Secondment with UNESCO in Paris

Secondment with UNESCO in Paris (February 15-May 15, 2016)

Sara-Torsner-200sqBy Sara Torsner, WRDTC ESRC Collaborative Award holder, Communication and Media Studies Pathway, University of Sheffield

As part of my PhD research on the safety of journalists as a potential indicator of democratic development I spent three months at UNESCO in Paris to do data collection. The focus was to map what information UNESCO, as the UN agency working with press freedom and the safety of journalists gathers in order to examine the value and limitations of existing datasets. My time there was rewarding not only when it comes to gaining a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that capture intelligence about threats to journalists, but I also got the opportunity to engage with experts, academics and various actors within the field. It was useful to get the chance to learn more about how the UN system and UNESCO in particular functions, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of the process of policy formulation on an international level with regards to my topic. UNESCO is also a collaborative partner in my PhD project and the exchange has enabled me to situate my research topic within a wider practitioner’s oriented context. This has been particularly useful since my research aims to address the very concrete ‘real life’ problem of threats against journalists. This makes it important to interlink the academic research with input unescofrom various practitioners (including also journalists and non-governmental organizations). The time at UNESCO made this possible. For instance gathering impulses and a range of different views on how to measure levels of threats against journalists was very valuable as well as getting input on what further research is needed within the field. The time at UNESCO also provided me with networking opportunities and the chance to test ideas on experts within the field. I believe this will benefit my future professional work, not least when it comes to engaging in collaborations. While engaging with UNESCO as an institution was fruitful, it takes some time to adapt to a new working environment and to find your place. One initial challenge was a steep learning curve, trying to quickly understand how the work is conducted within UNESCO in order to be able to structure and begin my own work. This was done very independently. While the fieldwork was a necessary step for me to be able to begin developing an analytical framework to address my research questions, there are some challenges with regards to spending three months in the field during your first year of PhD studies. Since I completed the secondment with UNESCO in the middle of May it is really only first after that I begin working properly on my literature review and preparing for confirmation.