Malama Saifoloi
Evangelia Papoutsaki
Marcus Williams
Usha Sundar Harris
Munawwar Naqvi
Publication Date
August 17, 2016

Unitec (Saifoloi, Papoutsaki, Williams, Naqvi); Macquarie University (Harris)

"Emerging literature highlights that in the Pacific, the use of participatory video (PV)...can be employed as a tool to empower communities to have agency over their media outputs, meaning that they have full control of the content creation, production and distribution processes. But to date there is still a dearth of studies that fully explore its potential use in different contexts, especially within diasporic networks."

This paper reports on a pilot project that saw an international collective of researchers collaborate with the west Auckland, New Zealand's community group the Pacifica Mamas to trial participatory video (PV) practices with the elderly female Pacific migrants. The paper introduces the project, describes the conceptual and theoretical framework, details the PV training process, reflects on the process and impact, and offers concluding comments and research implications.

Women in the Pacific are facing several challenges, especially in the areas of leadership and equal economic participation (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2013). The Pacifica Arts Centre, home of the Pacifica Mamas, was established in the late 1980s by Mary Ama, a strong advocate for keeping her own Cook Island culture alive, as well as other Pacific cultures. She feared that younger generations would not have access to the art of weaving and traditional tivaevae (Cook Island quilt-making) techniques. Mary started the Mamas by recruiting a few women from the community; there are now 20 core group members, with 200 members of the extended Pacifica Mamas community. Their works have been extensively exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, and they run a cultural education programme for school students with the support of Auckland Council. The "mama-preneurs" are from various Pacific communities and are not motivated by financial means or necessity; rather, they have a desire to keep their cultural heritage alive. The economic benefits are an added bonus.

As opportunities for development increase in the region, it is questionable what capability Pacific women have to control media content about themselves and how they are portrayed. PV and other visual methodologies for social change are beginning to be researched as new methods that allow participants to be fully participative in the process of creating media content and to determine the degree of control that stakeholders have in working with them. As a tool for constructive and progressive social action, PV has the following characteristics: process-oriented, participative, uses local setting and local knowledge, utilises small media, and empowers individuals and communities. It can be used for therapy (developing participants' self-esteem), empowerment, and activism. (The paper details the meaning of participation in the PV process, including the role of the facilitator of the video workshop.)

The research questions for the pilot study to explore and answer were the following:

  • How do elderly female Pacific migrants respond to PV as a tool for their individual and collective group pursuits? What are the initial responses to training, application, etc.?
  • What do the Pacific migrants think of PV as a tool for cultural heritage preservation and promotion?
  • How transferable are the observations to other similar Pacific contexts?

The Pacifica Mamas researchers used a methodology combining participatory action research (PAR) with visual methodologies for social change. Communication for social change (CFSC) is the localised use of communication tools in a process where community dialogue and collective action work together to produce social change in a community, to the end of improving the health and the welfare of its members. Engagement through film or photography is seen as a process of reflection through which dialogical engagement among a group is stimulated. It is collective in the sense that it provides shared meanings. It gives value to what people say and becomes a creative process that allows for local concepts to be contextualised.

Specifically, the research team developed a relationship with the Mamas several months prior to the 3-day (August 2013) PV training workshop, which involved visiting the Mamas' centre, meeting with the centre director and other members, and sharing meals together. These times led to establishing trust and a stable platform on which to pilot PV. The team then attended the 3-day workshop on PV; the Mamas also attended the training, as building capacity within the community is a key feature of PV. One of the key components of PV and PAR requires the research team to go on location in order to film content/material (determined by the Mamas) using their newly acquired PV skills. The film location was the Pacifica Arts Centre at Corban Estate. The day started with a warm traditional welcome from the Mamas, with a song and dance accompanied by the Cook Island drums. (Click here and see below for some of the videos the Mamas produced.) "The Mamas responded enthusiastically to being involved in the project. The idea of giving them significant involvement in the choice of material to film and then taking part in shooting the footage was empowering for them. The majority of the Mamas demonstrated that they had prior experience with photography, video recording and filming but only as subjects rather than producers. Most of them needed a lot of training in technical areas - for example, equipment handling and interviewing skills." After filming on location, the team returned to Unitec to resume skills training in assessing the visual and oral material to be used, in accordance with the PAR cycle/approach of "observe-reflect-plan-act".

Next, the paper reflects on the pilot project's process and impact. The team members made an attempt to engage in a reflexive manner throughout the process of this project, including a session at the end of the PV workshop with the Mamas and during the writing stage of this report. To that extent, the thoughts of the team members about their experience of interacting with the Mamas over the transferring of the PV skills, and their preconceptions of what this might entail, along with the challenges of overcoming those preconceptions, are shared in the paper, grouped thematically around emerging issues. For example, with regard to reflections on the process by the research team, some topics include: the challenge of managing quality, the challenge of transcending gender roles and technology, managing expectations and assumptions, the challenges of coming from a mainstream media background, overcoming the tendency to see oneself through the mainstream media lenses, self-reflecting as part of the process, and the importance of context.

"The Pacifica Mamas response to PV has been very positive. They embraced PV from the outset. They showed eagerness and confidence in using technology beyond the project team's expectation. The fact that they are very experienced storytellers and cultural performers enabled them to adopt the technology as another tool in their armoury of cultural expression....Since the original workshop, the Mamas have worked on a number of personal videos, including basic weaving tutorials....The Mamas have received ongoing support from Unitec, as well as equipment from the ASB Community Trust. This equipment will be used to produce a series of basic Pacific art tutorials. Filming will follow the PV method. Everything, from content filming to editing, will be controlled by the Mamas."

After additional reflections on the project, the paper concludes by noting that further research could look at the application of PV and traditional methods in diverse settings to understand when they can complement each other. Also, a study to understand when PV is counterproductive in storytelling or other modalities, when employed in community-based productions, could be helpful.


Media Development Publications - July 2016 - June 2017 from CAMECO; and Unitec Institute of Technology website, August 2 2017. Image caption/credit: "Deane-Rose Ngatai with the Mamas, Pacifica Arts Centre, Corban Estate, Auckland, NZ, 29 August 2013." Courtesy of The PV Team.

See video