Participatory Video: A Route to Strengthening Voices?

October 23, 2012 | bit-wartung | Methods & Tools |


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Riff FullanParticipatory Video has been around for almost 50 years, and is resurfacing as an area of interest for development practitioners. This is partly fuelled by increased accessibility of technologies for self-made videos. In this Blog, Riff Fullan from Helvetas shows what PV does have to offer those who are interested in promoting greater engagement of people whose lives are most affected by emerging global economic, environmental, political and social realities. Let’s have a look…

By Riff Fullan

What is Participatory Video (PV)?

There are many variations in the way PV is conceived and implemented, but they all share one key characteristic: the desire to support local actors in various contexts to produce their own messages. In other words, PV seeks to help people to appropriate video technology for their own uses. This practice has partly been fuelled by increased accessibility of technologies for self-made videos, especially digital video cameras, mobile phones and associated software. Through PV, the local actors learn how to use video themselves, they choose which subjects are important and how those subjects are represented, shoot and edit the footage, and decide who the main audience(s) should be.

Is Participatory Video really effective?

It’s hard to give a definitive answer. However, in my limited experience with PV, I have been struck by its potential. I believe PV can quickly open up space for people to see how video can be used to express what they feel and know. Beyond this, they can together confront some of the challenges they face on an ongoing basis, not just to better understand those challenges, but to overcome them. This does not happen instantly, or even always, but I have seen people go from just having fun with PV exercises to seeing the serious (but still fun) possibilities to make statements about their world. The emotional power that can come from this kind of experience is truly astonishing!

PV can also help facilitators – who are often from outside the community, or even the country, where the process is taking place – to reflect on their role. This happens directly in the situation where you are facilitating the PV process, but it can also help you to (re)-assess your role in development more broadly. As a PV facilitator, you need to be aware of the potential for you to have an undue influence on the production process. You also need to be aware of – and sometimes to work against – local social relations that may prevent some voices from being heard. In this way, PV can help you better appreciate dynamics associated with power, voice and process.

A short PV story

participatory video

Photo: Kara Marnell

As part of a recent PV training exercise, I was in a small team working with a women’s centre in Oxford, UK. After two days of training on how to facilitate PV, we spent a day with the members of the centre, to help them teach themselves about video through hands-on experimentation, and for them to decide what they wanted to say and how to say it. After they filmed a number of clips and intensely discussed how the clips should be put together, we sat with one of the core members of the centre to edit the video. The next morning, when the women’s centre video was shown in the training centre, those of us who were involved with it – either as facilitators or owners/producers – broke into spontaneous waves of hugging and shedding of tears. After that, one of the women from the centre did a dance for the facilitators to show her appreciation. What a great experience!

On the surface, it was not such a big thing: a publicity video for the centre that did not have a big budget to produce a highly polished and professional output. But the sincerity of the message, and the level of ownership in the product on the part of those who produced it, give it an authenticity that cannot be denied. Far deeper than the output itself, was the shared learning experience of the participants, and the knowledge that they could take that experience and put it to other uses in the future.

This is an example of what PV can do. It can help to create opportunities for people to actively take charge of what is communicated about them and the context in which they live. It can help them to express their perspectives in ways that may not have been available to them before. Will it solve all their problems? Far from it, but it represents another tool to employ in the struggle to ensure that divergent and often underrepresented worldviews can be expressed and legitimated, thereby increasing the chances that they will influence how locally relevant issues are addressed.

…Do you have a PV (or similar) story? I’d love to hear it!


Read more:

To the early history of PV:

Methodological references:

  • Shaw, Jackie, 1997, Participatory Video: A Practical Approach to Using Video Creatively in Group Development Work (Out of print, but a very useful resource. Second-hand copies available through Amazon)
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