Jackie Shaw
Publication Date
July 1, 2017

Institute for Development Studies (IDS)

"Many participatory governance and accountability processes, and the theoretical discourses and practical approaches underlying them, do not pay sufficient attention to the need to shape the relational conditions for accountability for marginalised social groups, which only serves to perpetuate or exacerbate exclusionary dynamics. This report has re-framed PV as a relational mediator..."

This Making All Voices Count research report explores asks how participatory video (PV) - an existing methodology for engaging marginalised people - can be adapted and strengthened inclusively engage citizens and foster responses from decision-makers. It presents 4 propositions for achieving this: (i) ensure inclusive engagement during group-forming and building; (ii) develop shared purpose and group agency through video exploration and sense-making; (iii) enable horizontal scaling through community-level videoing action; and (iv) support the performance of vertical influence through video-mediated communication. Each of these propositions is discussed in relation to 3 concepts that are elements of accountability initiatives: enabling spaces, bonding and bridging communication, and power-shifting. Discussion draws on 2 long-term participatory video processes at 5 sites in 2 countries, Kenya and Indonesia. Evidence presented suggests that extended participatory video processes can help mediate relationships, but for them to do so, there is a need to develop more ethical and effective participatory video practice, as well as to undertake work on how to foster support from influential decision-makers.

As Jackie Shaw, herself an experienced visual methods practitioner, explains, "PV is an interactive group process, generally facilitated by a practitioner, which is mediated by video recording and playback. Broadly speaking, group members explore their situation by recording themselves and the world around them, and produce video stories or messages for external audiences to bridge horizontal or vertical communication....In development contexts, it can be used as a mechanism for citizens to claim accountability....In this approach, the video is the main outcome, to the detriment of potential process benefits such as group-bonding, capacity-building or collective agency. Well-recognised ethical risks (such as inappropriate public exposure for vulnerable groups) are also amplified due to the brief engagement timescale. Most problematically for accountability applications, decision-makers can watch videos and think that they have consulted people, with nothing happening as a result. This often serves to end rather than initiate longer-term citizen-state exchange."

In that context, this report explores the use of videoing not as a production method but as a process that potentially, as it unfolds, establishes relationships that in themselves challenge and reverse exclusion and marginalisation. It is based on extended videoing processes, which are slower and longer term. The focus is on maximising the possibility for accountable relations to form and grow. Recognising the considerable challenges involved in using PV to engage the most marginalised people and transform their relations with leaders, Shaw reflected with local researcher-practitioners on 2 extended videoing processes among people living in poverty in Nairobi, Kenya (which explored disability issues, slum insecurity, and sanitation) and on 3 shorter video processes in Indonesia (for research engagement and policy-influencing), which happened alongside the Reality Check Approach (RCA). The video processes studied involved a range of activities including participatory video exercises, in-camera documentaries and dramas, video diaries, peer and community interviews, video messages and stories, digital story-telling, participatory and collaborative film-making, video-mediated community walks, video screening events, and video-mediated decision-maker exchange. These activities are exemplified throughout the report, which provides an in-depth illustration of what happened in these processes and why. The insights lie in both the small gains and shifts that mattered to participants, and the practical risks, contradictions, and trade-offs they experienced.

Shaw explores the building of accountable relations in contexts of marginalisation. Accountable dynamics between citizens and leaders have 2 key aspects: people's capability and opportunity to claim influence; and the political leverage to expect responses and hold decision-makers to their commitments. However, accountability processes are unlikely to shift the unequal power dynamics at the root of marginalisation unless they are transformative. This study builds on the concept of participatory accountability, which is a process rooted in context but often catalysed by external intermediaries; it speaks to the shift in power that is necessary for marginalised people to sway governance. Shaw approaches building pathways to accountability from a relational perspective, focusing on the possibilities and limitations of applying videoing processes as the means to build the relational conditions for accountability in unaccountable contexts characterised by different interest groups and social groups. The relational conditions necessary to build accountable relations in contexts of marginalisation include factors such as feeling safe, a trusting and encouraging environment, self-esteem and expressive capacity, connection between people, group identities, and mutual dynamics.

The report next turns to the use of video as mediator of these processes. Shaw states up front that, "[c]learly, citizen voice alone - via video or other channels - is insufficient to leverage accountability." She does not think the possibilities afforded for building accountable relations are due to the video equipment itself. In fact, handing out technology unsupported tends to maintain the status quo of local power dynamic; the video processes explored in this report were therefore facilitated. She is interested in the small shifts in dynamics that matter to people. To that end, she explores whether and in what circumstances video enabled people to take up new positions or resist the positions others assumed for them. This builds on the idea that video production, or presenter-audience conventions, can be utilised to re-position marginalised participants to give them more influence than usual during engagement with others.

Brief summaries of the participatory video processes that are explored in depth in the report:

  • "Kenya provided a suitable setting for exploring inclusion and accountability relationships and processes because of the mismatch between civic interest in the promise of participatory governance and the challenges in realising it." From 2012 to 2013, Shaw convened a visual methods programme as part of Participate research, which explored realities for some of the most marginalised people globally and brought their perspectives into United Nations (UN) post-2015 deliberations. The Participate initiative had mobilised a global network of 18 partner organisations already running long-term participatory processes with some of the economically poorest and most marginalised communities. The Kenyan cases build on Shaw's engagement during that time with 2 of those partners: The Seed Institute (SEED) and Spatial Collective. In the informal settlement of Mwiki (in Nairobi), community researchers from SEED explored issues for "forgotten and ignored" disabled children and their parents, while Mathare Spatial Collective's young mappers explored sanitation and personal insecurity issues. Extended videoing processes were the key means to both facilitate and drive peer-led participatory action research (PAR) and to bridge local-global and local-county / national communication. Videoing was also combined with drawing, mapping, drama, community walks, and collaborative film-making methods. The first fieldwork visit involved PV training and research process accompaniment, while the second involved further training and accompaniment, video-mediated decision-maker engagement, and production of policy-focused videos for the UN post-2015 deliberations through collaborative film-making with Participate partner Real Time. Partners also ran video-mediated action research (VAR) activities themselves.
  • Shaw's ongoing partnership with RCA in Indonesia provided the other case studies. "Indonesia also exhibits a mismatch - this time between state incorporation of accountability approaches such as participatory budgeting, and the difficulties of making them meaningful due to lack of transparency, inclusion and response....RCA is a research method that involves staying in people's homes, learning from them through informal interactions and embodied experiences, and participating alongside them in everyday activities." From 2014, Shaw worked with local RCA researchers to support them in incorporating video diaries, PV, and policy-influencing production. In addition, RCA researchers carried out a variety of videoing and digital story-telling activities from 2014 to 2016, which were also considered.

A section on each of the 4 propositions (see above) follows the introductory, conceptual, and methodological sections of the report. Each section begins by clarifying the assumption on which the proposition is based and the key practical tensions involved. Shaw then gives examples from the 5 video processes to build theory from practice, including links to video materials to illustrate what was produced. At the end of each section, there are questions to prompt reflection.

Selected highlights and excerpts from the concluding section of the paper follow:

  • There is a need to negotiate the uncertain consequences and intrinsic risks of participatory video, yet "we need to recognise the small-scale...gains that participants value. For example, both the SEED and Mathare Mapper teams were proudest of mobilising the community to solve problems themselves (power with). SEED helped more than 100 disabled children and their parents to feel less stigmatised, established five parent support groups and secured weekly therapy sessions and allowances for the disabled children; while Mathare Mappers established a waste management scheme and recycling centre, community safety patrols, and a sanitary towel and health awareness project for local girls. However, progress was not straightforward or easy, but rather complex and non-linear....Furthermore, these outcomes clearly cannot be attributed to the Participate intervention alone....The improvements achieved were largely due to the local PV 'champions' in the two teams, working with minimal resources and ongoing support from Spatial Collective and SEED. It may also be that the achievements could have happened without videoing. Nevertheless, those involved felt strongly that PV was a key aspect in driving the action forward, and in stimulating interaction between the community and external agencies....The pertinent question here is, what did the PV process add that was different from other participatory methods?
  • "Video recording and playback activities were applied, both to create enabling space for participation and performance, and to mediate bonding and bridging communication within the group and with external others. The attention to these aspects showed what could help and hinder at each stage. For instance, at the group-building and exploration stages, there was bridging between individuals (aided by role rotation), which led to group mutuality and ensured inclusive group dynamics. However, the shifting balance between practitioner direction and group control needed ongoing reflection, linked to contextual factors....Participants were positioned more influentially as community actors due to being in control of video production and leading community discussions prompted by playback. However, this re-positioning was dependent on the staged approach to developing participants' capacities. The challenges anticipated (including potential for negative audience reactions, entrenching difference, raising expectations, and perpetuating intra and inter-community inequity) require careful thought in the project planning and implementation stages."
  • "As soft skills are demonstrably crucial to PV practice, providing training and accompaniment for practitioners is vital. Reflection on practitioner development in the case studies suggests that inputs are more effective if they are iterative and responsive....After providing basic training for facilitators in both countries, it was helpful to accompany them as practitioners applying PV approaches with their respective local communities."
  • "The biggest difficulties for the Kenyan teams were leveraging state support and sustainable external backing for their efforts. They identified barriers of government negligence, corruption and a lax attitude to responsibilities at every level (e.g. police, officials and community leaders). While leaders engaged and made promises, they did not follow them through or return; the team were constrained by a lack of information from local administration and county assemblies, and found it difficult to target high-level officials with the power to support programme implementation....Nevertheless, the Kenyan teams felt more positive after the recent engagements. Decision-makers turned up, recognised what had been achieved, found common ground, and wanted to collaborate in [the] future."

Considering that "marginalised people want to be heard, but more importantly, they want authorities and duty-bearers to work with them to solve problems," Shaw suggests that "video presenters need to be clear, before they interact with decision-makers, on whether their aim is to foster connections or to provoke critical thinking; this is vital for making informed decisions on the content of the material and the way an event is organised." With this in mind, Shaw makes 2 suggestions for subsequent practice: (i) to sensitise audiences and prompt discussion about the purpose of video communication before they view videos produced by marginalised groups; and (ii) to improve audience understanding of PV processes.


OpenDocs, August 9 2017. Image credit: Reality Check Indonesia, IDS