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Archive for June, 2011

The past few months have been all about collecting data for my PhD on Participatory Video. Working with few organizations practicing PV, as part of my case-studies, has been very fascinating and duly engaging. They have both highly inspired and deeply perturbed me.

PV, as we know, essentially, is about participants, and them being able to voice their issues, and therefore, I do not see the PV process complete, with just the final cut of a film or merely its screenings in a community or for the policy makers. Instead, a PV process has the potential to make participants realize their capabilities in doing so, which should essentially, be a continuing experience.

Most PV processes, initially, do generate a certain enthusiasm, confidence and belief in the participants. However, executing this simple idea in an ongoing context, looks seemingly difficult and a lot of initiatives are struggling with it. But why is hardly anyone talking about it? What is it, that ‘really’ happens? Where and what are the obstacles, the struggles – the challenges faced? What happens when the process extends longer? Is the initial euphoria maintained, or is there at least, a continued interest and trust in the process? How does PV, as a part of an organization’s ‘alternative mouthpiece’ fare?

Somehow, the need to understanding PV within its organizational context, seems to have swiftly taken precedence in my thought process, and at this point, I am led to make a statement that PV by itself means little, unless the institutional mechanisms are set up in coherence with the participants’ expectations.

What really happens?

Mentionably, I am bit tired of reading ‘PV empowers…’ Or, maybe the meaning of ‘empowerment’ has become so common, that absolutely, any such initial experience can be called ‘empowering’.

Institutionalisation of PV over time, especially within a NGO, where it becomes more of a sourcing / re-sourcing fund-oriented project than people’s media, endangers the participants’ ‘empowering experience’. I have, pretty much seen it unfold in front of my eyes. In one organization, the same participants, who earlier talked about bringing social change through their videos, now say, they feel that being in a NGO has restricted them. In many conversations, they reveal that it has become another 8-hr a day job for them. Capability-building has been replaced by sheer work pressure, and more often than not, a job that entails little video-making or screening, and more desk stuff.

In another organisation, where the involvement with the PV project is not a ‘job’ per se and the enthusiasm is running high, they still end up making videos more on issues, which the NGO is concerned with than issues they are interested in, which leads me to think they are heading the same way too…

Maybe, that’s what the implementers (NGOs, in this case) should aim to focus on – the issues that the participants care for – which make them participants in the first place. But, funding takes the centre-stage of all endeavours and unfortunately, ‘empowerment’ is held in little more esteem than the promised ransom.

I haven’t gathered enough information about continuing experiences from PV projects, which run for a considerably smaller time like few days to a few weeks (mostly due to non-availability of the information). Other than the immediate impacts that the process and the films produced make, there is precious little on, if the feeling of ‘empowerment’ actually leads to considerable continued expression of participants’ agency and capabilities.

What’s tricky

It definitely becomes a precarious situation for the organizations implementing PV. If the NGO wants dedicated participants for long-term, they involve them as employees, as having just volunteers might mean inconsistency in both participation and the desired outputs for the initiative. They are often concerned about meeting the outputs promised to the funders, even at the cost of the community and participants’ expectations (forgetting many times that the project was conceptualized for participants and communities in the first place).

Moreover, not every NGO might be looking at a long-term initiative either. A PV process might be meant only for a particular issue or for a particular campaign, for a defined time / funded-period. In such a case, immediate impacts are of more focus, than long-term capability-building.

I, then question

What does PV then mean as a process, when its conceptualisation is driven by reasons such as the above? Where do the participants stand? Can the scope of PV as a process only lie in what the NGO wants it to achieve? Should a NGO be a constant and legitimate broker of the process?

My research participants recently told me during a discussion, ‘Concept-wise speaking, it should be an independent group of people, who have that itch and drive in them, and can even generate those funds for themselves…it shouldn’t be a NGO project…’

Does the answer lie there?

Whatever be the case, there is a need to question and examine the NGOs’ role, to let participatory processes really have the impact they have the potential for. Participatory Video is just one case.

The questions research participants asked during an exercise for my PhD. Any reference to participants or NGO has been removed to protect their identity.

Postscript: I do recognise that the NGOs implementing PV projects are not specialized in the PV process, and often depend on the video-training organizations to strategise it for them. Many a times they might not be aware of what it entails to do a media project with communities, or they are too concerned internally about things like, immediate impacts, and externally for particular issues, such as continuation and further funding. However, the responsibility has to lie somewhere, in this quest of ‘empowering’ participants and they do have a right to know – to try and practise, what they are preached.

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