Intercultural Communication and Pandemic Prevention
About the project

Description of the project and research questions being asked


This project will study the role of culture and communication in preventing global pandemics. With the University of Washington’s Center for Local Strategies Research, I seek to understand the complex intercultural communication that takes place between the global medical and scientific community and local populations targeted for behavior change interventions. Rapid scientific advances are only as useful, ultimately, as far as they can be understood by the people whose lives they affect. Communication research can help facilitate this process of understanding.

Some non-profit groups are already working hard to increase public understanding of medical and environmental science. Many of these groups work in very poor countries that have few resources to devote to public health or environmental conservation. In partnership with one such group, the International Conservation and Education Fund (INCEF), I will analyze their messages and projects in the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

INCEF's mission is at the nexus of conservation and health.  A substantial part of the work is focused on preventing diseases such as Ebola and monkey pox, which are transmitted from animals to humans.  Their work also focuses on conserving endangered species, and reducing illegal hunting for commercial sale of bushmeat. They are involved in both ROC and DRC in educating populations about climate change, coping with the repercussions of these changes and readying forest populations for the activities of REDD (Reduction of Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation) Readiness as experts prepare to evaluate the Forests of the Congo Basin.

One of the primary means of human exposure to diseases in central Africa is through hunting bushmeat – animals found in the jungles of central Africa, including great apes and some monkeys. Efforts to reduce disease transmission are therefore closely tied to efforts to reduce hunting of great apes and other forest animals, whose numbers are dwindling. INCEF works to promote sustainable economic development, healthy human populations, and healthy animal populations through communication and education.

My overall research question asks: how do people talk about health, disease, and the environment, and what kind of communication is effective in changing human behavior? The project has three broad aims: 1) to better understand communication methods in global health settings; 2) to assess the effectiveness of existing programs; and 3) to design new communication protocols to share best practices in health and environmental communication with other organizations.

Why this matters and should be exciting to backers

As human settlements expand around the world, and humans come into more frequent contact with wildlife, the potential for zoonotic (animal-to-human) disease transmission increases. Many virologists and epidemiologists have identified zoonotic diseases as a potential source of the next global pandemic. These diseases have the potential to mutate rapidly and have already adapted to living in human hosts. We also know very little about the relationship between human culture, communication, and disease transmission in the case of rapid outbreaks.

Everyday activities such as hunting, farming, and food processing can spread pathogens from animals to humans. Preventing such disease transmission, and preventing the next possible pandemic disease, requires good communication, and knowledge of different cultures. The University of Washington's Center for Local Strategies Research is partnering with INCEF to study health and environmental communication work in the Republic of Congo, to gain a better understanding of what works, what doesn't work, and how we can develop better communication programs around the issue of human health and environmental sustainability.

The entire field of human-animal interaction and environmental sustainability is relatively new, and in need of further study. The importance of culture and communication in conventional health programs is well understood, but not much is currently know about communication and emerging diseases. Diseases such as Ebola, a fast-killing, high-mortality virus, present a particularly difficult problem for public health, and for health communication. By studying INCEF’s current work on this type of communication, and helping to develop future projects, the research you support here will contribute to better health and environmental communication projects in central Africa, and someday other countries as well.

What your money can do

Your contribution will enable me to travel to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, for a two-month pilot field study. The money raised will cover the cost of round-trip travel from Seattle to Brazzaville, and travel in-country to various remote sites where INCEF is conducting projects. It will cover my room and board in the Republic of Congo, and allow me to hire a local research assistant and translator for the two months I am there. The money will also cover the costs of translating consent forms and other required documentation into French, the official language of the Republic of Congo.

This two-month trip will lay the groundwork for further research, and also provide valuable data to get this project off the ground. Qualitative field work takes time, and in the early stages of research more time is always better. Your money will buy time, and time will yield data.

If I raise more than the minimum funds, any additional money will go towards more travel within the Republic of Congo, possibly to more remote sites. Travel is expensive since roads are limited and bush planes are often the only option. I want to be able to pay fair wages to all local research assistants and others who assist the project. 

Potential discoveries

All data gathered on this trip will be, in one sense, a discovery. This project is breaking new ground in both academic and applied communication studies. It will lay the foundation for a longer-term study of health and environmental communication projects and their efficacy. It will allow me to make valuable contacts in the field, identify a local translator who will be crucial to the project's success, and make adjustments to the project design based on field experience.

In the long term, this project has the potential to develop new methods of communication outreach and health education in low-resource global settings, and to increase scholarly and applied understanding of the relationship between human beings, our environment, and disease.  


I earned my doctorate in Communication from the University of Washington in 2010. Since then, I have pursued my passion for scholarly research, and for projects that have a real-world impact as an Associate Scholar with UW's Center for Local Strategies Research.

My interest in language and communication dates back to my undergraduate major in Comparative Literature at Cornell, where I studied Russian and Spanish. Raised on the East Coast of the US, I have lived in several different US states, as well as Istanbul, Turkey. Seattle is home now, when I am not traveling for research.

Additional Links

University of Washington Center for Local Strategies Research

International Conservation and Education Fund

Tuesday October 01, 2013

Hello funders!

I wanted to share this recent post on Scientific American's blog, which features the story of this project.

Crowd funding for science is gaining visibility, and becoming ever more widely used. With federal budget cuts to scientific research, both the NIH and NSF have even less money to support scientific work, and there are even fewer opportunities for young researchers to break into their fields. Your support for research is even more critical at this time, and I appreciate everything you have done for my project. 

I continue to work on the data from my research trip, and I have developed one conference paper and a graduate-level class from that experience. I'll keep working to prepare for another trip to Congo, and I am still in touch with everyone at INCEF so that I can work on designing a project that will help them as well.

Thank you again!


Sunday May 19, 2013
$50+ Backer only update
Thursday December 06, 2012
Backer only update
Friday November 09, 2012
Backer only update
Thursday November 08, 2012
Backer only update
Friday November 02, 2012
Backer only update
Sunday October 21, 2012

Wow! Fully funded and then some. Thank you everyone!!!

I am flying out from Seattle on Nov.4, and arrive in Brazzaville Nov.5. I will start blog posts very soon, and continue to update it with field notes as I work. 

It is hard to believe, but I am ready to go and start the research. Thank you to everyone for your support! The project will remain live on Petridish until its scheduled closing date - there is no way to end it early - and any money raised above the original goal will go directly to research costs. 

I kept my budget estimate deliberately on the low side, and raising additional funds will mean that I can afford to travel greater distances within the Republic of Congo, to observe INCEF's work in more remote locations. Transportation costs will be the majority of all costs on this project, and additional funds will not go to waste.

Thank you again!

Thursday October 18, 2012

This is so exciting! Thank you everyone who has contributed! Only $135 left to go, and I am sure this project will succeed. Your support throughout this project has been fantastic.

I will be leaving for Brazzaville on Nov.4, and you will begin receiving updates from the field right away. I look forward to sharing the research process with you, my community of supporters! I think it may even make the sometimes lonely process of data collection and field work a bit less lonely.

Thank you again! We are almost there.

Sunday October 14, 2012

In the home stretch now, only $765 to raise in order to make the goal and secure the funding. Thank you everyone! It is amazing to receive everyone's support, and to hear your words of encouragement. If I should raise more than the initial amount, all extra funds will go directly to research costs, and allow me to travel more within the Republic of Congo. 

I am truly humbled to hear from everyone from my Middle School science teacher (thank you, Mr. McNab!) to my rowing team mates, to my grad school colleagues. And from people I have never met! I look forward to sending you all updates from the field and research findings, and sharing this experience with you.

Thank you very much!

Friday October 12, 2012

Only $995 to go! Thank you very much for getting my project to 85% funded. This is a great milestone, and the finish line is in sight. 

I have bought my plane tickets, and I am picking up the last few items I will need to bring with me on the research trip. Translation of key research documents into French is beginning, and I have completed my application for a visa to the Republic of Congo. 

Thank you for your support, and for your continued enthusiasm for the research. It is exciting to connect with a group of people who all believe in the importance of original research.

Wednesday October 10, 2012

80% funded! But even better, 46 different people have chosen to sponor this project. I truly believe that this model of research funding puts the "public" in public scholarship, and it is very important to me to have a broad base of support.

I am accountable to you, the backers of the project. Also, your involvement makes this project more public and helps to spread the word.

So thank you very much! Every single dollar makes a difference, and goes directly to research costs. Even a visa to the Republic of Congo is expensive ($120, plus FedEx fees), and every cent that you donate will bring this project closer to success.

Wednesday October 10, 2012

24% to go, and 24 days left - the 1% per day goal is going strong! Thank you very much to everyone who has donated and spread the word. 

We are going to get to the total together!

Sunday October 07, 2012

This is pretty amazing! 26 days left in the fund drive and only 26% left to go! Thank you for your continued support, and for making this project a reality.

I am about to purchase my round-trip ticket to Brazzaville, leaving in early November just after this fund drive closes. Your support so far has given me the confidence to take this step, because I believe this drive will raise the full total.

Thank you very much for everything you have already given, and for the support that continues to arrive every day! If I can raise 1% per day, we will get there!

Wednesday October 03, 2012

Just over $5,000 today! Thank you so much for your contiued support of my project. It means a great deal to me to recieve your kind words as well as your pledges.

I got my vaccinations on Monday, and I am preparing the final steps of human subjects review and trip planning. I may have gotten lucky and found flights from Seattle to Brazzaville and back with only one plane change (!). It's a long trip, so being able to sleep instead of run from one gate to the next in five different airports would be a big bonus. 

30 days to go in the campaign, and I feel sure we will reach the goal!

Saturday September 29, 2012

Over $4000 now! Thank you to everyone who has pledged so far. You are making this whole project possible.

I have to raise the whole amount, $7000, or I won't get any of the funds - this is an all-or-nothing form of fund raising. Thank you for putting me that much closer to the goal!

I start getting my vaccinations on Monday...planning to purchase the plane tickets soon.

Friday September 28, 2012

Wow! You guys blew through the halfway mark and now we are closing in on $4000!

Thank you very much to all of my donors so far. Your faith in this project, and in me, is truly humbling.

I am working on completing some of the paperwork for my travel and for the research, and this trip is beginning to feel real. Thanks so much for helping make this possible!

Tuesday September 25, 2012

Only $80 left to get to half way! Thank you very much to all the early donors!

So far, these funds cover the cost of a round-trip ticket form Seattle to Brazzaville (@$2,600), and the cost of translating study materials (consent forms, etc.) into French (@$400), the official language of the ROC. Both of these thing are absolutely essential to the project, so this is a great step. With the money that is left, I might even be able to eat a little bit while I am there... :)

This is terrific progress, and with your continued support I am sure this project will succeed! 

Monday September 24, 2012

Wow! Donations have already reached an amount to cover the cost of round-trip air fare from Seattle to Brazzaville (according to! Thank you to all the early birds. With this much energy, the project will definitely be successful. I need to reach the full goal amount in order to get the funding, but at this rate I am sure we will make it!

Saturday September 22, 2012

Thank you so much to all the early donors! You have put us over the first $1000 mark, moving towards the final goal! If we can keep this energy going, this project will fly.

Thank you everyone for your support. I am working hard to make this happen.

Monday September 17, 2012

A big 'thank you!' to Mariana Bueno for the video production on this page. It would not have been possible without her work. She's the best!

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This project was successful!
$5 +
A thank you email from me, and acknowledgment by name in all presentations and publications of research findings.
$15 +
Subscription to the project blog for updates from the field, plus all of the above.
$30 +
A digital photo album of pictures from the field, plus all of the above.
$50 +
A high-quality 8x10 print of a photo from the field, plus all of the above.
$100 +
A cell phone ring tone of local Congolese music, plus all of the above.
$250 +
'Golden Donor' status, video diary updates from the field, plus all of the above.
$500 +
Our signature design T-shirt with names of all donors, plus all of the above.
$1,000 +
A wrap made from local Congolese fabric, plus all of the above. In addition, I will make a full presentation of research findings, either in person or in video form (if you live outside Seattle), and a venue of your choice.
$2,000 +
A bracelet made from local Congolese beads, plus all of the above. For this, I will also come to your home and prepare a gourmet dinner. If you live outside the immediate Seattle area, this may take a while, but I will deliver. (I am also a trained chef.)
and 34 others