A Blog Around The Clock

Rose Reis interviewed me in person on the Sunday morning right after the second Science Blogging Conference in January. Then, I got scooped for the interview. But I will not be deterred – so here is, finally, the exclusive interview with Rose for A Blog Around The Clock:

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real World job?

Hi, Bora! I am your biggest fan! Apart from that, I am a program specialist at the INFO Project, at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. My Real World job actually includes blogging–how lucky am I? I work on various other projects, including helping to build and manage an online social networking site for international family planning program managers and researchers, the Elements of Successful Family Planning Programs .

Prior to coming to live in Baltimore last summer, I worked in magazine journalism in New York. But I got my blogging start a few years back under the moniker “Golap Golightly” when volunteering in Rajasthan, India for the Veerni Project — and that’s when I became interested in public health. The project brings reproductive health services to women and girls living in remote desert regions, as well as information about HIV/AIDS prevention and family planning. Blogging was a great way to get friends and family engaged in the work the NGO does, and it whetted my appetite to know more about public health. So I came to work here at Hopkins, and attend class in the department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health .

i-b234b2b844dbce449f424d3dde285adc-Rose Reis interview pic.JPGWhat do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?

Peter Pan. Actually I’m pretty pumped that I get paid to blog about health topics that I care about. I used to write about pricey leather duffles, and that was ok, but now I get to interview folks like gorgeous Purnima Mane, UNFPA’s deputy executive director, Margaret Neuse, the massively influential former director of USAID’s Population and Reproductive Health, and Robert Blum, who is the charismatic head of the Hopkins department that focuses on family planning. These videotaped interviews will go on the Elements of Successful Family Planning Programs Web site. Then I’ll get to blog about how great it was to meet them, and how cool Purnima’s bangle collection is.

What is the INFO Project?

So… The INFO Project, based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Communication Programs, envisions a world of interconnected communities where shared reproductive health information improves and saves lives. Our mission is to support health care decision-making in developing countries by providing global leadership in reproductive health knowledge management. Through collaborative approaches and the innovative use of sustainable technology, we:

* Inform those who influence and improve health care and public health,
* Enhance the capacity of communities and organizations to obtain, adapt, and generate knowledge and best practices, and
* Connect communities, organizations, and individuals locally and globally to facilitate knowledge sharing and dialogue.

To accomplish these goals, INFO publishes reports (Population Reports, Global Health Technical Briefs) tailored to audiences who work on reproductive health programs in developing countries – program managers, researchers, policymakers and health care providers. We also support databases that house the latest evidence-based information on these topics, which we make available at no cost and in various ways (Listservs, CD-ROMS, handbooks) to our audiences in resource-poor settings.

We are supported by USAID.

What are the challenges in providing information to and from people in the developing world?

Whew… Well, during a recent online forum on the Implementing Best Practices Knowledge Gateway, we had a great participant from Ghana, Samuel Deh, apologize profusely to participants for being silent during three days–they had had a power failure.

Recently, I interviewed Jonathan Ndzi, a UNFPA emergency reproductive health coordinator living in Senegal, about his work overseeing service delivery in conflict settings. He said he’s completely off line when he’s in the field, maybe in refugee camps, which is how much of his time is spent in the 12-15 countries he oversees.

Internet can be a gamble, but even phones don’t work reliably–mobiles are usually better. We are looking more at mobile phone outreach and I learned recently that in 2006, Africa added more than 50 million mobile phone subscribers for a total of nearly 200 million users.

There are other challenges–we are looking to do text messaging outreach to health workers in Ethiopia, where my colleague Katie Richey is being transferred (she flies out today) to manage the project I mentioned above, Elements of Successful Family Planning Programs. But Amharic, the primary language, has 300 characters, as compared with 26 Roman characters. So Nokia recently introduced an Amharic keypad that is seamless to protect it from rural environmental dust.

For lower-level health providers, barriers to exchanging information may include language barriers or illiteracy.

What is the difference between writing a personal science/health blog and running a multi-author blog that serves as a communication outlet for an organization?

I could post every hour on the hour, but no one wants to read that. The challenge is getting others to be as excited as I am about the so-called social Web. Many people are–they read blogs, they’re on Facebook–but they still think it requires a strategic outline and several drafts to write a blog post.

So personal blogs and institutional blogs (wow, that sounds boring) are pretty different. You could say multi-author blogs make for an inconsistent tone, and a variety of posting subjects, but I think those are advantages. It also becomes a conversation between colleagues who might not be working on the same project–an open conversation, to which there are sometimes unexpected contributions. We now have more than ten people contributing to the blog. They range from our deputy director Peggy D’Adamo to our materials cataloging expert Judy Mahachek. It’s great because everyone has different expertise, and varied field experiences to share–my officemate Seth who worked with refugees in Thailand shared the Burmese phrase for family planning.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

My head was threatening to spin off with ideas by the end of the weekend. To prevent that from happening, I blogged about it here.

Our chat at Raleigh’s New World Coffee House about “institution” blogging was pretty awesome. I have the paper I scribbled notes on here. The lessons I picked up are helping me build blogging capacity here at INFO.

It was so nice to see you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.

Thank YOU!

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Check out all the interviews in this series.