Anna Colom is a journalist and filmmaker who we met at EsoDoc. She has an MSc in Development Studies from SOAS and has written a fascinating thesis on participatory video. Here are her thoughts on...
Participatory Video empowers!
Participatory Video is a tool with great potential to empower individuals, groups and communities. It can create a space for the group within the social system, from where the participants can have a voice and influence policymakers and other social, political and economic players who generally exercise their power over these communities.
Concepts like 'participation' and 'empowerment' have often been misused in the practice of development. Indeed, just giving some cameras to a group and teaching the participants some filming skills is not what Participatory Video is about. There are some important elements that need to be taken into account for PV to be truly empowering and participatory.
First of all, the potential and benefits of PV lay not so much on the final product (the video) but on the process that the participants have undertaken to do the video. This process involves different stages of empowerment. Firstly, the participants need to decide what they want their message to be in the video and who should see it and this means that they are identifying or reflecting on the obstacles to their development, or the causes of their oppression (on more 'Freirean' terms). Secondly, reflecting on these issues with the rest of the participants and with the community reasserts their demands and increases the confidence of the community to raise its voice in order to claim its rights. Thirdly, this process involves the identification of potential solutions to the issues that the group is raising, since it would be part of the video to explore the possible solutions and ways forward, especially because the videos aim at raising awareness amongst society and influence policymakers. Finally, the last stage involves the necessary collective action to communicate the message.
This process of empowerment has many parallels with the process of critical consciousness involved in Paulo Freire's 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed', which has also inspired the use of theatre plays in participatory development.
A second element to take into account for PV to be truly empowering involves power relations. This is a very debated issue in any participatory approach to development. PV will empower if the participants are those most disadvantaged in the power dynamics of their social and political context. From gender to clans, castes, and classes, it is important that the voice is truly given to those who benefit least in the power structure. This means that the facilitator of the workshop, the organizations involved in the project and the donors need to prioritise a deep understanding of the local context.
Very connected to these two elements lies a third point: the role of the facilitator in the PV workshop. The facilitator needs to be a co-learner of the process, flexible, sensitive and someone who, rather than dictating it, accompanies the participants during the process of empowerment described.
Video has some specific advantages that distinguish it from other participatory tools. It breaks the illiteracy barrier, the sound and visuals can adapt to the local ways of cultural representation, the message can be transferred without being altered, and policymakers seem to be more ready to listen when there is a video involved.
This just a brief introduction to a deeper academic analysis that can be read in the paper 'Participatory Video and Empowerment: the role of Participatory Video in enhancing the political capability of grassroots communities in participatory development'.
If you are interested in the paper, you can contact the author Anna Colom at email@example.com.