Visual Methods in Development Cooperation – Beyond Social Reporting

November 15, 2011 | LND | Methods & Tools |


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By Kuno Schläfli and Nadia Lanfranchi

NadiaKuno SchläfliLast week the Democratisation and Local Governance Network (DLGN) and the Multimedia Group of SDC organised a workshop to explore and debate the potentials of incorporating visual methods in development cooperation. It was an occasion to dig deeper into the field, to gain insight on which possibilities open up if new communication technologies are integrated into social processes and projects. Thus, with respect to social reporting as an instrument to report collectively and in real time from face to face conferences or other events, the discussed methodologies go one step further. They aim at involving the real beneficiaries of development projects into the project cycle and seek to give them a voice and to enable others to listen to their stories.

Two particularly interesting instruments in this context are Participatory Video and Digital Storytelling. The former approach consists in the creation of a short five-minute clip by a group or a community. Participatory Video may resemble documentary filmmaking as it documents the realities of its subjects and, in the meantime, differs from it as it involves the participants on both sides of the camera, as producers and as target of the film. Moreover the filmmakers are often only rudimentary trained in filming skills.
On the other hand Digital Storytelling purports the development of a personal narrative by the different participants of a workshop. They tell their story in the first person and illustrate it with still images and photographs. The end product is a short film produced entirely by the narrator.
Both methodologies are participatory visual methods that seek to empower the beneficiaries. Furthermore, they share the tension between process and product. Even if the production of a clip is the stated endpoint, the process of the creation of the film itself shouldn’t be undervalued. The act of telling a story may be as empowering as its divulgation.

So what, then, do these visual methods offer to processes and projects in development cooperation? Which are the potentials of such methodologies, which their area of application? We took our film camera and asked these questions to the two experts in visual methods who conducted the workshop at the SDC last week: Joanna Wheeler and Tessa Lewin, researchers within the Participation, Power and Social Change team at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) in Brighton.

Three different questions build the basis for the respective clips. In the forth short video, Kuno Schläfli, focal point of the DLGN, highlights the potentials and utility of visual methods for the specific SDC context. He can draw on practical experience as the DLGN together with Joanna Wheeler and Tessa Lewin is currently working on capitalizing decentralization and local governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina by using Participatory Video and Digital Storytelling beside other visual methods.

For further reading:

Tessa Lewin. “Digital Storytelling”.

Joanna Wheeler. “Seeing like a Citizen: Participatory Video and Action Research for Citizen Action”.

Joanna Wheeler & Tessa Lewin. “Visual Methods for Participation and Empowerment. Presentation to SDC”.




Comments to“Visual Methods in Development Cooperation – Beyond Social Reporting”

  1. During the decentralization and local governance network face 2 face event 2013 this method has been introduced to the participants. The below video gives you a short introduction by Joanna Wheeler and reactions (positive, negative, and forward-looking) from participants.


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