Exploring Street Arts and egalitarian collaborations between Scientists, Communities & Artists as Public Engagement and Science Communication mechanisms/tools

My name is Nabeel Petersen, a South African citizen on a mission to design and test novel methods for Science Communication, Research and to foster collaboration and stimulate dialogue. I have been employed in the non profit sector as a Project Manager on various projects, after having explored and tested theatrical/drama techniques and incorporating that into Science Communication and Health Messaging. And let me tell you, I am completely motivated and inspired by this community and others toward this goal and Public Engagement.

My experience as a process facilitator includes various participatory methods including: photovoice, drama, collaborative/participatory video, workshop design and events design. I’ve resigned from my formal job in order to test additional methods which I believe have the power to stimulate dialogue, forge relationships across difference sectors and reach larger audiences in organic, fun and interactive means.

Since resigning from my formal employment, I’ve begun developing concepts using Street Arts and collaborations to install live arts installations driven toward Public Engagement. Now, Public Engagement as a term itself is not void of ambiguity and misuse for the purpose of funding or green-stamping our professional works. This isn’t anyone’s fault as it’s a field that is developing. We should strive for full participation in our works, not merely using the term as a stamp of approval. Our project aims to forge relationships with very different bodies of knowledge and social status, i.e. biomedical professionals/scientists, community members and artists, all of whom I argue have equally important and necessary knowledge to combat illness, increase the status of general Public Health and, simply put, fight a battle using a full arsenal of knowledge and weapons.

Allow me to rewind, ever so slightly to paint a picture. I’ve previously sought to test photovoice as a participatory method by forging relationships with community members from an under-resourced community in Cape Town, South Africa, and Scientists from the University of the Western Cape. The project sought to bring these varied parties together in a participatory workshop process, after which community members were trained on DSLR cameras and instructed to capture the lived experience of food in their everyday lives. They could capture anything related but not limited to the purchase, consumption or disposal of food. This project revolved around Cardiovascular disease and the Scientists involved were Seniors at the Cardiovascular Research Unit at the University of Stellenbosch. The array of visual material and accompanying narrative was phenomenal and utterly beautiful. It shed light on the constant negotiation of food and consumption in these communities, including the availability of food, what kind of food was deemed healthy or not, when it was suitable for food to be disposed, food as celebration and community building etc. To me, and the Scientists involved, this process unveiled knowledge on food consumption behaviour and more structural issues imposed on these communities. It was never simply a “I want KFC and I shall buy KFC”. This food choice is always compounded by budget, compromise, available options, time of the month, etc. People are consciously and constantly negotiating and re-negotiating choices. My heart broke when a Senior member of the project sample pulled me aside mid-project and told me …

“Nabeel, I’ve suffered from Type 2 Diabetes for 15 years. At least thats what the doctors told me. They gave me medication and send me away each month. But never before has anyone told me what Diabetes is in a way that I understand. Never before have they taken time to talk with me. But now I have these scientists in my backyard. And they can’t leave until I know my body”…

It’s necessary to point out that even though this community has an approximate population of 100 000 it only has one superstore that either of us would immediately turn our back on. Most food products are sourced from small kiosks on the corners. Yes, I am still in shock. How and why are the most vulnerable excluded from knowledge and provision of services? An alarm bell rang in my head that I could not ignore since I resigned. We’ve been running projects with a very specific agenda which more often than not in the non-profit sector provides an income and life for the administering organization. The sad truth is peoples’ knowledge and expression are not given the kudos and respect it desperately needs. And in this battle, that may just be our most prize weapon.

Fastforward 8 months and I’ve developed a concept with others (including Infers Group and may own company Interfer) which: 1. aims to bring 3 very different bodies of knowledge together in a participatory, collaborative and egalitarian process; 2. forge relationships between these traditionally-deemed exclusive fields, i.e. arts and science and; 3. test organic and participatory processes to create events and arts installations that extends this knowlege to a broader audience in a fun interactive means.

Now. Back to my current mini-project…

I have recently collaborated with the University of Cape Town’s Swallowing the World project which is a curatorial project focused on the lived experience of TB. My team of graffiti artists and I joined the festival, set up 2.5 x 2.5m canvas in the middle of campus and contributed to this project on International TB Day. As the focus of the fest was on Destigmatization, we followed suit and allowed interaction between the audience and ourselves to influence or define the artpiece. A short video of our work:

This project will be installed in South Africa, India and Botswana simultaneously and attempts to use culturally- and community-sensitve street art forms. As such, we are holding participatory principles as central to the success of the project as we would like to design the project trajectory, outcomes and art installations/events with all participants. You may be thinking that no Funder finds this ideal. Alas, we’re all wrong! We have had alot of interaction with a potential funder who chose to view the testing phase on UCT in livetime. This live time viewing feature of our project is something we would want to function very much like Edgeryders as it allows for collaborations and creativity between individuals and entities that may not traditionally interact.

This leaves me at your feet as I’d love feedback, interaction and potentially consider collaborations with not only this project but others moving forward. I’d love to work in varying contexts and establish relationships between and across scientists, community members and artists from varying countries. This will be my next step. Apart from the actual arts installations and events, as products, we will be developing a best practices publication focused on the entire project in each 3 countries. I will also carry my “researcher” hat for the duration of this project as I wish to study: the interaction; immediate knowledge transfer between scientists, community members and artists; retained knowledge and overall impact. I would openly accept any suggestions or feedback…

For now I continue on my mission to test community- sensitive and -relevant means of expression and trying to find ways of using those tried and tested methods as communication tools. After all, what we want are healthier , expressive and inclusive communities whether you choose to define that territorially or otherwise. Only together can we progress…


Public art for Public health

Wow @Nabeel_p I really enjoyed reading about your work and the video!

Just to understand better, would you like to join us for the community festival this October, around health and social care?

As a community manager doing content management here on edgeryders, I took the liberty to embed your video for easier watch and greater exposure :slight_smile:

One for @Finbar247 a great artist in Ireland who has done work on raising awareness around mental wellbeing! If I can help make other connections please let me know…

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Hi Noemi

@Noemi, Thanks so much for your feedback. I was a bit uncertain if the informal tone of my writing made my intent clear enough. I am still learning how to navigate the site properly. My apologies. Thanks again for your feedback.

I would love to join for the Event in October 2017 and I would like to apply for the Fellowship. I feel being connected to this network would be phenomenal in my own growth and for organic collaborations. I have recently presented the success of a photovoice project at the Wellcome Trust International Engagement Workshop in Kenya 2017. I am actively seeking opportunities to test, collaborate and explore these methods and thematic areas with others.

I was looking for partners/collaborators in other countries for this specific project. I have however, decided to scale down the project and treat this as a testing phase with a large research component. In 2018 I’d like to scale the project to additional countries with collaborations across the countries. Any feedback would be wonderful.

All clear now.

No worries, it’s good to be sure anyway, and now that you’re part of the community we’ll make sure to spread the word and see where support can come from. It sometimes happens that by the time we meet at the event, people know each other and are already working together to progress in their work.

So hopefully no one is depending on just one opportunity, but benefits massively from being exposed to a global network.


Thanks for sharing this @Nabeel_p ! Reading about how you’re bringing arts, science and communities together is very inspiring.

I was recently in contact with a Belgian researcher working on stigma of TB and HIV/AIDS community health workers. As you see behind the links, she made two mini documentaries about people involved in those communities. She’s now planning to make another round of videos/photographs. I find it a great way to communicate science and to highlight the community aspect.

The comment of the Senior suffering from diabetes is relevant to another discussion here on the platform. The Open Insulin team in Belgium is thinking of how to do educational outreach around diabetes, because knowledge on the topic is not very widespread. Here is some more info on Open Insulin and pinging @NiekD who proposed it and is also a passionate science communicator.

@Scigrades also opened a call for input to make infographics around insulin/diabetes, to help with education and communication. It would be great to hear your input how he could shape these so that they may be relevant to re use in your context as well.

Personally, I’m very interested in learning about the topics you will study as a ‘researcher’. How will you be conducting this research?


@WinniePoncelet Thank you so much for your feedback. Between you and @Noemi I feel inspired to test these methods more rigorously and I am actively seeking collaborations with persons interested in similar thematic areas.

Wow @WinniePoncelet @NiekD . Unforunately I do not have a name of the Belgian researcher but I have been working on very similar themes in Cape Town when employed by a local org . I focused very much on the Health Impact pillar of the organization, which adopted a participatory approach in its educational programmes. I managed 2 projects for the org that focused on Community Care Workers who were primarly the ground fighters for TB and HIV. We used Digital Story telling, Theatre and Photovoice as methods for engagement which were very successful in relaying lived experience for the sake of education. I’d be happy to share key learning. This video provides feedback from Community Care Works, and their reflections on the project: https://vimeo.com/180156715  and this video features one Digital Story from a community resident: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy1PHfUMCQY.

Our project on Cardiovascular disease, which I managed and lead all facilitation, used Photovoice as a methodology. It was phenomenal in highlighting illness, nutrition and general social dynamic in response to health. I’d be happy to share this as well as the Photovoice booklet. Please note that even though I managed the project the book was developed by the org that employed me. @NiekD & @Scigrades grade, I think you may find this to be a interesting method that is participatory in all aspects of the design of the product. The following collaborative videos (a participatory method in itself in which a community develops their own video highlighting a specific issue/cause they’ve isolated as important to develop: https://vimeo.com/186163072 (Youth video focused on CVD) and https://vimeo.com/190529779 (video developed by youth, elder populaton and Scientists collectively). Note that the youth developed a collaborative video and the adult population of the participants developed the Photovoice publication. We aimed to explore CVD from different generation’s perspectives using differing tools. The adult population are community members that have kids or grandkids and have to consider them when purchasing, consuming or disposing of food, whereas the youth group were youth aged 18 - 28 that do not have to consider others when purchasing, consuming or disposing of food. If anyone is interested I’d be keen to write up a post and post or email persons copies of the Photobook.

And finally @WinniePoncelet, as these methods are very new and often hard to track scientifically I’ve chosen to look at impact and direct KAP (knowledge, attitude and practice) changes. This is a near impossibility in its own. The way I’ve sought to study the efficacy of drama as a method was to study variations of drama presentation including: deep characterization of characters; involving comedy in messages; shorter repetitive chanting or messaging in plays; plays in controlled environments to an invited, anticipating audience; pop up plays in local clinics to unsuspecting audiences. We interviewed persons with a set of questions focused on specific health messaging (i.e. TB and HIV focused) before and after plays.

We then interviewed a select number of persons 3-5 months post-performance to gauge retained knowledge. This allowed us insight into which theatrical mechanisms allows message recall. I am yet to publish this paper (if only we had 2 extra hours per day).I aim to take a similar approach with the Street Arts project, although the project adopts an organic, reactive and culturally-/community-sensitive approach and may prove hard to collate. We will not control the public health concern that will be focused on in each country that the project will be installed. Instead, we will allow for this to come directly from the community as we wish to work with issues, define the project and define the artform in collaboration with community members. I wish to track this process, and treat this project as a prototype phase before scaling the project and inviting others as collaborators/partners in 2018.

I hope this provides you with some clarity.

Please feel free to contact me on nabroe@gmail.com if needed. If enough persons are interested in an entry focused on Photovoice as a method, I’d be glad to proceed.

Dear Nabeel,

@WinniePoncelet was so kind to refer to my work I did in Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha.

With great interest I read your story. I absolutely agree that a beautiful collaboration between biomedical professionals/scientists, community members and artists is possible and necessary. Stimulating the dialogue between all these different actors sounds like a challenging, but important and rewarding task. At the moment I am trying to build bridges between the academic world and the larger audience, via video and photography. More specifically, trying to portrait the people behind the scientific numbers in a creative and emotionally touching way.

When I read your article, I had to think about the beautiful work that has been done within the framework of Amaphiko Redbull: https://amaphiko.redbull.com/en I visited one of their projects in Langa, which already build bridges between community members and artists. Not sure whether science communication was already part of any of their projects. Perhaps an avenue for new collaborations for you?

Thank you so much for sharing your videos on the CCWs’ work with regard to TB and HIV. This is right in my field of work, and I would love to hear more of your experience using Digital Story telling, Theatre and Photovoice with regard to the CCWs’ important work.

Wish you all the best with your project!

Warmest regards,


Welcome on board.

@CarolineM it is very nice to meet you, hearb great things about you.

From your work so far, have you seen how the “larger audience” responds positively to new formats? What constitutes reaching results for you? More awareness? or more active behavior across the different community groups?

Just wondering about the instrumentality because of course collaboration across disciplines and more awareness are more than needed… we all agree. Where do you see the twist, or the real ambition?


Hi @CarolineM

So great to meet you. If you are based in CT, then please do reach out I’d love to meet with you and consider a conversation in person. I agree with you with regards to relaying information beyond academia and forging collaborations between academia and larger/broader audiences. This has been the preemptive step to the current project and various talks I’ve had with various institutions.

I agree that visual approaches bridge educational divides and somewhat diffuses jargon. This has assisted me in relaying scientific knowledge to other audiences. I’ve been actively involved in collaboratively designing Events to this purpose, which not only provides knowledge in “digestable” means to community members, but are key for Scientists to observe as well. Each event has been learning for me, and I’m now testing the efficacy of presenting data in a different manner in communities, i.e. arts, or fun interactive events within communities in a pop-up fashion.

Langa has a very dynamic collaboration scene between artists and community members, as well as the private sector. It’s a phenomenal community and I was assisting with a local tech-startup focused on providing community members with tech-training. Completely fascinating and I am trying to access various communities, as I find that given South Africa’s current dynamic and transport restrictions communities tend to be territorial bound in its activities and collaborations.

The Work with local CCWs is still a focus for the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, who I was employed by. I managed various projects using various participatory approaches to explore lived experience and provide an outlet for expression. One of our projects funded by the Making All Voices iniative sought to bring these issues faced by CCWs to the City governance structure. It was a phenomenal experience trying to track down CABS and Clinic Boards (whom only exist on paper). There is a network we found that are actively working for the benefit of CCWs, but gov has cut funding for this network and introduced a new structure that is completely defunct and has no community representation (based on my findings in 2016).

@Noemi you’ve raised an important point. " How do these ‘larger audience’ responds to new formats? What constitutes reaching results for you? More awareness? or more active behavior across the different community groups?"

This is a trying question. In my personal work using participatory methods and facilitation, I’ve found that audience members generally respond positively to these new formats, perhaps because it is visual and emotion-invoking. When producing the Digital stories and the Events with CCWs, we found people openly reacting to persons they see everyday and that they already know function within communities in a very different light. Suddenly we had a hall of persons speaking about CCWs, valuing them differently, wanting conversations, etc. Immediately support was forged. IN one meeting, I had a community member request the microphone and state “If i only saw this video 6 months ago my friend would be alive. He would know what these people do in the community and I would understand what my friend is going through. He died because the TB medication made him sick and he didn’t want to be sick like that so he stopped”. 

Further to your question, each commuinty in CT alone, nevermind SA, responds to these formats differently as they each have a varied social dynamic on their own. So a one-size-fits-all simply does not work in this context, hence us wanting to test out methods that are relative to the communities we work in. Additionally, commuities (esp townships) suffer from very different public health concerns, e.g. in Delft the issue we worked on was cardiovascular disease as a majority of persons are suffering from this wheres the community 2 km from my called Vrygrond TB is the main concern. Language variation is a big issue as its not homogenous.

I agree with @CarolineM final comment. Generally, the response to these approaches have been favourable in very different settings. I’ve only briefly touched on that in the township environment. However, when presenting the Collaborative Videos and the Photovoice booklet to an academic audience at the University of Stellenbosch Medical Campus, Scientists were overall positive and approached me for additional information. It appeared that many are “stuck” when it comes to Engagement. In conclusion, all audiences that were exposed to the project products were excited and saw the value in the packaging of information in various forms, and the difference in direct participation with varying parties in the design of those products.

The value for me lies in the intersection of these fields or knowledge bodies. and the relationships and collaborations forged. I am truly excited by this potentiality that remains on the fringes of studies and projects.

@CarolineM  If you are based in CT and have the time, please do reach out to me. I’d love to have a conversation taking this further.

Hi @Nabeel_p,

A pleasure to meet you too. I am based at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. For my PhD I used to live in Cape Town for a while. Right now, I don’t visit Cape Town that often anymore (unfortunately :)). But very happy to let you know when I am around!

The quote you write about the CCWs and TB is very powerful. CCWs do an important job, which remains often still under the radar. At the moment, I am thinking of making a short documentary about their amazing work and life – to create more awareness about what they are doing.

Your idea of testing different ways of presenting data in communities sounds really interesting! Your project funded by the Making All Voices Initiative sounds amazing. Do you have any material to share with us about this? Same holds for the photovoice booklet you mentioned. Would love to learn from your rich experience.

Warmest regards,


Hi @carolinem It’s so great to hear from you and I do apologize for the delay in my response. I thought I had presented you with a response before. My sincerest apologies. It would have been so wonderful if you were still working in Cape Town.

To address you question, the work I did with MAVC was hosted by the organization I used to work for called The Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation. They have recently published the findings of the report and can be studied here: http://www.livelihoods.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/MAVC_SLF_Pr3Final_Translating_complex_realities.pdf .

I would gladly forward you copies of the Photobooks should you send your email address to nabroe@gmail.com (my personal email address) . Alternatively, a low res copy of the book can be found here: http://livelihoods.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/The-Heart-of-the-Matter_Final_small.pdf .

My current work is all about partnerships and co-design processes for community driven communication strategies in the context of health, using Arts as platforms. This is exciting and I’ve been involved in various test phases of the project. I’ll soon be launching projects across South Africa, testing its efficacy and its reception by communities. As my focus is co-design and collaboration I’m very keen on continuing conversations and forging relationships in the name of Healthy communities and Active Citizens.

Hi @nabeel_p,
No problem at all. Thanks so much for sharing these documents with me. The booklet sounds really fascinating. I just returned a couple of days ago from ‘photovoice’ fieldwork in Uganda (on social inclusion of children with special needs). I’ll go through your booklet, it might be of inspiration for the dissemination of the findings. Right now, we are thinking in the direction of a small exhibition, but this might also be a fruitful avenue for a follow-up aspect of this research project.

Definitely keep me posted when you can share more of the processes/results of your current work!

Hi @carolinem Thank you. I’d definitely like to follow your progress as well. Will you be at the Festival in Brussels? I’m just trying to organize transportation from London-Brussels and looking at Accommodation. It would be wonderful to have an in-person conversation. I am completely interested in your theme, and may be able to see linkages between your work and my own work at the moment. I’m keen on working on more psycho-social and psycho-somatic themes in varied context using an organic community driven approach.

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I hope both of you can make it! I am also keen to learn more about your work in person.

Hi @nabeel_p and @winnieponcelet, I would love to join you at this Festival. But unfortunately I won’t be able to make it, as I’ll be at another conference in Antwerp at that moment. Hope you have a fruitful get together, and I would love to hear what was discussed at the Festival.

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@winnieponcelet Excellent. I have planned to attend the Festival. If I took the 06:30 Train from London I would be in Brussels at circa 08:40 and will try to locate the venue. So it’s very exciting that we’ll be able to meet.

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Hi nabeel_p,
Thank you for sharing all this info about your project, sounds super inspiring and creative finding ways to bring together arts and science via collaborative community-focused approaches. Being myself a teaching professional for children with special needs, I would be very interested to get new ideas of raising social awareness towards inclusiveness of children with special needs in the school community. Moreover, as I am a supporter of Community Education and Community Learning Development, I would like to hear your views on different framework conditions that can enable individuals and communities by learning to make positive changes in their lives and communities. I am currently based in Brussels and very keen on participating in the festival on 19-21 October (unfortunately only on day 3 as I have to work the previous 2 days…) and meet people like you who are already creating self-sustaining projects for the common good. Looking forward to meet you all in the festival!

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Hi @xenia Thanks for the feedback. I’d be glad to share my experience. I’m only just rolling out into testing various conditions when designing projects with multiple parties and would be in a position for greater sharing in ± 9 months. I’ll be publishing project progress broadly and I’m very open to collaborations and sharing.

Your work sounds exciting and I’m just about attempting to work on various pyscho-social issues as the communities I work in have some sense of communal trauma (past, present and future), which I think co-design initiatives installed and mostly prompted by community has the potential to provide an outlet or expressive means. This, of course, is a stepping stone but i believe street arts and art has the potential to install creative projects and provide a catalyst for dialogue and communication. Let’s arrange a meet! During conference or after. I should be around Brussels for a day or two after the festival

@Silvia90 check this conversation

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Hi @xenia @carolinem I was reminded of your introduction here and I think this might be of interest to you:

We are trying to understand what people in our network involved in culture making would want to focus on and where we can collaborate. Have a look and let us know what you think? Any feedback and reaction would help so much, thanks!
Xenia, are you still in Brussels by the way?