19 December 2012

Kenya: Participatory Visual Processes in Nairobi's Margins


I recently spent a week in Nairobi with community researchers from The Seed Institute and Spatial Collective (two of the research group members within Participate [www.ids.ac.uk/Participate]) who were learning about participatory video as an action and research strategy within their participatory research initiatives.

Participatory visual processes provide creative possibilities for the very real issues affecting people's lives to be captured. Jackie Shaw from Real Time facilitated a journey through which the researchers gained hands on experience of facilitating a participatory video process, and looked at how the approach could be used to amplify the voices of the most marginalised in their communities, and generate dialogue with decision-makers.

The potential of participatory video to visually communicate the context specific issues, concerns and aspirations of community members resonated strongly with the community researchers. As participatory video is a creative process there is flexibility in its use. This meant that in learning about the approach researchers were able to think about ways to connect it to their own visions for action research; it was interesting for example to hear the nuances in the way that the purpose of participatory video was interpreted:

"Participatory video is a tool for highlighting issues on the ground that do not yet have a strong presence in public debate, for example disability issues."

"It is a group process that enables issues to come out as people have conversations through working together."

"Participatory video will enable more people in the community to be reached and in an interactive way which will provide community ownership over the issues generated."

"Censoring of the narrative, which traditionally happens in survey work is removed, the story coming through is true to the detail of what the community members were sharing. Also the authenticity of the voices will remain, for example the language of the youth will be what is heard."

What came across clearly in the conversations that took place over this week, was the importance the groups placed on the empowering nature of participatory video - in particular, the way that the exploration of community stories is placed at the centre of the process as opposed to starting with the external policy context which is so often the case. By creating a space for issues to be deliberated and communicated collectively, there was a feeling of increased power behind the message articulated.

For me what is really powerful about participatory video is that it provides a space for communities and policy-makers to make connections that are grounded in the reality people's lives, and their physical spaces. Importantly, in the context of Participate, the digital nature of video makes the perspectives and voices of people living in poverty accessible at the local, national, and international levels; from cross-community dialogues to global policy debates, with strong possibilities of dialogue between the two.

The next steps in Nairobi will be to take participatory video to the communities that Spatial Collective and The Seed Institute work which they hope will bring a new dynamic to their work. The Seed Institute are planning to use participatory video to provide new opportunities for children with disabilities to participate in and lead the learning and action activities that they facilitate. The Spatial Collective moved very quickly to share the method across their team of youth leaders who coordinate community-led mapping in Mathare settlement. They are planning how to make their inquiries into community issues deeper by creating spaces for wider community interactions through forums and debates around the films that are made.

Participatory visual processes can reveal and communicate powerfully about experiences from the margins by providing contextualised examples of the complex and subjective aspects and consequences of development. It will be really interesting to see how the use of video develops in both organisations and across the initiative, and also how the various actors in this post-2015 debate respond to making a very real, very human connection with people living in poverty.

Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

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