Participatory Video and the Right to Development
One of my jobs this year has been preparing videoclips for the OHCHR Social Forum on 25 Years of the Right to Development.
Participatory video ('PV') puts cameras in the hands of marginalised communities. Films made by indigenous people on their own terms bring transparency and accountability to processes of international development. The text of my presentation appears below, with links to video clips:
“Using Participatory Video in Development”
Zoe Young, 4th October 2011
Thanks Mr Chairman, Secretariat, distinguished participants. It's an honour to address the United Nations - as a child my mother stood on foundation stone of this Palais des Nations… I want to thank all the ancestors who struggled and stood for justice and upheld the peace, who built multilateralism as best they could.
The root of the world ‘Development’ means ‘unfolding’. It requires space for each of us to move and change and learn; to respond actively, freely and meaningfully to the world around us. Like a flower, tree, or embryo, development of full human potential, requires a rootedness in a place or sustainable culture, and steady flow of the elements of life: Fertile Soil, Clean Air, Sustainable Energy, Fresh Water.
Core to the Right to Development is “Active, free and meaningful participation”; as previous speakers have stated. Development requires that all voices be brought to the table, whatever our tribe or colour, creed, ability, age or gender… So our role as facilitators of unfolding development is to ‘string the beads’ in this circle of the people, enabling all voices to be heard.
So wherever there is unequal access to the international discourse, to power, to resources, to land, to media and to money; people of good heart will often step in to help provide the benefits of ‘development’ for all.
But for development assistance to really assist development, the assistance needs to be wanted, defined and requested by those in need. How many of us have been ‘helped’ by someone who didn’t understand what was needed, and so just created problems? As stated in the indigenous peoples’ Life Mosaic film we saw yesterday, and this morning in the film and presentations on the Endorois case, a community needs to give their Free, Prior, Informed Consent to any development in their lands.
But how can we always find out what is needed, when those of us in need of help are often far from the centres of power, of information, media and influence, when roads and communications may be bad? When we speak different languages? When some of us do not read and write, when contrasting cultures can seem alien, maybe even ‘backward’ or rebellious to those of us with the power and resources to help?
I studied this question in relation to the Global Environment Facility, a multi billion dollar facility based inside the World Bank, intended to finance the extra costs to development of protecting climate, biodiversity and more. GEF was wonderful sounding; promising civil society participation in natural resource management and conservation finance in development. But as I predicted in my 2002 book, A New Green Order?(Pluto Press) that approach to conservation and development has not worked, and we have ongoing environmental crises.
My research essentially involved centralizing the knowledge I gained – sharing it to conferences, dry reports, unread journals... then I was invited to make documentary. Video allows us to see each others’ eyes, hear each others’ voices, and share each others’ values and learning about the world in other, sometimes deeper ways than the written word allows. I went to a forest called Nagarhole in South India, where a GEF-funded India Eco-development project was underway – to the consternation of many local people, who had not been consulted on what development meant to them, and were being badly affected. This is shown in the ‘Video letters’ clip, an excerpt from our documentary ‘Suits and Savages’, which was based around our carrying stories between worlds: a GEF promo from the corridors of power to the forest, and a video letter from the community back again to the World Bank.
I translated and took our completed documentary to screen in the forest straightaway after we made it. Kenchaiah, one of the key characters, was delighted as he never thought that his voice would be heard worldwide; and because sharing their story helped a little with their situation. I heard privately that the World Bank too used our documentary in training.
But while documentary makers can listen, produce and check a documentary back with subjects to be sure it meets their perceptions, as we found, there will always be complaints, gaps… inevitably as our approach was to use Nagarhole as case study in telling a bigger story about the way the World Bank and GEF were working. A more focused approach was that taken by LifeMosaic in the clip we saw yesterday – starting from the needs and expressed concerns of local people, and checking back with them throughout the edit.
The most participatory approach to using video to achieve the Right to Development is when film makers hand over the camera completely. We can offer film making training to community groups, helping them to define issues and make films for themselves – this is called Participatory Video. Even remote and illiterate communities can then show the world as it looks through their eyes, clarify what development means to them, and specify how and what they want to develop. Those of us who want to help can then bring their stories, their needs, their video ‘to the table’, to the international debates and processes, even when the people themselves cannot come.
The Process involves games and workshops to teach basic artistry, ease with using and being on camera, technical and story board ideas. It takes time, commitment, adapt to circumstance & culture… empowerment. Active, free and meaningful communications cannot be rushed or produced to order.
This is a different use of the media than most people know... it is not (usually) about broadcasting, but rather involves strategic ‘Narrowcasting’ to reach a particular audience and meet a particular need.
The Roots of PV are in Participatory Rural Appraisal, enabling participation in development projects: mapping, planning, monitoring, reviewing and evaluating initiatives, creating dialogue around development priorities and strategies, send to funders … this is a vertical approach.
PV was probably initiated by the Canadian Dan Snowden, he used it horizontally, working in the Fogo fishing islands off Newfoundland coast, enabling communications between isolated communities. PV has since been applied in many different situations, from advocacy and cross community, crosscultural communication, to providing therapeutic environment for the mentally ill and empowering forgotten communities at either end of the carbon emission and sequestration connection.
Recently, digital video has opened up media access to a much wider demographic, and now in many countries every other kid has a camera phone in their pocket – the tools for PV are everywhere... street activists are taking up the tools, kids are doing video for themselves... how can this plug into the Human Rights Agenda?
One way is to listen, watch and share these participatory stories.
At the same tine we need to share practical, ethical and safety guidance for rights focused video. On accountability: Witness Human Rights Video project in NY is doing good work, they also supported the Endorois film we saw this morning. The International Accountability Project uses PV to express critical perspectives on international financial institutional investments when top down ‘development’ projects disrupt and obstruct the right to development. This is using PV Vertically, as a tool of democratic accountability.
Other projects include: Video Volunteers, Children As Media Producers (CAMP) – youth, Deccan Development Society India - seed and cultural diversity, InsightShare Participatory Video indigenous media hubs, Conversations with the Earth now at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.
How else could PV be used? The world is ready: not only the spread of digital recording technology, but online video sharing… Is there potential to enhance the Right to Development through online video aggregation, filtering participatory films by region, issue, tag? Would people make use of video channels, packaging this material to informing and promote relevant international forums?
Wherever video is made, an audio file is also created, so this work also feeds into radio… a wonderful medium for reaching out to remote areas and the illiterate.
In both modern and traditional societies, many people prefer to hear human voices and watch moving images to reading dry text, perhaps because video is more like traditional story telling... Using these tools can enable a democratization of the development discourse in practice, facilitating cultural interchange and development.
Not least because with video, there is Space to share images, music, dance, arts etc…the lifeblood of traditional societies, and of our emerging social media.
Some of the dispossessed and marginalized become so frustrated when their concerns are not heard that they pick up guns and start shooting, so how much better is it if they pick up cameras and shoot with those instead…?
In our lives on this beautiful earth, we all want to freely participate and engage, to have our needs heard, our stories recognized and give meaningful response. At a time of converging crises, time to listen to other ways… including the youth, including the older cultures too.
We hear again and again in international forums that we need to Listen to the people, to bring their voices to the table, not just ‘preach to the choir. PV is one effective new way to do this.
Let’s now turn to hear about a practical case study of a situation where PV was used: Jimmy Kereseka will speak next about his work in Chivoko, Solomon Islands...