Searching for the Sources of the Nile through a podcast

In a new article on the Journal of Science Communication, Emanuele Fantini and Emilie Buist reflect on what they learnt by making the podcast The Sources of the Nile, and sketch a “podcast pathway” for colleagues and students interested in podcasting for research and education.

The search for the Sources of the Nile inspired many European explores in the 19th century and nurtured our imagination of the Nile as a mystic and global river. Our own quest for the Sources of the Nile begun in December 2017. We decided to use a podcast to search for a specific type of sources: those used by journalists when reporting on Nile issues. In the project “Open Water Diplomacy. Media, Science and transboundary cooperation in the Nile basin” we wanted to understand the role of media and scientific communication in influencing debates and shaping conflicts and cooperation along the Nile river.

In a new article, recently published in the Journal of Science Communication, we share the diary of that exploration. At the end of eight monthly episodes in which we talked to journalists and researchers coming from or working in the Nile basin, what did we find?

One of the main lessons learnt is that the “technical” process of podcast production and the “political” content produced are deeply connected. In the end, podcasting is an issue of voice: which voices do you host, how do you put them in conversation, and when do you cut them through your editing.

Being an accessible and relatively easy to make media, the podcast allowed us to promote voices and perspectives that are not usually heard in mainstream debates, like those of local journalists and researchers. Thus, a second lesson is that a podcast can be used to generate data and information for research. In the article we review the episodes discussing what we learned on how the distribution of voices and knowledge is linked to the distribution of water in the Nile basin.

Third, making voices heard, listening to people’s experience, and acknowledging different expertise helped us to develop and nurture personal and professional relations, through recognition, dialogue, and feedback. A podcast can be a very powerful tools to create connections and cultivate a community of interests and practice. The podcast elicited a conversation not only with our guests but also with the listeners. We are particularly grateful to our “serial listeners”, whose feedback helped us in tuning some of the episodes, and in planning future podcasting activities. The podcast also generated interest in our work from outside that community, creating new connections and collaborations with researchers and journalists in the Brahmaputra basin.

Last but not least, we had a lot of fun podcasting! Finding it an enjoyable and rewarding experience, in the article we sketch a podcast pathway: our recipe for podcasting that we hope will inspire other interested in starting their own podcast. Online there is plenty of tutorials on how to make a podcast: our key ingredients have been the enthusiasm and the pleasure of exploring together a new medium and its potentiality, as we have been trying to convey with the article and this short video introduction.

An adage says “Whoever drinks from the Nile will always return to it”. And yes, podcasting is a bit like the Nile river: once you have made one, you will always return to it, for education, research or communication. That’s why in the meantime we have embarked in a new podcast with the journal Water Alternatives!

You can find all the episodes of the podcast The sources of the Nile here and you can read the full article here:

Fantini, E. and Buist, E. (2021). ‘Searching for the Sources of the Nile through a podcast: what did we find?’. JCOM 20 (02), N01. https://doi.org/10.22323/2.20020801.

The podcast and the article have been supported by IHE Delft Global Partnership for Water and Development funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DUPC2). Usual disclaimers apply.


Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is senior lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Chair group of IHE Delft. He works on water, politics and development in Ethiopia; media, science and water conflicts in the Nile basin; visual research methods. Emanuele hosts the podcasts "The sources of the Nile" https://nilewaterlab.org/podcast-the-sources-of-the-nile/ and Water Alternatives Podcast http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/wat

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