Using a cartoon video to achieve research impact

By Darren Gray, Yuesheng Li and Don McManus

Darren Gray
Darren Gray (biography)

In the right circumstances, a cartoon video can be an effective way to communicate research information. But what’s involved in developing a cartoon video?

This blog post is based on our experience as a Chinese-Australian partnership in developing an educational cartoon video (The Magic Glasses, link at end of post) which aimed to prevent soil-transmitted helminths (parasitic worm) infections in Chinese schoolchildren. We believe that the principles we applied are more broadly applicable and share them here.

Yuesheng Li
Yuesheng Li (biography)

Developing the cartoon video involved three major steps: formative research, production, and pilot testing plus revision.

Formative research

Don McManus
Don McManus (biography)

The aim of the formative research is to better understand what you want to change, which in our case was a reduction in behaviours which put Chinese children at risk of being infected by soil-transmitted helminths. We therefore wanted to find out about:

  • What children already knew about risky behaviours
  • What risky behaviours they were engaged in
  • What additional information about knowledge and behaviours could be provided by parents, teachers and doctors
  • How the relevant behavioural change might occur.

We gathered this information by surveying, interviewing and observing children and households, conducting key informant interviews, and reviewing relevant theory about behavioural change. As part of this information gathering we also found out about the children’s favourite comics and cartoons.

More generally, while the information that needs to be gathered will depend on the change being sought, we anticipate that a similar mix of theory and empirical data gathering will be useful.

Production

Production involves turning the formative research into a first draft cartoon and the process we used can be easily adapted to other circumstances.

The process we followed was to use the formative research to produce a series of key messages that the cartoon video needed to convey. These then needed to be turned into a script for the cartoon narrative, which in our case was done through a series of brainstorming sessions by a multi-disciplinary team comprising researchers, education experts, animators and a scriptwriter.

During the scriptwriting process, Chinese experts were consulted repeatedly for advice on China-specific cultural aspects.

The script was a written document describing the dialogue, settings and characters from which all other elements essential for cartoon development were created. These included a storyboard to visualise camera shots and an animatic, turning the storyboard into a slideshow to pace and time the cartoon. Subsequently, concept artwork was created for all the main features presented in the script including the cartoon characters, the settings and general cartoon style.

Next, resources were pooled together under the supervision of the cartoon director, and each stage was continually reviewed, iterated and placed into the movie. Backgrounds were created alongside characters, which were animated scene by scene. Dialogue and sound were then added. Throughout the process, results were discussed with the multi-disciplinary team and content was adapted accordingly.

Pilot testing, plus revision

Pilot testing with the target audience is essential to reveal and remedy weaknesses in the cartoon video before a final version is produced.

In our case, a pilot version of The Magic Glasses was tested in six schools in one Chinese city with children, teachers and invited parents. A questionnaire was used to assess whether the key messages had been understood. Small focus groups provided an opportunity for the audience to comment on the cartoon and make suggestions for improvement.

The main change we made was to re-record the audio using professional voice actors based in China (rather than Australian-based Chinese film school students), which considerably improved the quality and entertainment value of the cartoon.

Recommendations

As a result of our experience, we developed eight recommendations, modified here to be more generally applicable:

  1. Involve the relevant local community and the target group early on in the formative research phase to gain insight into the change needed and relevant context.
  2. Use multiple, both quantitative and qualitative, methods for the formative research.
  3. Use relevant theory to guide the change message.
  4. Where behaviour change is required, ensure the video incorporates instructional messages into a real-life situation displaying correct behaviour embedded in the local context (rather than depicting a stand-alone instructional message). Ideally, the educational material should be developed locally to account for cultural differences.
  5. Ensure the video is produced professionally by hiring a professional audio-visual company. It is also essential to involve an experienced scriptwriter.
  6. Ensure the knowledge can be integrated into an entertaining narrative, thereby informing and entertaining at the same time.
  7. Pilot test the video in the targeted area and solicit feedback from the local community and targeted group.
  8. Use the cartoon video in conjunction with other strategies to encourage change. (In the case of the Magic Glasses video, we also used other teaching methods such as class discussions or role-plays, allowing children to practice, consolidate and repeat the newly-acquired knowledge.)

Conclusion

Do you have experience using cartoon videos or similar techniques to achieve research impact? Do you have lessons about what does and does not work to share?

To find out more:
Bieri, F. A., Yuan, L-P., Li, Y-S., He, Y-K., Bedford, A., Li, R. S., Guo, F-Y., Li, S-M., Williams, G. M., McManus, D. P., Raso, G. and Gray, D. J. (2013). Development of an educational cartoon to prevent worm infections in Chinese schoolchildren. Infectious Diseases of Poverty, 2: 29. (Online) (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1186/2049-9957-2-29

The Magic Glasses video (14 minutes) can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7C-O5M3YnRE

Biography: Darren Gray PhD is a professor and Deputy Director of the Research School of Population Health and Head of the School’s Department of Global Health at The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. He has worked extensively in Southeast Asia in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); neglected tropical diseases; infectious disease transmission dynamics; health promotion/education; cluster-randomised controlled trials; and field-based epidemiological research.

Biography: Yuesheng Li PhD is a Senior Research Fellow at Berghofer Medical Research Institute at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the School of Public Health, University of Queensland, both in Brisbane, Australia and honorary professor in Hunan Institute of Parasitic Diseases, China. His research focuses on developing effective public-health interventions, including vaccines, and novel diagnostic procedures, against important parasites with the goal of elimination.

Biography: Donald P. McManus Ph.D., D.Sc. (Wales) is a NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow at Berghofer Medical Research Institute at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research and Professor of Tropical Health, University of Queensland, both in Brisbane, Australia. He researches the molecular biology, immunology, diagnosis and epidemiology of parasitic worms. He is the recipient of multiple awards, including Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (UK, 2013), Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (2013) and winner of the Sornchai Looareesuwan Medal 2018 “for outstanding achievements in experimental and clinical tropical medicine research”.

Darren Gray is a member of blog partner PopulationHealthXchange, which is in the Research School of Population Health at The Australian National University.

4 thoughts on “Using a cartoon video to achieve research impact

  1. That is an amazingly powerful form of communication. I can see that it was a lot of work but we want all our research to have direct impact and benefit to society and I really like this approach. I’ll be using it with my 3rd year capstone science students and this will be my example I share with them. Its wonderful.

  2. This is an interesting project and film and the 8 steps look very sensible.We have not used cartoon video, but did use cartoons in guide books to communicate the risks or, and what can be done to reduce the impact of earthquakes in China. We produced two versions: one for government staff and one for the public and schools, and each in both English and Chinese. The English version of the one for the public and schools can be seen here: http://blog.inasp.info/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PAGER-O-Scenario-for-Public-English.pdf. A really important part of the process was ensuring that the style of drawing, and ethnicity of characters was appropriate. This was achieved by working with local educators and a local artist / cartoon book designer. The research itself was done in a highly collaborative participatory way based on a scenario approach developed by GeoHazards International (https://www.geohaz.org/). The full process has been written up here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212420918314018.

  3. I’ve enjoyed learning about this project, what strikes me most is the great combination of creativity in its creation, then solid science in evaluating its impact. To add to the above blog post, I’d also point out that a hidden benefit is attractive still imagery that can be extracted from the animation. Presentations and conference posters benefit very much from the striking, clear artwork involved in this project.

    In collaboration with a colleague (Dr. Cathy Day), I’ve created a series of animations used to teach the ‘drier’ population health topics. This was pitched at a tertiary audience, but they’re also applicable beyond the classroom. Though this is more education than research impact, we also found that animations (and more broadly, illustrations) are a great tool for breaking barriers such as stigma, perceived conceptual difficulty, and disengagement. The biggest lesson I learned doing this was to be more realistic about how effort intensive animation is – even cutting corners, a whole day’s work can produce less than 30 sections of actual animation! It really helps to have a clear vision (thanks, Dr. Day!) before the animation work actually begins, to make the best use of the actual production time.

Leave a Reply