Chioma Achi: Scaling Up
in Public Engagement

Breaking up a big vision into small, achievable, impactful, and award-worthy steps

Asking public engagement professionals for advice, and involving numerous people, Chioma is engaging Nigerian famers in the global fight against antimicrobial resistance.

Chioma on location in Nigeria. Credit: Chioma Achi

Chioma on location in Nigeria. Credit: Chioma Achi

Headshot of Chioma Achi

Credit: Chioma Achi

Credit: Chioma Achi

When Chioma attended a Researcher Development event about public engagement at the beginning of her PhD, she was just curious to know what it was…but "once you know something, you can't un-know it" they say.

Hence, to the question "How do I raise awareness about antimicrobial resistance?" emerging from her first research field trip, she answered ‘public engagement’!

Antibiotics have been used to treat infections caused by bacteria in both animals and humans for a long time. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics is making many bacteria species evolve to become resistant. As a consequence, treating the infections these bacteria cause is becoming harder, if not impossible. 

Chioma’s research focuses on understanding the transmission of antimicrobial resistance genes in the bacterium Salmonella in samples collected from animals, humans, and the environment in Nigeria. When sampling poultry farms, Chioma realised how difficult it is to link the development of resistance to antibiotics with antibiotic use.

Antibiotics are sold in Nigeria without prescriptions, and farmers do not keep any record of what and how much they use as they are unaware of the consequences of extended use of antibiotics. Chioma came back to Cambridge thinking that her research would have a bigger impact if farmers as well would "pledge to play their part to keep antibiotics working".

"Securing a small pot of money helps you find more funders, as it gives people one more reason to support you: your idea was worthy already of someone else’s support."

Chioma Achi

Even with only that first training in public engagement she felt her plan to increase farmers’ knowledge on antimicrobial resistance and antibiotics use was very vague. Nigerian poultry farmers were a clear audience, but the desired impact was ambitious, and the undefined programme plan, and resources to achieve it made Chioma feel hesitant. 

The announcement of the Public Engagement Starter Fund moved her from the deadlock.

Meeting the Public Engagement Manager for the School of Clinical Medicine and Biological Sciences helped Chioma "focus on the key aspects of the idea, identify what was achievable, and break down her vision into clear outputs, outcomes, and impact in the short, and in the long term". 

"What made me realise this could be a brilliant project was her knowledge of the community she wanted to work with as well as having already key contacts in the field. Although it was still a plan in its infancy, she had a clear idea of her objectives and what she wanted to achieve. She had the why and whom, so she just needed to tease out the how and what."

Diogo Gomes, Public Engagement Manager for the School of Clinical Medicine and Biological Sciences

If ahead of the meeting Chioma was frightened by the big picture of her plan, she came out of it "appreciating that even a short term impact is still an impact, and a great starting point".

With a clear plan at hand, she successfully applied for the Starter Fund. The fund provides up to £1,500 for novel public engagement projects reaching a specific target audience, or developing a partnership with a community of interest or creating an innovative activity for the Cambridge Festival. 

Obviously, for a program aiming at engaging the poultry farmers of an entire state the budget was not quite enough. However, it acted as a seed to ask Cambridge-Africa for additional funding to carry on the solid plan developed to apply for it. 

Chioma found it easy to reach out to Cambridge-Africa, her PhD sponsor: "Cambridge-Africa is not a traditional funding body, is more like a family in Cambridge."

"If you have a Cambridge-Africa scholarship you are in close and constant conversation with the programme team, and if you participate in forums, and other initiatives they are up-to-date with what you are doing. They are also very keen to support projects that give back to Africa."

Chioma wanted to offer a full-day event to Nigerian poultry farmers: lectures to increase their awareness of the problem and to showcase how to limit the use of antibiotics in farming, followed by focus groups allowing each farmer to develop an action plan specific to their farm. 

The plan also included a pre-engagement mobilisation campaign to attract the target audience to the event, a structured evaluation of its impact, and the distribution of logbooks to record the usage of antibiotics to all attendees - a first step to design national policies and interventions based on evidence of the link between the increased resistance of certain bacteria and antibiotic usage on the ground. Chioma further refined her plan by attending the Engaged Researcher training courses.

Cross-section of participants at the public engagement event

Cross-section of participants at event in Nigeria. Credit: Chioma Achi

Cross-section of participants at event in Nigeria. Credit: Chioma Achi

It took a few months to organise the event, as Chioma recruited remotely a team of volunteers that helped to generate interest on the ground ahead of the event, and to find the right people to deliver the event itself.

She reached out to all her previous study and work colleagues currently in universities and practices in Nigeria, as well as to some research collaborators at the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association and at the Poultry Association of Nigeria. 

Chioma Achi in Nigeria carrying out her fieldwork. Behind her are chickens in cages

Chioma Achi in Nigeria carrying out her fieldwork. Credit: Chioma Achi

Chioma Achi in Nigeria carrying out her fieldwork. Credit: Chioma Achi

The question "Do you know someone that can help with…?" turned out to be quite powerful. Starting from close connections she gathered:

  • a pool of final year medical and veterinary students that were trained to distribute surveys to all the farmers at the beginning and at the end of the event, to conduct effective one-to-one interviews with a subgroup of farmers before the event, as well as to lead the focus groups in the second part of the event;
  • a pool of speakers, whose talks combined conveyed both the urgency of tackling antimicrobial resistance, and practical ways to avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. The speakers included researchers presenting data showing antibiotics resistance increasing over time, a physician sharing real cases of people not responding to drugs after infections, a direct testimonial of bereavement caused by resistance to infection treatments, a farming academic sharing best practices to prevent poultry infections, as well as a Nigerian organic farmer proving that farming without antibiotics is possible.
  • the contacts of relevant government officials, pharmaceutical companies, and the media.
Chioma bending down examining a chicken in a cage

Chioma on location carrying out her research. Credit: Chioma Achi

Chioma on location carrying out her research. Credit: Chioma Achi

"When farmers were working to develop their action plans, I found myself giving them the same advice I received when I was planning this public engagement program: start from the smaller steps, what is definitely feasible; once these small actions are achieved is easier to move to the bigger ones"

Chioma Achi

The focus groups already showed that farmers had taken on board what they heard in the seminars. Some voiced that they would share the information on preventing poultry infections with their neighbours so that their efforts would not be undermined by the lack of awareness in other farms. 

The success of the event was confirmed by the feedback collected formally via the surveys, as well as informally by speaking with non-farmer attendees.

For instance, the Chairman of the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association’s words show how the event changed the perspective of non-farmers attendees too "[…] the program has enabled us to view the problem from a wider dimension. One of the lessons learnt from this program is that we now have to involve stakeholders such as farmers as we draw up our action plans […]". 

Team who helped Chioma deliver the public engagement project posing with Chioma

Team who helped Chioma deliver the public engagement. Credit: Chioma Achi

Team who helped Chioma deliver the public engagement. Credit: Chioma Achi

The project was commended by the judges of the Student of the Year Antibiotic Guardian Award which Chioma received in 2020, as well as by the University of Cambridge with the 2020 Early Researcher Vice-Chancellor’s Research Impact and Engagement Award

While Chioma’s phone keeps beeping with farmers sending monthly pictures of their antibiotic logbooks via WhatsApp, any other follow-up engagement in Nigeria has been put on hold by the pandemic.

Nonetheless, she organised an online event for stakeholders other than farmers during World Antimicrobial Awareness Week in November 2020. The event was attended by representatives of the World Health Organization as well as academics, and a summary of the discussion has been published as a white paper for the Nigerian government.

To researchers with public engagement ideas in mind Chioma says "Don’t worry if you have not pieced the plan all together yet, don’t let this stop you. That’s why the Public Engagement team is there! They can help you figure out how to go about it."

"The highlight of the program was seeing participants wanting to adopt a positive behavioural change, and pass the message along too"

Chioma Achi

If you don’t have yet a public engagement project in mind, you can become skilled at explaining your research while encouraging people to undertake careers in STEM by joining initiatives such as The Brilliant Club.

Chioma has been a tutor for The Brilliant Club throughout her PhD, presenting her research to schools in the UK in a way that merges with their curriculum, and that helps pupils feel that they can achieve their career dreams in STEM. 

"Giving back has become part of me. I benefitted so much from people believing and investing time and resources in me that I have always volunteered to do the same for others."

Chioma’s future plans build upon both her desire to involve the broader farming community in the fight against antimicrobial resistance – her research, for instance, expanded to pig farmers since her first field trip – and upon the takeaways from the event she ran in 2020.

Chioma plans to have key messages for farmers translated in the three main Nigerian languages so as they can be distributed via farmers associations in print, and on air by the local radios.

If you know someone that can help with this…Chioma will be back in Nigeria in the autumn!

Follow Chioma on Twitter and read more about her research in This Cambridge Life and on the Cambridge Global Food Security website.

Keep up to date with Public Engagement for Farmers on AMR project on Twitter and Facebook.

“If people reach out spontaneously from all over to appreciate your work, and you know that you had put a lot of effort to deliver it, and the project had a significant and visible impact, it makes sense to apply for an award and let even more people know about what you are doing”

Chioma Achi

Public Engagement Project Credits

Credits: The Poultry Association of Nigeria (Kaduna State Chapter), Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association, Professor Mark Holmes

The project team: Dr Lukman Oyedeji, Dr Ehizibolo Peter, Dr Shehu Shamsudeen, Dr Timothy Okunade, Professor M.D Salihu

The facilitators and speakers: Professor Paul Abdu, Professor Junaidu Kabir, Professor Hauwa’u Yusuf, Mrs. Hannatu Aishatu Ibrahim 

The Panelists: Dr. Usman Umar, Dr Bala Mohammed, Mrs. Saidat Saliu Shonoiki, Dr. Istifanus Anekoson Joshua, Dr. Timothy Okunade

Volunteers:  Dr. Dauda Onawola, Dr. Sabo Ruth Manzo, Dr. Polycarp Dauda Madaki, Ms. Amina Bukar Goni, Ms. Glory Baba-Ojoniko, Ms. Donna Bala-Tige, Dr. Sarah Pinto, Dr. Aminu Mohammed, Ms Sophia Orahii 

Chioma's Public Engagement Journey

2017: begins to tutor for The Brilliant Club, and to act as session leader in the University Postgraduate Outreach Scheme

2018: research fieldtrip in poultry farms in Nigeria reveals lack of awareness around antimicrobials resistance


- Engaged Researcher trainings (Introduction to Public Engagement, Evaluation of Public Engagement)

- consults with the Public Engagement Manager for the School of Clinical Medicine and Biological Sciences

- asked for advice to Evaluation of Public Engagement trainer

- Public Engagement Starter Fund

- pre-engagement activities for the project
‘Strengthening participation of poultry farmers in the fight against antimicrobial resistance’

- Public Engagement Grant from Cambridge-Africa

- public engagement project ‘Strengthening participation of poultry farmers in the fight against antimicrobial resistance’

- Vice-Chancellor’s Research Impact and Engagement Award (category Early Researcher)

- Antibiotic Guardian Award (Student of the Year) commending the engagement work with farmers

- online event for stakeholders other than farmers during World Antimicrobial Awareness Week

2021: Engaged Researcher trainings (Advanced Evaluation of Public Engagement)

Thinking about scaling up in public engagement?

Attend the Engaged Researcher training courses
Apply for University funding
Apply to receive a Vice Chancellor's Award
Apply for Public Engagement Starter Fund

Stay in touch with others involved in public engagement at the University, be notified of training, and funding opportunities:

Sign up for the Public Engagement Bulletin
Join the Public Engagement Network Mailing List

E-mail to ask the link to join the Public Engagement Slack Channel, an online workspace for you to connect, share and learn from our community

Image: white chicken on brown wooden table