While participatory videos and photography projects have increased as research tools over the past decades, their relevance is still being questioned. So how much valid data can such tools provide and how reliable are they?
Opinion piece by Manon Koningstein, Visiting Researcher based at CIAT
Research on agriculture actually goes far beying looking at ways to improve rice, beans and maize breeds, as it also includes gender, policy analysis, and linking farmers to markets and more. Conventional agriculture research is now increasingly meeting economic, political and development sciences to really understand the contexts and socio-economic frameworks in which smallholder farmers live and work.
Is it not therefore time to really make room for new participatory research tools to reflect this transition? In this blog, I will discuss a specific participatory tool called "Participatory Video-production" and its relevance for agriculture research.
The power of participatory video projects
Stated by the organization Insightshare, participatory video production is a: “Participatory rural appraisal research tool that bridges worlds, unlocks doors and involves the beneficiaries in each phase of the research project”.
Participatory video projects have the power to make development projects more driven by the people involved, and more accountable to their stakeholders. The idea behind participatory videos is that making a video is easy and accessible, and it is a great way of bringing people together to explore issues, voice local concerns, and build skills to create social change.
Curious about this tool, I attended a training facilitated by Insightshare in Oxford, United Kingdom. Here I learned that participatory videos can in fact be an effective tool for social change as it is accessible to participants, irrespective of literacy or background, while having the power to mobilize a community and potential to document the dynamic processes of community research, analysis, and change.
Participatory video-making as a heavy weight tool for agriculture research
In my opinion, participatory video-making is indeed an important research tool, as it can get around issues that 'conventional' research production struggles to overcome, namely the power of who chooses what to research, who edits the information and who presents the information.
Here participatory video projects offer the opportunity to conduct research with people - rather than about people.
The final video product reflects the voices of all stakeholder groups, assists in analysis, and encourages action while cutting across four types of research: academic, policy, practical, and local.
Watch videos from a participatory video project supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
Videos: East African pastoralists record their climate reality
In practice, participatory videos can work two ways:
First way: the project is initiatied via research institutions and presented to stakeholders. The planning and the shooting of the actual video is made with local stakeholders, where for example priorities, fears, and expectations are mapped out and adhered to all throughout the project.
The second way works the other way around, in which communities communicate to research institutions and policy-makers at the local and regional scale by using produced films to inspire and influence researchers, decision-makers, and others.
Learn more about how we have been working with participatory video projects with women in Nepal: Voicing women’s perceptions on climate change
Getting the training needed for participatory video projects
The course that I took with Insightshare taught us how to approach communities and how to deal with the fact that most of the participants have never held a camera much less interviewed someone or spoken about a topic in front of a camera.
Though games and exercises, trust and confidence is built a major point emphasized was that ‘there are no mistakes.’ At the end of each day, we discussed various case studies and the possibility for the use of participatory videos. We also discussed the extremely important role of ethics in the processes, how to edit in a participatory way, how to organize community screenings, and what to do after the movie has been made. And, above all, we were taught how to facilitate processes around delicate topics, with vulnerable communities, with illiterate participants, and/or with language barriers.
The course was attended by 15 participants from all over the world working in NGO’s, research institutions, and private agencies. They were working on projects from aboriginals in Australia to Climate Smart Agriculture in Mali and from Refugee youth in London to gender inclusion in Colombia. This variety of participants meant that learning went far beyond the hours of training, as we continue to share our experiences and knowledge gained during the projects we are currently undertaking.
Participation as a way to get respectful and more insightful research
Although participatory video-projects have shown to be a good tool to really display the true needs and thoughs of stakeholders, it must be noted that the process is time consuming and demands a lot from facilitators as well as participants. In addition, the quality of the videos might not always be optimal. So when opting for high quality videos, this participatory tool might not be the way to go.
However, it is clear that participatory video-production goes beyond being a research tool, but is also a documentation- , communication- and monitoring and evaluation tool that provides a channel through which local knowledge and experience can be shared with other communities, as well as with scientists, decision and policy makers on a local, national and global level.
In short, I believe it does bring a several opportunities for respectful and more insightful research.
Photo caption for second photo: Working with the 'twisted frames' game at the participatory video training course. Photo: Marleen Bovenmars
Photo caption for third photo: Recaping the days during the participatory training course. Photo: Marleen Bovenmars
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