Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Participative Video & learning participatively

I spent a week with InsightShare learning how they facilitate participative video projects. The programme itself was a model in participative learning and facilitation. As well as learning a lot about using and editing video films the excellent programme made me reflect as much on participative learning and appraisal as on using video in our work.

InsightShare is an acknowledged leader in this small, specialist but influential field. Over their 15 years they have developed a robust methodology for people with any level of skills, including no previous experience of ICT, to be able to appropriate video story telling. In this context that means finding ways to ensure the people involved in a programme not only know how to use technology but packing a lot into a small number of weeks. For example, understanding and learning tools to develop storylines collaboratively with other people – members of a community or a team – is as important as learning how to use the technology. Transcribing and translating interviews accurately for subtitling is as important as learning to tell stories in images. And, as InsightShare emphasise in their introductory video, "it is about more than video, it is about getting people to unite and plan together to make change in their communities."

The emphasis on collaborative development of the story and the film is one of the things that sets it apart from social reporting and citizen journalism, two developments in which we’ve been very involved. The other touchstone issue is control of the editing process, and the amount of editing that is involved. For the kind of rapid-fire, low tech, mobile phone or digi-camera style approach that we have promoted simple editing packages such as Windows Moviemaker (found on any Windows PC), and iMovie (the Mac default editor), are quick to use for basic web publishing. InsightShare have generally aimed to produce higher quality video, better suited for displaying at conferences or events, or indeed broadcast. That means they use better quality cameras which have connections for external microphones. That opens up the process massively, since shotgun, boom or handheld mikes make possible the development of storylines involving multiple people, groups and locations (though attaching mikes to phones is also possible as I was taught at MobileActive 08) For editing, InsightShare encourage the use of packages such Final Cut Pro (for the Mac) or a package of a similar quality for the PC, starting with software like Sony Vegas going up to the achingly expensive Adobe suite.

InsightShare started before the term citizen journalism appeared, indeed before the mobile-phone explosion, and their approach is based on the idea that good quality video films enable people to tell their own stories effectively. Their innovation was to integrate long-standing good practice in participative facilitation, exemplified in resources such as the excellent Participative Learning and Action publications, with grassroots documentary making. They have developed tools that help people not only take good quality video but to structure stories meaningfully and take control of editing. And they have demonstrated how this can work with the complete range of development actors, as can be seen from the many superb examples on their site.

Participative Video (PV) has its drawbacks and critics, of course. The approach maximises the likelihood that there will be a genuine handover of control from the facilitators to the participants, and that they will have the skills and resources to appropriate the media properly. However, as in all participative processes, external facilitators and projects are presented with a power structure and culture to which they react. Increased ownership and control is at the core of PV but we have to ask by whom and how widely. And PV is a large investment for the institutions and people involved, not only in equipment but in the time involved. InsightShare’s introductory courses range from two to four weeks, and they support the groups they have worked with over a much longer period of time, trying to develop hubs to support programmes in other parts of the world. But sustainability is nonetheless a major issue. Maintenance and replacement of expensive equipment is a standard constraint for any ICT4D project, while the process itself, the collaborative story creation and film development, is a hard ask for small NGOs or busy communities. But then neither of those is a reason not to provide opportunities for people to learn new skills and stretch their understanding of how they can communicate what is important to them.

I am particularly interested in the space between citizen journalism or social reporting and PV. The approach and tools for engaging people in a longer-term, deeper communication or KS process which InsightShare  have fire-tested over the years are applicable in a wider set of contexts, using a mix of technologies. That is the area I shall be exploring in a second post. Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy.