group of peoples filming in the fields

Community Voices from Four Continents

I’m Christopher Outlaw from Devon in the UK. I’m currently pursuing a MA in Intercultural Communication and International Development (MAICID) at the University of Sheffield. ‘ID’ is the search for solutions to the world’s most pressing human problems, and my course aims to enhance this with the cultural sensitivity of ‘IC’. I’m a part time student and during the first year of my studies, my work focused on the Sustainable Development Goals’ relevance for historically marginalised groups, the exclusion and inclusion of queer people in international development, and the responses of displaced Indigenous communities to urban informality in Bogotá, Colombia.

InsightShare and Me

Participatory approaches are of particular interest to me as a student of Intercultural Communication and International Development. When I first learnt about InsightShare’s work, I instantly saw the connections with my studies!

In March 2020, Dr Sammia Poveda from the Department of Geography  at the University of Sheffield organised a Participatory Video (PV) training with Soledad Muñiz from InsightShare. My coursemates and I really enjoyed the day and were fascinated to learn about this rich participatory tool. It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my 2020! I was thrilled to be invited to write this blog post about noteworthy videos from InsightShare’s YouTube channel, which is a huge archive of fascinating content just waiting to be uncovered!

I am interested in the use of Participatory Video as a means of bottom-up communication, so a key factor linking the videos I chose is their focus on presenting the perspectives of a particular community. This theme emerged as I explored the content of the InsightShare YouTube channel. I selected each from a different continent to underline the geographic breadth of the channel and the global relevance of participatory video in diverse settings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the four films touch on environmental challenges which are so pervasive in today’s world. The videos I chose also have in common images of beautiful landscapes, street scenes, and even footage of participants singing – it was so interesting to see these editorial choices! There are other interconnections among the videos themselves and between the videos and my studies, which I will look at further after reflecting on the following four videos from across the globe. I hope they give you a good idea of InsightShare’s work and inspire you to explore their channel further!

America: Trinidacito

The oldest video I chose is one of several made in 2013 as part of a training programme for IUCN partner organisations in Bolivia. Faunagua, for example, works in places such as Trinidacito on research and capacity building to support community management and the conservation of aquatic natural resources. The people of Trinidacito wanted to explain their infrastructure problems, such as the poor state of roads and river crossings which inhibit their access to local markets. This video is a great showcase of the various techniques used in PV for anyone who is interested in digging more into the practice! 

 I particularly liked the use of acting, where community members recreated vignettes of daily life, work and challenges. In the video, a Brazil nut collector showed how the poorly maintained paths made it difficult for him to carry heavy packs before demonstrating how the nuts were sold to a dealer. Through the use of storyboards and discussions, we also see how decisions about who to interview and what to include in the final cut were reached within the community. Consensus is a fundamental principle of InsightShare’s approach and is itself also a means of community building.

Africa: Xolobeni

Xolobeni the Beautiful, in contrast, is one of the most recent videos. It was made in 2020 by the Amadiba hub (InsightShare Network’s youngest hub), during a PV training delivered in partnership with South African organisations Yes4Youth and Sustaining the Wild Coast. Much has been reported on the potential damage to the environment and livelihoods of planned mining and road construction, which would lead to disruption and displacement in the region. However, this important video is the first to get young residents’ own perspectives on protecting their land, culture and rural livelihoods. 

I liked the striking style of this video – individuals standing in the beautiful landscape with a microphone. They clearly had fun – another key factor in PV’s success. What I assume to be an amusing upside-down ‘blooper’ shot ends the film. Intriguingly, most of the speech was in the local language but there appeared to be lots of code-switching into English, with speakers using both languages in the same sentence or conversation. This apparent freedom of linguistic choice reflects PV’s ethos of self-expression.

Xolobeni the Beautiful is only the first PV project by the Xolobeni community. In 2021, the Amadiba hub was selected to take part in InsightShare’s Living Cultures Indigenous Fellowship. Over the course of the year, Indigenous youth from Amadiba are trained by InsightShare to spearhead the use of PV in their community to advocate for land sovereignty and conflict resolution. I look forward to seeing more of their videos and I hope this one has a positive impact on policy makers, locals and potential visitors with its message of environmental and cultural resilience.

Europe: Boryslav

Boryslav – On the Way to an Energy Independent Community brings participatory video closer to home (for me!), to a Ukrainian community suffering deprivation after its previous economic reliance on local oilfields. This film was produced by a Swiss-Ukrainian research collaboration investigating the use of wood energy, and PV was used as a way of fostering interaction between locals and other stakeholders.

This video made extensive use of interviews with diverse members of the community, from local politicians to forestry workers, scientists to a school headmistress. In common with Xolobeni, the people of Boryslav claim the right of their community to manage the natural resources of their city region. They seek investors in ecologically sound energy production and call on the state to support them, both financially and legally. The film is introduced by a child and other young people are included elsewhere, reflecting PV’s potential for inclusivity. There’s also an innovative clip whereby the screen is progressively filled with community members, some who are wearing traditional fabrics.

This film was made to be shown at related events and conferences, to share with the local university, to inform other communities in the region, and as a means of identifying areas for further research. It’s great to learn about some of the many uses of participatory video!

Asia: Nagaland

Bringing us right up to date again is Community Responses to COVID 19 in Nagaland, India created by the North East Network – a women’s rights and social justice organisation, which in 2020 worked on providing health information about coronavirus to community members in local languages. NEN has been using PV since 2014, so it’s interesting to see a video made by an experienced team. This recent film is based around interviews with individuals and, like some of those previously mentioned, it combines video footage with stills showing landscape and street scenes, as well as images of daily life, such as handicrafts, farming, play and commerce.

The video is included in the series Covid-19 Indigenous Insights as it aims to understand the effects of the pandemic in rural Nagaland alongside effective responses. Underlining community as a source of support in the face of uncertainty, the video focuses on questions of food security, the decline in the local informal economy, and the impact of young people returning home from urban centres. The creation of this film at this time is a great example of the versatility of participatory video; it’s encouraging to see that this communicative method was felt to be of immediate relevance in the face of a crisis.

Participatory Video, International Development and Intercultural Communication

As an innovative people-led tool for expressing communities’ voices and promoting local agency around the processes which affect them, participatory video brings together the two key fields of my degree: intercultural communication and international development.

PV and the films selected reflect ideas influenced by Amartya Sen’s Capabilities Approach. This approach says that development should be about enabling individuals and communities to live lives which they value, without presupposing what that means. All of these four videos call for action to support their needs as determined by themselves. The Capabilities Approach rejects the top-down tendency of development agencies to pre-define goals based on purely economic ideas of progress and promotes the idea that individuals and communities should be free to determine the direction of development based on their own values and notions of progress.

PV is a really exciting way for people to articulate these choices. Some of the techniques I saw during the training with InsightShare and in the films – like the use of storyboards and the importance of reflection – also brought to mind Dorothea Kleine’s Choice Framework. This seeks to put the Capabilities Approach into practice by understanding community priorities in order to tailor the design of development projects to real needs.

Relating participatory video to intercultural communication, PV reminds us to rein in our preconceptions of how communities should express their needs and what these needs should be. Intercultural communication discourages essentialization and stereotyping. By giving control of the medium to the participants, PV avoids the danger of outsiders imposing their assumptions. The creators and participants of each film invite us to briefly step into their own space, where we have to listen to them. Those who view the films may not always be comfortable in this unfamiliar space, but transcending such cultural boundaries always presents us with the opportunity to reflect, learn and become more culturally sensitive.

In short, participatory video encapsulates many of the principles of interculturally competent development work by amplifying community voices. I look forward to learning from InsightShare’s videos in future and I encourage you to do the same!

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