It has been quite a while since my last entry. With the thesis writing in the final phase, it has been almost impossible for me to think in writing in any other style than academic! But I have found this little window, to write another post.
I have been thinking hard about how to explain in a simple manner about what I found, what my research results are. What does it really say? So here I talk about one of the basic issues in a Participatory Video project.
Researching the two organisations doing long-term PV projects in India showed that people at different levels of the project have different expectations from the project. The donor agencies want something else, the project implementing NGO wants something else, and the participants have their own expectations from doing such a project. Which, I think is fine. And I would think that holds true for any project. But the problem comes when these different expectations are not in sync.
When participants started expecting, for example, that doing a participatory video project would give them media production skills to go join television news channels, it did not match with what the donor agency wanted to happen with their money. The donors had their own set of objectives to be met for the project to be called a ‘success’, like number of people reached through the videos. The NGO wants the participants to continue producing videos over the years, which strengthen its advocacy campaigns or grassroots work, whereas the participants start looking at ways to further their careers, or earn better money.
When the donors want to ‘empower’ participants through such projects, they often want participants to be empowered enough to fulfil the project objectives, but they are not prepared for participants to become empowered enough to create their own objectives. The NGOs, who implement the project, usually follow what the donors want. If they decide to listen to what the participants want they might end up without finding much funding for that purpose.
The different expectations do not build on each other to make it a project that is successful for all involved, a project that sustains itself.
Though, this does not take away from what participating in a Participatory Video process does to the participants. In fact it is the self-confidence that they gain through the process that enables them to think about what all they can do for themselves and their communities. Participation works, Participatory Video works, it is just that donors and NGOs may fail to realise fully what it can do for the participants’ and communities’ lives and how they can use PV to promote participants’ agency.
Very interestingly, where the hierarchical relations within the community were challenged, such as young Muslim women shooting with cameras openly, or young women from Mumbai slums taking up leader-like positions, the hierarchy within the project was extremely difficult to challenge! So, donors always held more power than these young women participants, who were at the bottom rung during decision-making (in spite of being the ones for whom the project was built).
My research looks at several other factors that come into play, including social and cultural issues, that may affect what a PV project is able to achieve. I have come up with a tool that considers these factors and can be used by donors and NGOs to find out how participants’ agency can be promoted during the PV process and how it becomes a meaningful process for those who take part in it.
There is a lot of academic thinking and changes innovated by practitioners, since participatory approaches have been facing a lot of criticism. My concerns emerged as a practitioner and through academics I have found possible answers to a lot of those concerns.
Would love to hear what your experiences say about expectations in PV or other participatory projects.