Monday, 28 April 2014

Migration research and public engagement: Reading Across Worlds

by Grace Baey

Reading Across Worlds (RAW) is a project that aims to bring visibility to inspiring stories of domestic workers across Singapore through film and photography. Grace Baey reflects on the notion of ‘shareability’ that led her to set up the project with Bernice Wong and Ng Niqin, co-founder of the local arts initiative Beyond the Border Behind the Men (BTBBTM).

 “Hey folks I drafted a project description for our Facebook page. Any thoughts?”
“Sounds too wordy. Where are you going to put it?”
 “There’s space in the ‘About’ section”.
“Nobody reads that.”
“Post the write up with a picture, and we can share it amongst our friends.”
“Good thinking!”
“Yes, it’s more about shareability”
Shareability Ever since this word was mentioned, it has continued to inform the ways I think about research and public engagement. As academics and researchers, many of us are well aware of the age old criticisms. We write too obscurely. The format is unfriendly. And the most disheartening of all: “Nobody reads that!”
Having researched on migration issues for over five years, I often slip into the false presumption that people would be interested to know about these topics just because they are socially relevant in Singapore’s everyday context. But social relevance doesn’t always translate into social interest – not without deliberate effort, at least.
Stemming from my experience working on the “Reading Across Worlds” project, I’d like to share three points that I found useful for doing research communications. First, find compelling stories to illustrate key issues. Everyone loves stories, and they have the ability to connect people on an emotional and intellectual level.
Second, explore different mediums that can be shared and grasped easily. Having identified your main message, try novel ways of presenting the information, such as through an infographic or photo series. Third, use social media to promote your piece. Whether we like it or not that’s how most people consume information these days.
Whilst there may be concerns about the potential dilution of academic rigour when taking on these tasks, making research accessible through customised outputs remains a necessary first step to raising public awareness on social issues. Whenever I am unsure or have questions, I always try to tell myself: “Take courage and step out!”
Grace Baey is Research Assistant and Communications Officer for the Migrating out of Poverty RPC Southeast Asia regional partner, the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore. 
RAW’s short film ‘Ceria’ was publicly released on International Women’s Day 2014. To view and for more information, please visit: The accompanying sequence of photographs by Bernice Wong can be viewed at
This blog was originally published as an article in the March 2014 edition of the newsletter of the Asia Research Institute (ARI), Issue 33, accessible at:

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