Making Mistakes Together

“Mistakes are great!”

This is not an easy idea for a perfectionist to embrace. InsightShare’s Participatory Video (PV) training course threw me into the world of embracing mistakes, because that is how we learn best. After a week of making mistakes with a dynamic and creative group of participants with a wide range of expertise, I am converted. Mistakes ARE great, especially in the supportive and collaborative learning environment the training provided.

How do you lead a video training and empowering process through collective mistake making?

You start by playing a series of games and exercises that are carefully tailored to give just enough information for people to feel empowered to use the video equipment, teach their neighbor, and experiment. As a facilitator, you hold back from jumping in when things aren’t being done “right” because each game is followed by a session of watching the footage as a group and commenting on what works, lessons learned, and collective note taking (with the option of illustrative drawings if literacy or multiple languages are challenges).

For me it was a process of letting go: letting go of learning the ‘right way’ to do things, letting go of having my own notebook to take down every bit of wisdom, and trusting that together we would experiment, learn, and document the whole course. And if you saw the wall of the room we spent 6 days in together, you would agree that we captured it all and then some.

Understanding what I have learnt

Through facilitating PV in farming communities in Tanzania, Malawi and Ghana I look forward to a process that is less extractive and more creative than traditional research for development. The process is driven by the ideas and voices of the communities.

This does not mean that the topic under discussion can’t be framed by the facilitator and funding project. Before the training I was very concerned about this tension of guiding or “dictating” topics for participants. After going through the frustration of a completely open process of selecting a video topic I now realize the value and benefit of having some focus before the PV facilitation begins. Of course, it’s important to be honest and transparent with participants about the funding and expectations for subject matter from the beginning.

Valuing the process and community decisions

There is certainly a power in the ability to share videos widely online, with donors and on social media. However I now feel strongly that when using PV the process for the participants can get lost in the push to make a product that is polished and more a corporate communications piece. This may be something the participants are happy to do, but participants may decide not to share their film, or only share it to a specific local audience. This must be respected and has to be built into the proposals and expectations from funders and facilitators from the beginning. The power of the process lies far beyond the film and its screening.

PV is also about empowerment, fun, learning and sharing together

I know it sounds very warm and fuzzy, but it is fun and empowering. I’m no professional film maker, but after a week in the PV training I felt like I had gained so many film related skills that I could definitely lead a group through the PV process, so they too could learn just as much.

I strive to convert others to the “mistakes are great” methodology and make such a comfortable learning environment in the PV processes I will lead soon. I hope to explore how PV could be linked to learning on farms, in communities and at institutional levels and help strengthen the voice of communities in planning processes related to natural resource management and access.

PV is an intensive process, but I see the potential for it to be transformative for participants and facilitators. It requires commitment and an investment of time on all parts, but the rewards can be many. Now I will venture out to facilitate PV in communities.

by Juliet Braslow, trainee of a Participatory Video Course


Juliet Braslow is the Soils Research Area Coordinator at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and is grateful for the funding CIAT and the AGORA project provided to participate in this training.


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