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.

Fourteen knowledge translation competencies and how to improve yours

By Genevieve Creighton and Gayle Scarrow

Genevieve Creighton
Genevieve Creighton (biography)

Knowledge translation encompasses all of the activities that aim to close the gap between research and implementation.

What knowledge, skills and attitudes (ie., competencies) are required to do knowledge translation? What do researchers need to know? How about those who are using evidence in their practice?

As the knowledge translation team at the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, we conducted a scoping review of the skills, knowledge and attitudes required for effective knowledge translation (Mallidou et al., 2018). We also gathered tools and resources to support knowledge translation learning. Continue reading

Designing scenarios to guide robust decisions

Community member post by Bonnie McBain

Bonnie McBain (biography)

What makes scenarios useful to decision makers in effectively planning for the future? Here I discuss three aspects of scenarios:

  • goals;
  • design; and,
  • use and defensibility.

Goals of scenarios

Since predicting the future is not possible, it’s important to know that scenarios are not predictions. Instead, scenarios stimulate thinking and conversations about possible futures. Continue reading

Agent-based modelling for knowledge synthesis and decision support

Community member post by Jen Badham

Jen Badham (biography)

The most familiar models are predictive, such as those used to forecast the weather or plan the economy. However, models have many different uses and different modelling techniques are more or less suitable for specific purposes.

Here I present an example of how a game and a computerised agent-based model have been used for knowledge synthesis and decision support.

The game and model were developed by a team from the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), a French agricultural research organisation with an international development focus. The issue of interest was land use conflict between crop and cattle farming in the Gnith community in Senegal (D’Aquino et al. 2003).

Agent-based modelling is particularly effective where understanding is more important than prediction. This is because agent-based models can represent the real world in a very natural way, making them more accessible than some other types of models. Continue reading

Managing uncertainty in decision making: What can we learn from economics?

Community member post by Siobhan Bourke and Emily Lancsar

Siobhan Bourke (biography)

How can researchers interested in complex societal and environmental problems best understand and deal with uncertainty, which is an inherent part of the world in which we live? Accidents happen, governments change, technological innovation occurs making some products and services obsolete, markets boom and inevitably go bust. How can uncertainty be managed when all possible outcomes of an action or decision cannot be known? In particular, are there lessons from the discipline of economics which have broader applicability? Continue reading

Idea tree: A tool for brainstorming ideas in cross-disciplinary teams

Community member post by Dan Stokols, Maritza Salazar, Gary M. Olson, and Judith S. Olson

Dan Stokols (biography)

How can cross-disciplinary research teams increase their capacity for generating and integrating novel research ideas and conceptual frameworks?

A key challenge faced by research teams is harnessing the intellectual synergy that can occur when individuals from different disciplines join together to create novel ideas and conceptual frameworks. Studies of creativity suggest that atypical (and often serendipitous) combinations of dissimilar perspectives can spur novel insights and advances in knowledge. Yet, many cross-disciplinary teams fail to achieve intellectual synergy because they allot insufficient effort to generating new ideas. Here we describe a brainstorming tool that can be used to generate new ideas in cross-disciplinary teams. Continue reading