Ajibola Omokanye first got the idea for Explainartist in 2010 when he started working as a doctor back in the United Kingdom and suddenly realised how hard it was to access academic papers. As a student, he had had full access via the University library, but as an employee he did not have that privilege.
“This meant that I did not even have access to an article which I had contributed towards during my training, and that was a bit awkward.”
This led him to question who is financing research, who has access to the results, and whether the general public can understand the results.
“As a researcher, I can understand my own research. However, I have a hard time understanding research in other fields, as it can be very complicated. With this in mind, I can imagine how complicated it must be for the general public.”
Creating an alternative to Wikipedia
And so, Ajibola Omokanye is in the process of creating a platform for research communication which is built on pictures; an alternative to Wikipedia which is mainly built on texts, and TED Talks which is built on lectures.
The name of the platform, Explainartist, is partly inspired by an Albert Einstein quote: “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.“ ”And partly from the word “artist” that symbolises that the platform will be built on different kinds of creative illustrations such as photos, animations, drawings, multimedia, poetry and role-play.
The images will be played automatically, like a digital art gallery – and each image will symbolise a research project. You can click on an image that you find interesting to get more information and relevant links.
“By limiting the word amount, it will be minimalist, easy to understand and accessible for those that don’t have English as their first language”.
Artists illustrating research
Ajibola Omokanye has a team of employees that are establishing contact with professional illustrators and artists to help researchers get their research illustrated.
Explainartist also has a blog that highlights good examples and activities from around the world. In addition, the platform will be used to campaigns for research issues. It is interactive; posts are given hashtags making it possible to search for them and communicate about them via Twitter and other social media.
“It takes two-way communication to create real engagement. Even if you are an expert, you can get new ideas from anywhere. There is a lot to gain from interacting with the general public”
Researchers do not have time to communicate
Ajibola notes that many researchers, not least professors, are too stressed to dedicate time to communicate what they are doing. They are not trained in communication and have to spend a lot of their time applying for research grants and getting published in high-profile academic journals.
“If you have to choose between applying for money, or spending an hour on public communication, there is no doubt which one you will chose.”
He uses the battle between the research world and the tobacco industry lobbyists as an example. Scientifically, there is no doubt that tobacco is dangerous, but the industry still managed to undermine the research results for a long time. Ajibola argues that this clearly shows that the researcher’s communication skills were not as good as those of the industry.
Explainartist has launched a test version at www.explainartist.org and Ajibola hopes to have the final platform ready in the beginning of 2016.
Working with vaccines
Ajibola Omokanye is currently studying at the Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg funded by a doctoral scholarship from the EU research programme Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions. He is a part of a team that is working with vaccines for pandemic threats, under Professor Nils Lycke.
“I am very interested in vaccines; they are our biggest public health intervention measure and save millions of lives each year. I can see myself working with different aspects, from deciding what vaccines are needed and how they can be developed, to how they should be distributed to people in the field”.
He previously studied medicine at The University of Manchester and has also managed to squeeze in two Master’s degrees, one in the role of genetics in drug treatment and one in public health sciences.
Benefits of studying in another country
The doctoral scholarship perfectly matched his scientific- and clinical professional interests. The scholarship requires that you conduct your research abroad and he thinks this is a great advantage.
“It is a fantastic opportunity. It is good to see how things can be done differently. Even if my home is only two hours from here by plane, there are clear differences in how society is organised. There is a very collaborative mentality here”.
The platform is being built with a starter-grant from the Grants and Innovation Office at the University of Gothenburg and Ajibola Omokanye is very grateful for the support and encouragement that he has received.
“I can’t emphasize enough how encouraging people are when you have an idea. There are great opportunities to pursue projects here because people always want to discuss ideas – it is uniquely Swedish. And I have learnt to “fika” as well (have Swedish coffee and cake)”.