Participatory Video (PV) is a set of techniques to involve a group or community in shaping and creating their own film. The idea behind this is that making a video is easy and accessible, and is a great way of bringing people together to explore issues, voice concerns or simply to be creative and tell stories. It is therefore primarily about process, though high quality and accessible films (products) can be created using these methods if that is a desired outcome. This process can be very empowering, enabling a group or community to take their own action to solve their own problems, and also to communicate their needs and ideas to decision-makers and/or other groups and communities. As such, PV can be a highly effective tool to engage and mobilise marginalised people, and to help them to implement their own forms of sustainable development based on local needs.
Whilst there are forms of documentary filmmaking that are able to sensitively represent the realities of their subjects' lives and even to voice their concerns, documentary films very much remain the authored products of a documentary filmmaker. As such, the subjects of documentaries rarely have any say (or sometimes have some limited say) in how they will ultimately be represented. By contrast, in PV the subjects make their own film in which they can shape issues according to their own sense of what is important, and they can also control how they will be represented. Additionally, documentary films are often expected to meet stringent aesthetic standards and are usually made with a large audience in mind. The PV process, on the other hand, is less concerned with appearance than with content, and the films are usually made with particular audiences and objectives in mind.
The first experiments in PV were the work of Don Snowden, a Canadian who pioneered the idea of using media to enable a people-centered community development approach. This took place in 1967 on the Fogo Islands, with a small fishing community off the eastern coast of Newfoundland. By watching each other’s films, the different villagers on the island came to realise that they shared many of the same problems and that by working together they could solve some of them. The films were also shown to politicians who lived too far away and were too busy to actually visit the island. As a result of this dialogue, government policies and actions were changed. The techniques developed by Snowden became known as the Fogo process. Snowden went on to apply the Fogo process all over the world until his death in India in 1984.
Since then, there has been no uniform movement to promote and practise PV but different individuals and groups have set up pockets of PV work, usually molding it to their particular needs and situations. PV has also grown with the increasing accessibility of home video equipment.
PV is used all over the world and has been applied in many different situations, from advocacy and enabling greater participation in development projects to providing a therapeutic and communicative environment for the mentally ill or disempowered. Methods vary from practitioner to practitioner, some choosing to keep the process more open, and others preferring to guide the subjects more, or even to wield the camera themselves. There is no fixed way in which PV has to be done, other than that it involves the authorship of the group itself and that it be carried out in a truly participative and democratic way. This quality of flexibility enables PV to be applied to many different situations.
PV carried out in this way becomes a powerful means of documenting local people’s experiences, needs and hopes from their own perspectives. It initiates a process of analysis and change that celebrates local knowledge and practice, whilst stimulating creativity both within and beyond the community. PV gives a voice and a face to those who are normally not heard or seen, even in participatory programmes.
In combination with other methodologies such as Participatory Learning in Action (PLA) techniques, Participatory Rural Appraisal and others. PV has been successfully applied to projects focussing on; community development; promoting local innovation and endogenous development; therapeutic work; a voice for marginalised groups; a catalyst for community-led action; a tool for communicating with policy makers; a means of involving users in their own research for example action research, participatory research, user-led research; also for programme monitoring and evaluation or Social impact assessment...new possible applications are being continually developed.
This text has been adapted with the permission of the authors, from the introduction of Insight's into Participatory Video: a handbook for the field . Please add, change and edit as you choose.
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