Learning with photos and videos

January 12, 2011 | Manuel Flury | Methods & Tools |


Rating: none

Kuno Schläfli

Kuno, you have always used photography in your professional life. Why do you do this? What is the value added of visual means in international cooperation, compared to classical tools of communication and expression such as written reports, booklets, etc?

  • Photos speak a more universal language than formulated text in a specific language. Photos can better be understood by persons not familiar with a professional context. Of course, an image must always be interpreted in relation to the cultural background of the person who looks at it: an Ethiopian child would probably not read the same message from a photo showing a group of young people outside a bar in Berne on a cold winter evening as you or me would.
  • Photos can pull the observer directly into a local context and attract particular attention. But often, in order to avoid misunderstanding, photos must be situated in their specific context, explained and commented, which again may initiate an interesting exchange on how different people “read” a picture.
  • Photos can illustrate experiences in a complementary way to oral or written descriptions. The potential of visual means – photos, videos, illustrations – as a communication tool complementary to traditional communication in our profession remains unexploited. This has to do with the fact that most of us working in development cooperation have a scientific background which taught us to write, but not to watch and to describe.
  • We know it all very well: Photography can be instrumentalized by those in power. But photos can also democratize public perceptions. I have made a photo exposition of 21 extraordinary women in Niger. Although the difference in social rank was ranging from the national Minister for social affairs to very poor women selling fish on the street, the message was that all can be equally proud of what they achieve in life.
  • Video can have a strong empowerment effect. If done in a careful and comprehensive way, video can give voice and visibility to groups which otherwise would easily be overheard. Imagine the speaker of a group of marginalized women formulating a video message on their expectations and appreciation of municipal services which is presented to the mayor and other decision makers. Such a setup can have a very strong empowerment effect on those given the chance to voice their view.
  • Video – the moving image – is an extremely strong media, it touches people more than most other media.
  • Another very big potential is that video messages can be very easily transmitted via internet around the globe, or shown in a meeting on any TV set.

Recently you have started to experiment with video, using your own digital camera, producing testimonials from training courses or venturing on social reporting of conferences. What other purposes could you imagine in using video in your professional work?

  • Video stories or messages are more authentic than written information, because we link the content with a person. We instantly judge if the person telling a message in front of the camera really believes in what he or she says, or not. Video is much more than a public relations tool, by which you transport a message simply in another form than through brochures or reports.
  • In the future, I intend to use video for transporting direct, open and honest appreciations of persons concerned with impacts of our local governance programs to our decision makers in the administration and in Swiss political institutions such as the parliament.  Showing results – not only successes -, but all effects including failures to learn from.
  • I also want to use video to give voice to local actors, be it in planning, evaluation or monitoring processes. In our language, better root actors’s perceptions and appreciations in Programme cycle management.

Your intention is to render producing videos feasible for everybody, using ordinary digital cameras or mobiles. Where do you see the limits of lay people producing videos? How best teach/instruct people in using and producing videos?

  • The potential is that almost everybody has a mobile phone or a small digital camera. One difficulty, however, is that there is no clear and accepted framework for the use and no recognition for such products in our professional domain. We have to deliver convincing pilot products in order to provoke openness with institutional decision makers.
  • Of course, some methodological issues have to be clarified too. The interface between conventional evaluation and monitoring approaches and video has to be established: how do evaluators chose and select stakeholders or beneficiaries to be interviewed? Who decides which questions should be asked for the capitalization of project experiences? These are important decisions which very much depend from the degree of critique we as institutional co-owners of development investments can and want to admit.
  • But once we have reached that point, the technical aspects should not be a problem; every Cooperation Office or project team can organize a local training event, and the Learning and Knowledge Division of SDC can also assist in spreading that knowhow.

What does one have to consider practically in producing videos?

  • Practically, the first question to answer is: who do we want to address with a message or content, and how should this audience be confronted with the product: on intraweb? On a DVD to be distributed, or by mail attachment? Watch the video in a small group meeting of specialists or in a big public event?
  • Then, the question addressed to an interviewed person should be sufficiently precise, and the answer should be short, limited, to the point. It is not easy to make clear statements in front of a camera, but that can also be learnt. Just test it out!

One of your favourite videos?

  • Mona M’Bikay talks about the “Training in Advising” in June 2010.


Comments to“Learning with photos and videos”

  1. Riff Fullan says:

    It is great to read Kuno’s thoughts on the power of photos and video! I also think such things are excellent for conveying complex ideas in easily digestible ways. In my experience those who participate in producing them also find the experience very enjoyable and engaging.

    In addition to the various uses Kuno mentions, I am convinced that videos and photos can be used quite effectively as learning tools in specific ways. One simple example I can think of is a project team, where one or more people involved do a short video of the story of how they experienced the project, the transformative things they saw, the challenges, the adaptations. Then, the other people who have been involved in the project can all reflect on the story, talk about their respective perspectives, and together come to a common understanding of the key learnings from their shared experience.

    I also agree with Kuno’s suggestion to ‘just try it out!’ Sometimes what might look like quite a difficult technical challenge just needs a bit of practice at the beginning, and who knows? The results could be exactly what you are looking for!


Leave a Reply