Exploring the different ways of using Participatory Video

My first blog finished with the sentence “If a picture sometimes already speaks more than a thousand words, then what can we say about video…?”. So, what about video? One of the things you should know about video is that ‘most’ videos do not just appear from nowhere. A video is often the end result of a long and intensive process. It involves multiple people with different roles: (e.g.) a director, a cameraman, an interviewer, a presenter. These people strongly influence what the film will look like and what will be in and out of the frame. The power of framing is very well explained in this TEDx presentation by Kees-Jan Mulder, a Dutch filmmaker and participatory video expert.

To make it even more obvious, I will give an example myself. In 2011, I was finishing my master’s degree by writing a thesis about street football in Paramaribo (Surinam). My favourite research method was (of course) ‘participatory observation’. During one of the football events, I (director) asked a player (cameraman) to do some filming. I added that I would like to show my family and friends in the Netherlands what I was doing in Surinam. Later that evening, I watched back the footage and made this little clip. Although I am quite proud of my goal, I have to admit that reality was a bit different.

On reflection, I can say that the clip would look more than slightly different if it was the result of a Participatory Video (PV) process. It would not be me, as an outsider, being the director and making a film about street football in Surinam. It would have been the Surinam football players themselves that would do all the work: (e.g.) the storyboarding, the filming, and the editing. Basically, Participatory Video is about supporting a group or community in the process of creating and shaping their own film. You can also check out this nice animation to get a quick idea about how Participatory Video works.

Personally, I started to get fascinated by Participatory Video after participating in a Participatory Video workshop at the Netherlands Sports Alliance. A year later, working as an action researcher for ICCO, I got the opportunity to facilitate a Participatory Video process with a group of Shea Butter producing women in Léo, Burkina Faso, resulting in Tcham Bamè and The Making Of Tcham Bamè. My PV experience only made me more curious about the method and all the things you can and cannot do with it. This made me decide to apply for an internship position at InsightShare, a small non-profit organization founded by Chris and Nick Lunch, writers of the popular Participatory Video handbook.

In October I started as an intern at InsightShare and participated in the Participatory Video Training that they run twice a year. The first two days of the training course  focused on increasing our facilitation skills through practicing with a lot of PV games and exercises: such as “The name game”, “The disappearing game”, “The devil’s advocate”, “Questions in a row”, “What’s in the frame” and “Show and Tell”. Halfway day two we split up in smaller subgroups of 2-4 trainees. For every subgroup the challenge was to prepare and facilitate a one day PV process at a community organisation in Oxford. The fourth day  mainly focused on editing and important elements of the fifth day was action planning and reflection.

During this reflection process I realised that I had had some very nice, new and clarifying experiences during the course of the training week. However, when I heard all the trainees elaborating on the PV projects that they were planning some new questions arose. The trainees would use PV in diverse settings and for various purposes. I wondered: What does this mean for how you manage a PV process, what you might do, and what you might not do? These questions kept popping up in my mind and inspired me to start blogging about the different applications of Participatory Video. From now on, every two weeks you can read a new blog about one of the applications of Participatory Video.

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