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'Insights into PV' - A Review by Professor Robert Chambers

A review by Professor Robert Chambers (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK) of InsightShare's book 'Insights into Participatory Video: a handbook for the field'.  Published on 28th April 2006.

Review: 'Insights into Participatory Video: a handbook for the field'
By Professor Robert Chambers
Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK
28th April 2006


This compact and friendly handbook is an invitation to fieldworkers, and those who support them, to add a new powerful tool and approach to their repertoire. Participatory video (PV), in which local people themselves take and make videos, has been around for three decades. As a means of communication and empowerment it can be wonderfully transformative. And it is now at last, it would seem, poised to become widespread. 

So this brilliant little guide by Chris and Nick Lunch, based on their extensive and pioneering experience, comes at a good time. It is eminently practical, covering the nuts and bolts of PV, how to set it up and run a project from the start, key games and activities, editing footage, insights for facilitators including the participatory ethos, and technical tips and equipment requirements. Personal accounts of PV projects illustrate how it works on the ground. It shows how international PV is with examples from India, Turkmenistan, Ghana and Oxford in the UK. A reference section gives links to books, websites and articles. And the enthralling CD-ROM which accompanies the book brings the process and outcomes vividly alive.

As a means of expression and communication, PV combines learning, creativity and fun. It opens up a new dimension, new means towards making the rhetoric of social justice and of development real. But the authors are at pains to stress that it is not a magic wand. For one thing, the attitudes and behaviour of facilitators must be participatory. In training, for example, newcomers to video are given minimum instructions, and encouraged to learn by doing, making and correcting mistakes.

PV is versatile and empowering. There are already many applications in working with them, and in engaging with policy and decision-makers, multi-stakeholder workshops, campaigns, participatory and community-led research, and participatory monitoring and evaluation. There is scope and experience of PV as alternative or complementary means of reporting, as a way for communities to present development proposals, as a tool for action research, and for use in conflict resolution. And doubtless there will be others. Pervasively, through PV ordinary and marginalised people can gain confidence and voice, and present their realities with credible authority to gain the attention and respect of bureaucrats and professional experts.

The transformative potential of PV is demonstrated in an astonishing example described in the book and shown in the CD-ROM. In an hour Indian villagers planned and acted out the problem of alcoholism and wife-beating, with an actual alcoholic and his wife as the main (and very convincing!) actors, concluding with his appeal to others to give up drinking and to care for their families.

More and more of those who work with people who are poor, marginalised and excluded now have or could have access to the resources and equipment needed for PV. For them, this handbook will be a treasure of guidance and ideas. Donors, support organisations and managers can contribute by making the resources for PVs widely and suitably available, together with this handbook, and having it translated into other languages besides English.

Let me hope that for many people the invitation to try out PV will prove irresistible. May the behaviours, attitudes, and practices described and shown in this handbook and its CD-ROM be widely adopted and enjoyed. May it encourage and inspire many to launch out and to learn for themselves. For we have here in PV a new and powerful tool to enhance awareness, catalyse social change, and communicate and influence policy and practice.

With this inspiring handbook its time should truly have come.


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