The power of participatory visual methods

The power of participatory visual methods

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  • Giving a voice to people – visual communication has the ability to engage a wide cross-section of society directly. For example, visual posters can be displayed in public places and videos can be uploaded to social media.
  • Going beyond writing – in many places, people cannot read and write well, so visual documentation of local issues means that people are able to express themselves more easily. In addition, using images can help to promote more relaxed and aware participation. This can be empowering which gives confidence to people to make changes to their situation.
  • Sharing and exchanging ideas – it can be used to spread and exchange ideas and information between communities, as well as with researchers, decision makers and policy makers.
  • Change ways of thinking – it can be useful in challenging conventional ways of thinking. Sometimes people ask questions thinking that they already know the answer. Instead, through images, you can engage with alternative perspectives and find unexpected answers.

The Collective uses the participatory visual approaches of Participatory Video and Participatory Photography and Storyboarding.

Participatory Video is a process involving a group or community in shaping and creating their own films according to their own sense of what is important, and how they want to be represented. Similarly, Participatory Photography allows people to express themselves and tell their stories through pictures and words. Both methods help to bring together different people’s views and ideas on particular issues, and help communicate them in an easy and clear way.

Storyboarding, where participants draw pictures that can be joined together into a story is a key ingredient of the Participatory Photography and Participatory Video techniques, but we also use it as a stand-alone method in contexts where drawing is more appropriate.

At the centre of Storyboarding, Participatory Photography, Participatory Video we find three elements: images (still and moving), words, and a story. When people are asked to tell a story, they are encouraged to reflect on some aspects of their lives/activities, to confront them, to take a position, and to present it to others. The way a person or a community decides to tell her/his story, choosing what to include, what to exclude, what to show, what to say and how, reveals a lot of thoughts going on with themselves and stimulates discussion within the community.

The ultimate purpose in any development and conservation intervention is to achieve positive impact. Relying solely on scientific and rational techniques without capturing people’s feelings and emotions rarely provides the spark for catalysing change. Visual forms of communications such as storyboards, photostories and films can provide that spark.

Jay Mistry
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Professor of Geography - Royal Holloway, University of London

Jay has more than 22 years’ experience in teaching, researching and building capacity for natural resource management with local communities. Her particular interests include supporting local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation, local environmental governance, action research using participatory video and capacity building for natural resource management.

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