these skills can be done in a variety of different ways to ensure people listen to what you are saying and indeed, care.

On July 4th, 2017, I participated in a Capacity Development Workshop organized by What Works consortium. Among the many interesting sessions, I was introduced to one called Data Visualizing: Transforming Words into Visuals, which provided insightful ideas on ways to present our research findings.

Firstly, we worked on developing key messages from our research findings, which formed the basis of preparation for our presentation. Secondly, we were asked to prepare a presentation on sticky notes (assuming it as a slide in PowerPoint presentation) so that we could easily shuffle them around following our group discussion. Finally, we were asked to select three slides to present our baseline findings. From our One Community One Family project in Nepal, it was quite challenging, but with our team effort we were successful in presenting our work to the wider audience in just three slides!

I have done many presentations in the past, but often ended up with far too much text and less visuals. By visuals I mean action-oriented photos, powerful quotes from primary actors, policy makers and others, and diagrams of the research findings – these are the strong visual tools which help to give presentations more weight. It’s not because I am not aware that power point slide should have less text but because of lack of visualizing skills to make the slide more attractive and effective, I could not see how to do it. I learnt from this session, that the important thing is the power of a more visual slide, with less text, one which has clear key messages. I also learnt the importance of practicing before your presentation day and rehearsing timings. Therefore, keeping the presentation to the point, complete within the timeframe and speaking through images with less text are key tips that all power point presenters should bear in mind while preparing their presentation.


Demystifying Research Uptake

Written by Leane Ramsoomar.

Demystifying Research Uptake

When I started my position as Research Uptake Manager of the Global What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls? Programme, I was privileged to have a window into the 2016 Capacity Development and Annual Scientific meetings in Dubai. Being introduced to the partners on this formidable global effort to prevent violence against women and girls, I was greeted with warmth and some nervousness by programme partners. Research Uptake? What is it? How do we do it? How will we measure it?

In the early months of taking office, I came to realize that research uptake was a field known to many of the partners on the programme by many names. Knowledge translation, knowledge in action, translation research……..Indeed several definitions of research uptake have been exchanged in the world of research and implementation and it caused and continues to cause confusion and sometimes utter bewilderment.

So we set out on a path to demystify research uptake. Several drafts of research uptake plans, interactive discussions and capacity development sessions later, there was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Partners began to write blogs, research papers were trickling in and policy briefs no longer seemed unattainable.

The 2017 Capacity Development workshop was the perfect testing ground for the knowledge and skills transferred over the course of the past 11 months. Partners were joining the pieces of the puzzle. Breakaway rooms were abuzz with ideas, teams jointly brainstormed, and exciting interactive discussions held. With a critical thinking and “learning by doing” approach adopted, the bigger picture began to emerge. Listening to short evidence- based presentations of research, listening in on discussions and debates ranging from stakeholder prioritization to tailored messaging for key audiences and sharing ideas for blogging and brief writing left one feeling dizzy with excitement. Fewer things satisfy me than watching the rapid and meaningful growth of individuals and organizations working to address social problems.

For What Works and their partners, this growth has been phenomenal and the enthusiasm for doing research uptake is gratifying. It remains to be seen, not just how the efforts of the What Works partners will inform policy and programmatic decision-making for VAWG arising from this programme, but perhaps even more encouragingly how these efforts will be sustained long after the programme has ended.



Juggling Zoom calls, cups of coffee, dogs and small children

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Samantha Willan and Alice Kerr-Wilson on putting together the pieces of the capacity development workshop jigsaw

As the two-day What Works (WW) capacity development workshop drew to an end just over a week ago there was a real buzz and excitement in the room. Partners, the technical support team and we (the organizing team) had worked hard, learnt so much and were very pleased with our final products, especially the five minute PPT presentations delivered at the What Works Annual Scientific Meeting. These were concise, visually powerful, moving overviews of projects’ baseline data presented by partners, some of whom had never spoken in a large conference before, and they were fabulous.

When we started planning the workshop back in January, Samantha sitting in sunny Durban, South Africa and Alice in cold, dark Roskilde in Denmark, with early morning Zoom calls, cups of coffee and interruptions by small children and dogs, we couldn’t have imagined that partners would enjoy and gain so much from the workshop. Both partners and us have come so far since the last capacity development workshop in September 2016 in Dubai.

We started by hearing from partners what they wanted to focus on and their skill gaps and reflecting on the What Works priorities for the next 18 months, while trying to keep focused on what can realistically be achieved in two days. It was like slowly working our way through a giant jigsaw puzzle, at first, we had very little idea how all these pieces would fit together, yet the more we did the clearer the picture became.

The week of the workshop marked the final phase of completing the puzzle. Much has been said about the presentations, with many of the seasoned researchers and scientists sharing their awe at the partners’ ability to present so succinctly. However, that was just the icing on the cake, they were the culmination of very intense work over the two days: refining the story of the research, shaping key messages, strategically identifying stakeholders, thinking about how to target them, which research uptake products to write and how to convey all this evidence and knowledge through a visual story that moves the audience.

However, this workshop was not a one-off capacity development moment, it is part of a process. The work began for partners long before we all arrived at the workshop, and will continue from here. Capacity development is central to all we do at WW, and we think that might be a part of the secret behind how this workshop came together. Another key part of the puzzle may be that we see capacity development as multi-directional, we are all learning, it is not simply grantees learning from scientists. This was evidenced last week when a number of technical staff and senior scientists reported that they had learnt so much from partners during the workshop.

So, yes these two days were wonderful, we all worked hard, over long hours and produced great work. But, the successes of this week do not stand alone, they’re part of two and a half years of work on supporting capacity development, and it continues.

And this work does not stop here, while we may have completed the jigsaw puzzle that bought all the pieces for this workshop together, there is a much bigger capacity development puzzle that we will all continue to contribute towards in the What Works programme.



Costing is boring? Think again.

Nancy’s smile was radiant. Her hand grabbed Martin’s wrist and, much as he wrangled his arm, she would not let go. She had him in her power. His eyes wide, struggling to free himself from her firm grip.

Then Nancy turned to us, and explained: if the perpetrator grabs you as I just grabbed Martin’s arm, you need to twist your arm to find his weakest point, which is between his thumb and his other fingers. Try it, Martin! Martin twisted his arm toward her thumb, and as if by magic, it slipped out of Nancy’s hand. He laughed, and we all laughed with him.

Martin is the local health economist on our project in Nairobi. He is helping us collect the cost data on the Girls’ Empowerment-Self Defence/Source Of Strength (GESD/SOS) intervention, a project designed for 11- to 13-year-old schoolgirls in the slums of Nairobi. The GESD/SOS volunteers were demonstrating to us a typical intervention session. To get a sense of how much is needed to develop and field the GESD/SOS, Martin and I will need to spend the next three days in the field with the Ujamaa team to understand what they do to deliver it. We need to understand how many people they need to run a session, how many teams of how many people, and how many hours they need to spend in the sessions with the children.

From Benjamin, Ujamaa’s director (and young statistician), to the last person who walked through the door of the organisation, they all graduate within the organisation. Each of them works to the tight schedule Nancy has designed for them, including Benjamin, on the (now rarer) days he, too, offers the training. Perhaps this is how they retain the freshness, the enthusiasm for and competence in their job.

Nancy also walks us through their typical day at work, a day in the life of Ujamaa delivering the training to the girls and the boys in their classes: a day planned down to the last minute. We also ask Nancy and her colleagues to think about the other organisations that work in the same area as theirs. Who are their competitors, and which services do they rely on to support the vulnerable girls they identify? This is the bigger picture, the wider economic system Ujamaa is plugged into.


These are the first elements of the large amount of information Martin and I will be collecting and analysing over the next few months to compute the costs a provider (Ujamaa, in this case), incurs to implement GESD/SOS. If the intervention succeeds in its aim to reduce young girls’ exposure to sexual violence, we will be able to show how cost-effective it is. Policy makers, donors and providers all need this information that, both in this and other fields in development, is rare. They need it to understand how much of a difference the money they are investing is making in people’s lives; they need it to make decisions on how to allocate resources, on whether to invest in a specific intervention as opposed to another.

On my way back to London, I feel energised and inspired by the dedication, enthusiasm and competence of the Ujamaa crew. The costing set-up visit has offered me a unique insight into the workings of Ujamaa, but also filled me with awe at what this group of young people is doing for the children in their own communities. I feel privileged to have a chance to make a small contribution to the success of this story.

So, through the experience of determining whether the GESD is valuable we can see what costing yields and why it is important to do more of it in development, and that really isn’t boring.

  • Martin Njoroge works at KEMRI Wellcome Trust in Nairobi:
  • Nancy Omondi is the GESD/SOS programme coordinator at Ujamaa
  • Benjamin Omondi is Ujamaa’s Director
  • Giulia Ferrari is a Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the co-PI on the economic evaluation team for What Works Component 


A day in the deep South African countryside, a cow, a banana and one swinging bin

The day Dumisani Rebombo first understood the need to focus on rural development

Dumisani blog Pic

I’m a little over 50 years of age now and have periodically worked in the very deep rural areas of South Africa. When I used to do my rounds, I would psych myself enough to blend well with rural life to a point of somewhat accepting the surroundings which are often characterised by overt poverty and squalor. My defence to this helplessness new normality was derived from the fact that I viewed my Gender Based Violence prevention work as part of my sacrifice of middle class life, and thus I see myself ‘doing something for the poor!’ In the past eight months though, drought hit South Africa and things were dire in these settings. Food prices started soaring and I discovered families and individuals were going to bed without food!

One beautiful morning when I was walking to the office whistling and thinking to myself that all is not doom and gloom; after all as black people we’ve gone through many droughts socially and economically but survived, today will turn out just fine. Suddenly, to my left I heard this squeaking sound and when I looked, there… a cow was trying to salvage some banana leaves from a swinging rubbish bin at the side of the road! My heart just sank, not only was this my first experience but the cow just registered a deep eerie feeling in me of how people lived similar lives in the rural areas. All of sudden I quickly realised that I had money in my pocket, a car, I could go to any nearby town and have a decent meal, but not the same for the people with whom I worked. I started thinking of how rural development was always a ‘by the way’ concept from political arenas, but no resources were commissioned to circumvent this. It dawned on me that unless community members are sensitised and taught about citizenry and human rights, we may have the most beautiful and progressive constitution, which does nothing to change the lives of people on the ground. Understanding that my work is ring-fenced within a Randomised Control Trial study, I am equally determined to include self-worth sessions and advocacy principles in my work. I don’t know how this will taste to my organisation or to the researchers, but I call to both to look deeper into this need and join me with those that I’ll invite to join the idea, to do something about it; for I believe we will find a way!

Overcoming my fear of blogging

Yasmeen & Geeta Pic

Geeta Devi Pradhan, Head of Programme-Gender & Inclusive Governance at the VSO Nepal Country Office on the day she found her blog voice.

 I think my fear of blogging has a lot of baggage of my own fear of being critiqued by others, my wanting to be always perfect, trying to keep up with our society’s expectation of flawless women. Working in a very competitive environment where as a women, I always have to try harder, work harder, to prove that I am good as leader as anyone else.

Until yesterday’s session run by Gemma Ferguson and Rebecca Ladbury on “How to write a Blog” as part of the What Works Capacity Building Workshop, I had the utmost fear of blogging and thinking that this was far too complicated a thing to do, and that it would take up too much of my time to write a perfect blog. I really like the way they shared their shared personal stories and especially Gemma’s journey from what motivated her to start blogging, the circumstances she was in, and how she made the most of the situation she was in, as an inspiration for blogging.

This sessions help me get over my fear of blogging, liberating the hidden layers of my own fear, and so thank you both for helping me find my blog voice.

By Geeta Devi Pradhan, from the Cap Dev workshop in Pretoria, South Africa. 4 July 2017.