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"This is not a video camera" TEDx talk script

On the 8th of March, at a TEDx event in Brussels, InsightShare's Director Chris Lunch discussed the power of participatory video to shift awareness, galvanise communities and unleash hidden energy for positive individual and collective change. The title of the talk "This is not a video camera" takes inspiration from surrealist artist Rene Magritte's painting: Ceci n'est pas une pipe, as he asks us to re-look at what we think we know about video as a technology. Here you can read the script of the talk.

Script TEDxIHECS “This is not a video camera”
Chris Lunch, 8 March 2013

FIRE! - We lived with it intimately, for half a million years, collecting around it every night, sharing stories, dreams and visions.

But it took us 500,000 years before we worked out how to intensify its heat and how to melt minerals from rocks to create metals.

So I’m wondering, what technologies are we living with today which we take for granted, but which have huge potential that we are still unaware of?

Who here has a video camera in their pocket right now? Are you sure you don’t have one of these? (show smart phone) Video cameras have become ubiquitous and embedded in our lives.

But do we really understand this technology?

I think that we are only just scratching the surface of its real potential. I’m going to show you how we are using Participatory Video to create the right conditions, and to introduce the right catalysts, to unlock the hidden potential of this technology.

We are a team of trainers sharing our tools and methods around the world. We are not training community journalists or video activists; we are training community change makers.

Here is a group we worked with in Ethiopia. We used games and exercises to train them how to use the camera so they can involve their whole community in planning and making a film TOGETHER.

This is co-creation / co-design, and this makes it very different to the way most films are made. – It is something we are seeing much more of now on the internet, with things like Wikipedia which has been created by us. But we are doing this on a local community scale.

(camera bag on floor – I unzip it as I speak)
We don’t touch the camera! When I arrive to work with a new group I ask them to take it out of the bag for the first time. Straight away the aim is to let go of control.

(holding camera)
Because we know this is not a video camera…It’s a people magnet –and it is 1000 times more powerful in the hands of a local person. It pulls different parts of the community to bond together and join in this process. It can also be pulled outwards towards groups and individuals who would not normally take part in a community meeting. These are just the people we want to include, maybe they are too busy because they are innovators and doers. Or maybe others feel they have nothing to contribute, they may feel too powerless, too poor or too uneducated.

Whatever it is we find that all changes when the camera is brought into their space by their friends and neighbours - the places where they are busy working, in the fields, or where they hang out, in their back yard, front room or at the local café.

Here, surrounded by their friends and neighbours, they find the confidence and the time to plan their message, to use the cameras, to share their ideas and experiences clearly and with confidence.

Because… lasting, positive, development that contributes to the well-being of the whole community can only happen through consensus. You need to bring together the different parts of the picture, the rich and the poor, those with power and those on the margins. They all have knowledge and represent different pieces of the jigsaw which can mesh together to create strength in diversity.

I set up InsightShare with my brother fifteen years ago. That’s me there, that is my brother, and this is our team of passionate individuals from around the world. We work together, we challenge each other and we learn together. We have worked in 50 countries on more than 200 projects, with nomads in Tibet, women in a South African township, youth in London estates. We work in a huge variety of places with different marginalised groups using the same methods and tools.

People finally get the opportunity to speak for themselves, to be heard, represented – by THEMSELVES. Because they decide what they film, they decide who they film, they decide who sees the film, and they are the OWNERS of their film. So this is very different to the traditional model of director filmmaker and passive subject. (Here we see them using a storyboard with pictures so they can plan their message.)

I believe that our video cameras must be some of the happiest cameras in the world; they have such a great life! This is what I call a free-range camera! (holding camera) It has travelled the world... This one has been in 10 different countries and has been passed from hand to hand, each person teaching the next how to push record, how to zoom and frame the image.

From brother to sister, from sister to friend, from friend to neighbour… It has been used to record people’s heartfelt authentic stories from communities around the world. It has become imbued with the power of local insight and human sharing - that is why we are called INSIGHT-SHARE.

So this is Participatory Video. It’s a way of making videos with all the community. But Participatory video is more than just making videos, it’s about getting people to unite and plan together to make positive change in their community.

In 2011 this camera went to the village of Nongtraw an indigenous Khasi community, in Meghalaya state in the North East of India.

Here we trained a group of twelve community members how to use the camera. We used different participatory techniques to help them look at their community and think about some of the problems they are facing, the root causes of these problems, but also the things they love and are proud of. (Here they are documenting different local resources and products.)

From these exercises they saw that the village had become more vulnerable as people moved to grow cash crop. People were working as labourers to be able to buy staple foods, which they would have grown themselves before. Elders explained how in the past they had only bought salt and meat in the local markets. Increasing food prices, fluctuating markets, a less stable climate; this meant that food security was a big issue for them and it was something they hadn’t been able to deal with as a community.

Villagers discussed how millet could help. It used to be a staple but was no longer grown. It had a number of interesting qualities. It is highly nutritious, can be stored safely for a long time, can grow on poor soils and can deal with the irregular climate. So it was a perfect emergency food source.

Together they planned and filmed a short drama. Here is a clip from the film they made.
(SHOW SHORT 1 min clip)

Every evening they showed what they had filmed that day in the local school building. Villagers would come and enjoy watching themselves, their friends, and neighbours and would discuss the topic and the next day’s filming. More and more people came and got involved. We find these things snowball, and unlike some development projects that find it hard to engage their target group, our main challenge is containing the excitement and energy! On the last night there was an audience of around 120! Some had even come from neighbouring villages.

You can see that this was a drama, but this is not just acting. Through going through the cycle of planting, harvesting and grinding the millet, the youth were learning something they had never seen before, they also learnt the traditional song that accompanies millet growing in this region as well as the dance, which the elders had fun teaching to the youth! By the end the whole village had learnt the song and over 50 people had been involved in the filming, acting, dancing and preparations.

So this community had used the video to regenerate some of their valued cultural practices that had been given new meaning and relevance. Making the film had helped to mobilise their community to take action. At the time of making the film only three families were growing millet now 25 out of 35 families are growing it.

We returned six months later for a second training. Now these community members were moving from participants to facilitators. With support from the great local NGO partner, they have been able to show this film in eleven neighbouring villages, using it to open up discussion and share this knowledge. They also have video equipment to help them share and document the strategies being used elsewhere to make use of local products and look after food security.
What we call - home grown, home known solutions!

The films have also been shown at local food festivals and food festivals around the world, in Sweden at the indigenous Terra Madre, and at a conference for scientists and development workers in the Philippines.

After a few more participatory video projects and maybe a short rest in the bottom of a cupboard at our office in Oxford, UK… this camera then travelled to South America, Guatemala. Here again we worked with a local partner. This is often how we work. We use participatory video to complement and enhance local programmes, to help them engage even more effectively, become more participatory and be a tool for listening to local experiences, ideas and solutions.

In Guatemala we trained a team of twelve girls aged between 14 to 22 who are all part of a local Population Council programme helping girls build confidence and support each other on issues such as sexual health education and overcoming violence. So some highly sensitive issues, with possibly the most under-served population in Guatemala: rural, indigenous, adolescent, girls.

We were working with them to help them evaluate the development program they were part of. This in itself is pretty radical, though it makes total sense, doesn’t it? That the intended “beneficiaries” of a project, those who are supposed to be helped by aid and development projects, should be able to say what they think of the program, how it can be improved and what impact it is having on their lives.

Usually this evaluation is done by outsiders, and local people are interviewed and given questionnaires. Then reports are written which they can’t even read. We think it is essential to put this process firmly in the hands of the beneficiaries. It makes development programs more accountable and by using participatory video it can create a direct link between the people on the ground and donors who are often thousands of miles away. If this process is carried out by the community rather than outsiders, they learn so much more about themselves, and about the programme.

These girls were able to collect 150 stories from their peers - inspiring, beautiful or sometimes harrowing stories about the changes happening in their lives. They saw that girls everywhere were experiencing similar challenges to themselves. They felt solidarity and were motivated to continue to help by representing the rights of adolescent girls in their communities.

Helping the real experts (the local people) evaluate their programmes was not enough for us. What I find most exciting about this project is that we were able to use this tool to help the girls to do the analysis too. We managed to do this in a fun dynamic way, using drawings, drama, and video to help them look at the topics that were coming up in the stories they collected and identify and map the trends.

Then they communicated their analysis and recommendations in a paper animated video report to the donor and programme implementers! It was so refreshing for them as they are used to wading through big fat reports! It was incredibly powerful for the girls to do this and then see that their voices matter, and that they were able to make a difference – this is really important. They have been to conferences to present their work, to the UN and to a conference on women’s rights in Istanbul Last week they took part in a webinar addressing donors and NGOs that implement their own girl programmes.

This is all part of our vision of letting the local experts help to improve development. It’s not just about putting video cameras in the hands of different groups and communities. It’s about working with attitudes and intentions. Trainers should be able to step back and let go. But they also need to know when to step in – to protect the space and ensure equal participation and that no one is dominating and taking over the process.

A big part of this is creating a safe space, where community members anywhere in the world are able to share together openly. Making sure that that they know that they can decide what they put in or leave out of the film, and if they want to show their film locally or globally or not at all. Giving them that control encourages trust and openness. But it also involves development workers and trainers to lose control. We need to let go and listen to the communities. We need to let them guide us and show us the solutions. They are the real experts, they are living their lives. They know better than anyone the problems they are facing and we have shown that together they also know the solutions.

We have seen how video can enhance human cohesion. It can also enhance our communication, because really listening is very difficult for many of us. This can help. (hold up camera to ear) Because this is not a video camera, it’s an ear able to listening with empathy, without judging or interrupting! This is actually quite rare in day to day life. The video allows people to plan their messages clearly and share them widely in their community, speaking all the way through to the end without interruption!

To us this is not a video camera… it’s a mirror! When communities and individuals see themselves on screen they don’t see the warts and pimples, they see the best side of themselves. They see active people in their community, with ideas, with solutions. They see people doing things. They see hope. It’s no coincidence that this mirror effect is also a fantastic support for group reflection and learning.

This is not a video camera… it’s a torch! Helping communities shine a light on their problems. They are able to research and explore their problems together and put the spotlight onto different solutions, by seeing what others are already doing and sharing these solutions widely in this way they can develop new visions together which can guide them forwards into the future.

Did you know this can actually help us travel though space, through huge distances and pass invisible and solid barriers?! I’m not talking about Dr Who’s tardis! Communities are able to do this with this technology, sharing their messages with audiences who they may not be able to visit. It can get them into the offices of a local or national decision maker, to international donors, to the NGO headquarters or to global conferences which are all thousands of miles away. It ensures that these local experts are able to add their voices to the global conversations.

One of InsightShare’s core values is Celebrate. Every community screening is a celebration. It’s a coming together, celebrating local knowledge, local choices, local voices and local innovation. It’s something that happens far too rarely in development.

And so we find ourselves back at the beginning – people sharing stories, visions and dreams.

I have had the chance to show you that this is more than just a video camera and that it is about more than just hearing unheard voices. This technology has the power to shift attitudes and transform YOUR communities.

This is the alchemy of participatory video. We are working with these invisible human forces, bringing together different elements, creating the right conditions, creating a safe space where people can share freely and come together, bringing in the right exercises and catalysts at the right moments to initiate small shifts in attitudes, discussions and analysis which can move communities in big ways and which can create deep meaningful changes from within.

This is not a video – it’s a champion for change!


watch the TEDx Talk