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.

Conceptual modelling of complex topics: ConML as an example / Modelado conceptual de temas complejos: ConML como ejemplo

Community member post by Cesar Gonzalez-Perez

cesar-gonzalez-perez
Cesar Gonzalez-Perez (biography)

A Spanish version of this post is available

What are conceptual models? How can conceptual modelling effectively represent complex topics and assist communication among people from different backgrounds and disciplines?

This blog post describes ConML, which stands for “Conceptual Modelling Language”. ConML is a specific modelling language that was designed to allow researchers who are not expert in information technologies to create and develop their own conceptual models. It is useful for the humanities, social sciences and experimental sciences. Continue reading

Scatterplots as an interdisciplinary communication tool

Community member post by Erin Walsh

erin-walsh
Erin Walsh (biography)

Scatterplots are used in many disciplines, which makes them useful for communicating across disciplines. They are also common in newspapers, online media and elsewhere as a tool to communicate research results to stakeholders, ranging from policy makers to the general public. What makes a good scatterplot? Why do scatterplots work? What do you need to watch out for in using scatterplots to communicate across disciplines and to stakeholders?

What makes a good scatterplot? Continue reading

Synthesis of knowledge about participatory modeling: How a group’s perceptions changed over time

Community member post by Rebecca Jordan

Rebecca Jordan (biography)

How do a group’s perceptions change over time, when members across a range of institutions are brought together at regular intervals to synthesize ideas? Synthesis centers have been established to catalyze more effective cross-disciplinary research on complex problems, as described in the blog post ‘Synthesis centers as critical research infrastructure‘, by Andrew Campbell.

I co-led a group synthesizing ideas about participatory modeling as one of the activities at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). We met in Annapolis, Maryland, USA, four times over three years for 3-4 days per meeting. Our task was to synthesize what is known about participatory modeling tools, processes, and outcomes, especially in environmental and natural resources management contexts. Continue reading

What can interdisciplinary collaborations learn from the science of team science?

suzi-spitzer
Suzi Spitzer (biography)

Community member post by Suzi Spitzer

How can we improve interdisciplinary collaborations? There are many lessons to be learned from the Science of Team Science. The following ten lessons summarize many of the ideas that were shared at the International Science of Team Science Conference in Galveston, Texas, in May 2018.

1. Team up with the right people
On the most basic level, scientists working on teams should be willing to integrate their thoughts with their teammates’ ideas. Participants should also possess a variety of social skills, such as negotiation and social perceptiveness. The most successful teams also encompass a moderate degree of deep-level diversity (values, perspectives, cognitive styles) and include women in leadership roles. Continue reading

CoNavigator: Hands-on interdisciplinary problem solving

Community member post by Katrine Lindvig, Line Hillersdal and David Earle

How can we resolve the stark disparity between theoretical knowledge about interdisciplinary approaches and practical applications? How can we get from written guidelines to actual practices, especially taking into account the contextual nature of knowledge production; not least when the collaborating partners come from different disciplinary fields with diverse expectations and concerns?

For the past few years, we have been developing ways in which academic theory and physical interactions can be combined. The result is CoNavigator – a hands-on, 3-dimensional and gamified tool which can be used:

  • for learning purposes in educational settings
  • as a fast-tracking tool for interdisciplinary problem solving.

CoNavigator is a tool which allows groups to collaborate on a 3-dimensional visualisation of the interdisciplinary topography of a given field or theme. It addresses the contextual and local circumstances and the unique combinations of members in collaborative teams. CoNavigator is therefore short for both Context Navigation and Collaboration Navigation. The process of applying the tool takes around 3 hours.

Using CoNavigator

CoNavigator is composed of writable tiles and cubes to enable rapid, collaborative visualisation, as shown in the first figure below. The tactile nature of the tool is designed to encourage collaboration and negotiation over a series of defined steps.

Making the Tacit Visible and Tangible

Each participant makes a personal tool swatch. By explaining their skills to a person with a completely different background, the participant is forced to re-evaluate, re-formulate, and translate skills in a way that increases their own disciplinary awareness. Each competency that is identified is written onto a separate tool swatch.

katrine-lindvig
Katrine Lindvig (biography)

line-hillersdal
Line Hillersdal (biography)

david-earle
David Earle (biography)

Continue reading