by Jennifer Huang
trainee of the ‘Participatory Video Facilitators Course’, Oxford (22-27 September 2014)


In the lower hall of the South Oxford Community Centre, I sat in a circle with a group that included American, Thai, French, Colombian, Australian, Austrian, Dutch, British, Argentinian and Italian scientists, educators, photographers and community organizers. We were there to learn how to run our own participatory video workshops, and I was ready for a week of intense lectures, theoretical discussions, film screenings, and a bit of hands-on training.

Instead, Marleen Bovenmars, one of our facilitators, was demonstrating a wacky handshake: one person holding up two thumbs down –the other person pulling the thumbs downward, as if milking a cow. Soon the room was full of people hilariously, embarrassedly milking each other. I believe we were supposed to make a whooshing sound as well, but I was laughing too hard. Nothing breaks down shyness like mutual indignity.

That icebreaker was followed by interviewing a partner and then drawing that person’s portrait to introduce them to the group, breathless exercises to shoot group videos in ten or twenty minutes, and group discussions reviewing both what we’d learned as workshop participants and as future facilitators. The lectures I had dreaded about three-point lighting, the rule of thirds, or jump cuts never happened.


To be honest, though, I had fully planned to give those lectures about three-point lighting myself, when I start production on my documentary film, tentatively titled The Long Rescue. The film features girls in the Philippines who are rebuilding their lives after being sex trafficked, and early on I decided that I wanted to train the girls how to shoot themselves, and leave cameras for them to use between my shoots.

I had attempted something similar with my senior thesis in college, but this time, I realized my hubris early on –I don’t know the best way to teach camera work, editing and ethics to people with little or no experience with this kind of technology. But I knew who did –InsightShare, an NGO that does just that, notably in its globe spanning project, “Conversations with the Earth.” I had met one of its founders, Nick Lunch, at an event in San Francisco, and instantly loved the ethos he works in –bringing the skills and tools to communities so they can express their own voices in their own way. The videos might be used for communication between villages, with policy makers, for monitoring and evaluation of programs, or in some cases, simply as a process for a group to share, and then destroy the video afterwards.

So even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I was signing up for, I decided to travel to England and join InsightShare’s workshop. It is specifically for people like me, who want to lead their own participatory video workshops –but included people with a wide range of applications. One woman will be working with women in Nepal to document change in their lives with tablet devices, another wants to bring participatory video his toxics watchdog group in Burma, and a group of French educators who want to implement the practice as part of ‘design thinking’ (a really cool sounding process that I can’t possibly explain).

The really crucial concept for me in this training is that we are to be facilitators. Not teachers, imparting knowledge, but coaches who make it possible for the participants to teach themselves. Of course we have to kick things off in various ways, but then the job is to get out of the way and let the group direct their own projects.

For a documentary producer who has learned, out of necessity, to try to control the chaos as much as possible, letting go in this way is the biggest challenge. I have developed my “best ways” to do everything, from setting up a tripod to approaching an interviewee. Which is not to say I’m perfect, but I definitely identify a lot of ways to do it “wrong”. But in this workshop, the first thing we learned was “Mistakes are Great.” It’s important to make mistakes, let others make mistakes, and then learn from them.

All of this makes total sense –most people say that they learn by doing, not by sitting and watching someone else do something. And the great thing about the participatory method is that you learn through fast paced games that really make it fun. There will be a big learning curve for me –both in using the PV games and tools and in learning to step back and not try to make events conform to my mastermind plan. I know this will be really good for me, and much better for my girls.

So even though I had been apprehensive as I got on the plane, (my mother had asked, “Do you have to go all the way to England? Isn’t there somewhere in the US you can do this?”) I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to do this training. I got practical tools to use in the Philippines, as well as a ton of support and inspiration for the project. I met intelligent, articulate, funny people who are working to make the world a better place in their varied and thoughtful ways. I finally made it to a real English pub and Harry Potter’s Great Hall. And I know that no matter what happens with the film, bringing PV to the girls in the Philippines will offer them a valuable new tool for self-expression and media literacy. 


by Zoe Young, InsightShare Associate


It’s not a highly paid job facilitating Participatory Video (PV): there’s a lot of hard work and responsibility, and the challenges can be pretty intense. But for someone devoted to human rights, diverse cultures and conserving the wild, (and with a research and film making background), I can’t imagine a more perfect role. 

Recently I completed my first project as an InsightShare Associate. Freshly re-trained as a PV facilitator, I was helping an international team pilot research on cultural conceptions of environmental justice, providing cameras and training to Tanzanian farmers to express what fairness means to them.

Led by a team including Adrian Martin, Nicole Gross-Camp and Iokinhe Rodriguez from the School of Development at the University of East Anglia (UEA), Conservation, Justice, Markets is an international-scale exploration of comparative cultural conceptions of environmental justice. Communities living among protected forests in China, Bolivia and Tanzania are the subjects of research using interviews, questionnaires, economic games and a range of other tools to elicit local ideas of fairness in relation to managing - and making money from - their local woods.

Ever since my own stint as a university researcher exploring global environmental finance and politics in the 1990s, I’ve been painfully aware that conservation has to start by finding out why plants, animals and our healthy human habitat are being destroyed. Only then can those of us with access to political power identify strategic action for change. Understanding the processes at work requires not only thorough scientific and economic baseline data and analysis, but also an awareness of power politics, psychology, anthropology, cultural humility and more. I found that the best way to gain this understanding is to really listen to people with the most immediate knowledge and concerns in the field – who often have next to no political power.

In light of my background as an author (see ‘A New Green Order?’) and documentary maker (see ‘Suits and Savages’) focused on the politics of finance and conservation, I was invited to propose a video element to the Conservation, Justice, Markets project. My suggestion was that video could potentially be used as a research tool in the project from the start, rather than merely an add-on documentary output, and I put the UEA team in touch with InsightShare.

I first met Nick Lunch of InsightShare nearly fifteen years ago, when he came to a grassroots video activist weekend I was hosting in Wiltshire. Since then, I have remained intrigued by work he leads alongside his brother to empower and give ‘voice to the voiceless’, using modern audio-visual technology in Participatory Video. InsightShare is a social enterprise that works with researchers, development agencies and non-governmental organisations to enable marginalised groups to make films. People who may have never touched even a phone before are facilitated to do everything from operating the video camera and filming each other to deciding on their own edit and consent to share their movie.

My motivation to work in such ways came through experience making the documentary Suits and Savages with Dylan Howitt in the late 1990s. Working with indigenous forest dwellers at Nagarhole national park, Southern India, we produced a video letter from them to the World Bank - who were financing an ill-prepared ‘eco-development’ project in indigenous peoples’ lands. I came to wonder whether the exchange we constructed between the forest and the Bank could have been more powerful locally, had the forest dwellers been able to make and screen a film themselves: on their own terms. We couldn’t have done it with that project, which was a case study for my research into the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility, summarized in my book A New Green Order?. But when the opportunity arose, I could begin working with InsightShare’s PV.


Image: Shooting a Follow up to ‘Suits and Savages’, with the ombudsman who investigated corruption in the India Ecodevelopment project at Nagarhole.

Following an initial facilitator training along with colleagues from Carbontradewatch, my first experience of PV in the field was working with Brazilian campesinos besieged by monoculture tree plantations of a type excused by the ‘carbon trade’, and I organized screenings and presented PV community films from around the world in the ‘Right to Development’ forum at the United Nations .

I see PV as a potent research and empowerment tool for working with marginalised groups to agree and express their needs and values in their own terms, and then bring their films onto platforms where the people themselves may not be able to attend.

So how does it work? As PV facilitators we carry a camera kit to a corner of the world, work with local contacts to arrange a representative group and venue, and then hand the camera kit to the workshop group. With some elementary guidance on basic camera use, storyboarding, and editing, the principle of ‘each one, teach one’ enables the group to learn from their successes and mistakes and thus to teach themselves. The mantra ‘mistakes are great’ helps everyone to soon feel like an expert in a collective process of community self-expression.


Image: Kisangi villagers plan their film

PV for Research in Tanzania

Calling on InsightShare for this project brought us the invaluable support of senior facilitator, Soledad Muniz of Argentina, who trained the UEA team before they left Norwich for Tanzania. Her warmth and efficiency forged our clear path through a multi-layered job of work. The community we worked with was based around a village called Kisangi, an hour or so inland from Kilwa on the fringes of the vast Selous national park.

On our 4-wheel drive each day we passed beautiful great baobab trees - Mibuyu is their name in Swahili, the East African Coastal tongue. The team of researchers included Bolivian, Argentinean, Chinese, Venezuelan, North American, British and of course Tanzanian, so we enjoyed learning each other’s languages on the go. 

It was always going to be a challenge for the research team to pilot the use of PV to research local conceptions of a nebulous ethical concept like justice. Challenges were rife: What words do they use in Swahili, how are those translated into other tongues? What is the social, religious and political context of fairness in this area? How do we introduce the research questions and ensure the community films addressed it, without overly skewing the community’s process from the start? How do we generate and can we standardise lessons from this pilot site for the ongoing fieldwork in Bolivia, China and other sites in Tanzania?

I think it’s fair to say that the work exceeded our slightly anxious expectation. .Click here to view the photostory of the project. 

The screening of the two films created was held outdoors, under the great trees in the centre of Kisangi village. A local DJ, Franco’s Disco Sounds, played loud and funky tunes prior to the screening, so women and children began dancing in a circle - Sole and I joined in with joy.


Image: Screening set up beneath Kisangi’s trees

The films impressed members of the international UEA research team who had arrived later and not been part of the PV process until then. The core group of researcher-facilitators felt their work had generated valuable research findings even from this pilot phase. And even though the Kisangi community’s needs were not the driver for our pilot project in their woods, they too were happy with the results. Our facilitation team collaborated nicely though some of us had never met before we began fieldwork, and we all learned a great deal. Logistics and timetables were at times of necessity a little ad hoc, but overall  enabled us to achieve a lot within a very limited time. Mostly, we look forward to seeing what the researcher trainees do with their new skills in PV as they run their own PV projects in the managed forests of Tanzania, Bolivia and China.

And as for me? I’m basking in a glow of pleasure from seeing an inspired idea of mine made manifest in an international research team using PV to explore environmental justice on the ground. I am also honored to have ‘passed’ my first PV training role working directly with InsightShare. Now that I am an ‘IS Associate’ I’ll working with them to identify and run more exciting grassroots projects here on in.

There are many other fields we would like to bring this tool to bear upon: we may take PV to the upper Amazon to share bio-cultural knowledge of seeds for indigenous food sovereignty and sustainability given climatic change, we may work document fragile heritage buildings across Africa. One day we may even work with the people accused and accusing of ‘witchcraft’, through my connections with the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN). Do you have an idea for using PV? If so, be in touch!

I may not be much of an academic any more, but my research continues. I’m happy that now it takes this potent form: sharing both the investigative process and the insights with some of the world’s least powerful people, while using uniquitous technology to enhance democracy – thanks to InsightShare. 


“The community screening is a space of mutual learning and personal commitment
to keep taking care of Mother Earth.” Rocío Achahui Quenti, Quechua PV facilitator in Peru.

As InsightShare release new guide ‘Community Screenings for Participatory Video’, our Indigenous partners coordinate screenings across 3 continents.


by Nick Lunch

In the latest phase of Conversations with the Earth - Amplifying Indigenous Voices on Climate Change; each community media hub was invited to select one video from their back catalogue of participatory video projects to share with the other hubs and their wider communities. 7 videos were audio-dubbed into local languages Quechua, Ma, Baka, Ilochano, Gamo.

The highlight of my week was receiving a report from Rocío Achahui Quenti in Peru,  where she has been organising 4 community screenings in rural villages and to farmer groups in the Cusco region..

 “With communal authorities and the local government we organised video screenings around the consequences of climate change in our communities, with the goal that families may socialise and reflect on the causes that are behind climate change; as well as see the reality in other countries. We hoped to raise awareness and motivation among the families to take care of Mother Earth; to restore knowledge and ancestral wisdom related to climate change; to create an action plan at family and communal level related to taking care of our environment.”

I asked Rocio why she felt this work was important:

As we know, the Andean region, recognised for its biological, cultural and climatic diversity, today is faced with the threat of climate change. The immediate dangers are the retreating glaciers, water scarcity and deforestation. If we don’t stop pollution and take immediate measures to reduce global warming, we’ll face irreversible consequences, that will bring a crisis with human and economic loses. Those with a direct responsibility are the industries that generate toxic waste and gases creating the greenhouse effect that damages the environment.”

177 people attended the screenings, nearly half of which were women.

One of the audience commented on the power of witnessing the predicament of others:

Everyone should watch these videos made by our indigenous brothers and sisters -because they talk about what is happening in their land, in their community and they help us reflect on the things we should do to prevent that from happening to ourselves and others.”

Whilst another audience member reaffirmed an interest in local solutions:

“Our videos are very important to remind us of our customs -the knowledge, secrets and wisdom from our grandparents is good because it’s respectful -we should remember asking them as we still have some with us.”


“the screening of videos from other countries was good to reflect and value the resources that we still have. Our own videos are very important to remind us of our customs” (audience comment)

Following each screening, Rocio facilitated discussion groups and recorded feedback. I was struck by this interesting reflection by another member of the audience:

“The religions have divided us; alcohol has created family violence and a bad example for the children, and religions have entered to convince people of leaving alcohol and take God’s word. This change has caused family divisions, we have stopped our rituals in agriculture, and the youth say that these customs are a waste of time. These changes made us lose mutual respect between the human community and nature.”

Rocio was particularly excited to see how the screenings became a catalyst for further action:

“Watching these videos motivated them to keep making more videos, so they have invited me to help document the medicinal plants and their uses with Saturnina Melo and her son on Holy Friday.” 

Finally I asked Rocio what were the next steps…

 We plan to suggest to the staff of Environmental offices in the local government to screen the videos in other neighbourhoods to mitigate the effects of climate change and raise awareness to take care of water.”

To download a free copy of the Screening Guide click here!

Read More


At an workshop event at the Ecocentrix exhibition in London last week, Irma Poma Canchumani spoke some fascinating words about how she feels a direct link between the participatory video work she is involved in and her gourd carving, each literally informs the other..


"This is my script. On these gourds I engrave my script - these gourds
tell stories about our traditional clothing, our farming practices,
the origins of our seeds, the way we honor our sacred mountains.
Through the gourd you can follow a visual narrative. Another way I’ve
found to do that is through the medium of video.

Technology can be something valuable: video has the capacity to
transmit knowledge -but often it is used for just entertainment, as a
means of consumption. When we work from the heart we use video to
transmit important ecological and cultural knowledge that is being
forgotten. Technology allows us to document what we value, to travel
with our videos, share how we have been neglecting our Mother Earth.
It can be used to transmit important things like our culture, and our
ecological relationship with Mother Earth (Pacha Mama). When we make
our videos we can transmit these messages from heart to hearts.

Our people are mistrustful of being filmed. They think the film maker
will profit personally from the film and the community will gain
nothing. That is why we use participatory video. It has no heirachy,
there is no “director”, no “editor” -we all work as one. A group of us
comes together to work on a project together.”

Irma Poma is an ambassador for the environment, a traditional healer, and a superb artist. A Quechua gourd carver and filmmaker from Junín province in Peru, she addresses climate change and the protection of traditional knowledge through her gourds and video. Irma got involved with the Conversations with the Earth project in 2009 and was trained in participatory video making by InsightShare.

"Wow, what an incredible privilege! I met Aung Sang Suu Kyi today. She is interested in participatory video, wants to see more of it in Myanmar. She told me the youth here lack skills and opportunities and PV could help build their confidence and self-esteem. We discussed plans to initiate a pilot project in the next weeks!" (Chris Lunch, via email on 14/10/2013). 


Back here in the Oxford office, we are all so proud. We thought Chris looked dashing in his traditional longi (with a spanking new haircut) and wondered what gift he had brought for “The Lady” on behalf of InsightShare. It turns out, some tasty french gruyere cheese & Belgian chocolate! 


During a follow-up last Monday, the Daw Khin Kyi foundation requested proposals for future PV projects in the country. Today Chris already starts facilitating a PV taster workshop in Kolumu, Aung San Suu Kyi’s constituency! Follow further developments via Facebookour blog or Twitter.


This month Sole, Sara and Marleen delivered the 22nd edition of our UK based training of facilitators. We had the pleasure of working with an inspiring group of development practitioners and community workers from across 4 continents. The trainees traveled from Canada, Australia, Brasil, Portugal, Colombia, Scotland and London to join us. 


At a community center in Oxford the trainees practiced and deepened their facilitation skills while learning the basics pf participatory video. They experienced, explored and practiced a wide range of games and group exercises and learned and supported each other through experimental learning, sharing and reflection.


The 6 days were, as always, long and intense - as the course aims to build the trainees’ capacity to deliver on all aspects of the participatory video process, incl. technical learning, group bonding, issue identification and prioritisation, story development, video planning and shooting, editing, screening facilitation and project planning and preparation.


On the last day the trainees proudly presented how they plan to apply their learning during their projects around the world, working with communities in Madagascar and Cameroon, youth in Portugal, Nepal and Brasil, farmers in Colombia and Malawi, aboriginal people in Australia and refugees in London. 


We are grateful for the great energy, valuable insights and experience, critical questions and tears of laughter they brought to the training. We had an amazing time and wish them all the best with integrating the PV learning into their work.

Some messages from the trainees:

"The course was incredibly inspiring and I’m so grateful for getting a place and sponging up all the experience from Marleen, Sara, Sole & Nick. I’ve never before learnt so much on a personal/professional level in such a short space of time. One…two…threee - CLAP to you guys!"

"So amazing working with all of you last week. Truly inspirational. I head to Cameroon on Friday and can’t wait to start putting the things we talked about into action."

"Yesterday I’ve worked on my projects proposal and remembered dearly all the learning and inspiring stuff you’ve shared with me - thank you all, was a great week."

"What a great time it was and again thanks for enveloping us all in the PV spirit! It’s still all very fresh in my mind and I try to calm all these new impressions down and turn them into concrete plans for my upcoming trip to Malawi."

"I was really pleased - the sharing, the building of a PV process, the participants view and the facilitator part - all was conveyed very well - better even than I expected."


This 3-stage capacity building programme aims to pilot participatory video as a tool for community development in the Ayeyarwady Delta.


Two trainees support their community members during the ‘disappearing game’

Stage 1

Last month our trainers Gareth and Sara delivered the first stage of the programme: a two-week intensive training with six village representatives and 3 Lutheran World Federation staff members. Through experiential learning and reflection, the trainees learnt basic video production skills as well as all the essential PV facilitator skills: how to facilitate PV games and exercises and PRA/PLA processes, how to set-up a community screening set-up and how to plan a PV process. During the second week of the training they all undertook their first short practise project in nearby villages, after which they returning to analyse and learn from their practical experiences. 

Click here to view the photo story of the Stage 1 Participatory Video Training.


Community members in the process of planning their films

Stage 2 - Post Training Assignments

Over the past few weeks all trainees facilitated participatory video processes in their own communities. The trainees worked with a Women’s Committee, their Village Development Committee, partner households and youth and helped these groups to focus on issues such as the situation around river erosion and the lack of local livelihoods.


Community members gathered for the video screening

Stage 3 - Peer Review 

This week, during the stage 3 Peer Review training workshop with Chris, the trainees will share their experiences from the field with each other and work hard to fill any gaps in the their capacity to carry out participatory video projects. Together they will also explore and plan how they could continue to use participatory video to enable horizontal information sharing, provide a forum for participatory decision-making as well as a communication tool for local advocacy.


We are delighted to announce that this summer we welcomed three women to our team. Jemimah, Anabela and Keidy are now InsightShare associates.


Maria Anabela Carlón Flores (Yaqui) Teacher and Community Leader

Anabela is an inspiring leader and teacher, who lives in Sonora, northern Mexico and who uses PV as an educational tool to revive traditional ecological knowledge. She describes PV as “a process that seems to be designed for indigenous people”. Anabela is an elder in her community and InsightShare will draw on her expertise in planning the CWE programme’s next steps.


Jemimah Mashipei (Maasai) Community Worker
Jemimah runs PV workshops with the Maasai in Kenya to help them document the impacts of climate change in the country, and share perspectives on The Rights  of Mother Earth — granting all nature equal rights to humans. Despite tough challenges — the communities she works in are far apart, public transport is limited, and the Maasai are suspicious as they have been exploited and objectified in the media for decades — her work is having an important impact. “Maasai culture is in crisis and PV can support our efforts to pass on cultural knowledge between elders and the youth,” she says.


Keidy Transfiguracion (Igorot) Youth Activist
An active member of Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN) in the Philippines, Keidy is responsible for youth education and community outreach, and has coordinated several international gatherings and activist training workshops on climate change. Keidy attended UN COP15 in Denmark, where she presented her community’s films about climate change and the environmental impacts of mining, which were shown to the public and screened at the National Museum of Denmark. Alongside other indigenous women, Keidy led the million-strong march in Copenhagen to protest for tougher commitments on carbon emission cuts.


A scoping and partnership building visit 

by Nick Lunch, Director and Founder

“We need people from within to be trained in PV who will live among us”. -Molu Kulu, d’abeela, Gabbra Elder

Between 24th June and 1st July 2013 I made an 8-day overland journey into the rangelands of northern Kenya, just east of Lake Turkana. It was a scoping visit to several of Kivulini Trust’s local partners; small community organisations based in Isiolo and Marsabit counties. My travel companions were Mercy Gakii (Kivulini Trust Projects Manager), Kula Boru, the driver, and we were joined in the field by Denge Bonaya and Roba Iyesa.


Above: Samburu morans, young warriors. Photographed by the Kivulini Trust


Kivulini Trust was founded by Dr Hussein Isack, a gentle and wise man known in Gabbra circles as Baba Simpirre –the Bird Man! We met at an exhibition launch in Washington nearly 3 years earlier and were drawn into a fascinating discussion where we explored the potential reach, impact and applications that participatory video (PV) could have in his native region. Now we are beginning to work together to manifest this most exciting programme. Conversations with the Earth (CWE) was launched as a 6 month multimedia exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute and no doubt Dr Hussein was impressed by the global reach of the amplified voices of indigenous peoples on climate change. But I think it was the social change aspect of the work going on at ground level: PV as a catalyst supporting community-led reflection, empowerment and self-affirmation. I think it was the visible strengthening of relationships and networks between indigenous cultures both locally and across continents, and the prevailing cultural themes of their videos (of documentation and affirmation) that won his full admiration.

The cultural origins of most of Kivulini’s staff is from the indigenous north; perhaps this accounts for the refreshing atmosphere that greeted me in their Nairobi office. The quiet dedication, and the clear organizational focus on culture. As their website states, “we draw on the wisdom inherent in our communities’ traditional cultural systems and practices, and believe in their power to shape their own destiny - in order to create sustainable livelihoods and inspire the protection and celebration of their rich cultural and natural heritage.” (www.kivulinitrust.org)

Right at the end of my visit I spent a pleasant day in Nairobi with Jemimah Mashipei Kerenge and her cousin Tom. Followers of Insightshare’s work may remember Jemimah is a young Maasai woman who became involved in the CWE programme in 2009 as a participant in a video project in Kenya, and has stuck with us since, training as a PV facilitator and recently joining our team as an Associate. Jemimah, Tom and I were testing out our new audio dubbing technique which worked pretty well and they will now audio dub a selection of 8 videos chosen by each of the CWE hubs into Maa (the language of the Maasai) and organize local screenings. It was so good to see Jemimah again to reinforce our commitment to her as a local PV facilitator, and to replace much of her dusty, worn equipment. I was able to share with her the enthusiasm of the groups I met in the north when I screened some of the PV films she had facilitated with Maasai and Ilchamus women. If we secure funding for this programme, Jemimah will provide core support on the ground. Our dream, to provide local PV expertise rather than flying in teams from UK, looks like it is gradually becoming a reality.


Above: Turkana traditional dances -filming what is valuable


Back to the core purpose of the trip -it actually felt pretty luxurious going on a scoping visit. I’ve never done that before! And I’m really grateful to The Christensen Fund (TCF) and Kivulini Trust for seeing the value and investing time and resources to make it happen.

Imagine getting the chance to spend quality time with a potential partner, getting to know each other, on their home turf! Imagine getting access to your target groups, being able to really explain what you offer, to ask people face to face if they would like to take part in the programme, to listen to what they want and how it should be done. Imagine doing this BEFORE designing the programme or writing the funding proposal….well hang on, that’s really how it ought to be every time!

If only that were always possible!


Above: Discussions with Aada Jabesa Women Group

I’m celebrating that we can now design the programme as equal partners with the Kivulini team, whilst taking into consideration the groups’ needs and local context, as well as the socio-political and environmental factors.

I’m increasingly recognizing some of those factors, with some trepidation for the indigenous peoples living in the region. Many of these forces are familiar, and the consequences are known. For example the latest oil exploration efforts around Lake Turkana and the massive irrigation schemes in southern Ethiopia (sugar plantations), which will further drain the Oromo river flowing south into the Kenyan rangelands. I have seen recent reports that warn the depth of Lake Turkana may drain by some 20 meters! Affecting thousands of traditional fisher folk and pastoralists dependent on the lake. This week I read an article on the latest water capturing scheme planned by the Kenyan government near Isiolo: another dam project to provide irrigation for growing crops in the desert, and to pump water to the town. No doubt meaning communities will be displaced. The new tarmac roads funded by EU, part of a massive “transport corridor” called LAPPSET, to link Ethiopia with the ports of Kenya, will cut through the rangelands and no doubt bring both joy and sorrow to local communities. Combine these external forces (“development”) with the threat of climate change and tendency for extended droughts in the region, and considering the depleting underground water reserves, the rise in tribal conflicts among pastoralists over depleted resources, and the looming spectre of land-grabs along the transport corridor, I can predict this little known region will start to feature in international news bulletins of the near future!


Above: Charcoal making. Bad for the environment, tough work, necessary income for survival.

As my photos show (see link below), I was able to meet community groups across the region and spend time talking, listening, sharing some of the basic PV exercises, screening community films from other places, and discussing local needs and global themes. Ultimately I was there to explore the value of PV to these groups. Back in the UK I am convinced of the value PV can have as a tool to affirm cultural identity, strengthen resilience and to use for advocacy and exchange. Our challenge is to build capacity and a sustainable legacy in the region.


Above: Mary is a natural facilitator We will be seeking people like her for our training programme.

We covered thousands of kilometres on this mammoth overland trip. We often drove 5 or more hours each day on rough desert tracks to reach the next community. But time in the land cruiser was far from boring! We saw hare, fox, ostrich, gazelle, stork, cobra, baboons and more. The landscapes were epic, gigantic, and ancient. The heat and dust at times were intense. Our driver is a legend. If anyone out there has got connections to the Paris-Dakar race let me know because Kula could be a champion! And through Kula I discovered a desert blues tradition I’d never heard of before: the Kono and Borana tribal blues guitarists from both sides of the border. Names like Somosafar, Bonaya, Dulacha and Jirma: mournful, gritty voices sounding like ground up lumps of lava rock that scatter the desert floor.

For those with a sense for geography, the first group we visited was based just north of Isiolo and the last group was located in North Horr quite near the Ethiopian border. Can you imagine a more fascinating cultural journey? Moving gradually northwards through the traditional rangelands of the Turkana people; passing by the Samburu and Rendile communities; entering the lands of the Borana cattle herders near the forested hills of Marsabit; cutting back up the rift valley through salt flats and desert dunes to meet the Gabbra people who are traditional camel herders. Finally, in North Horr we met the Waata hunter-gatherers. On the way I checked out some amazing rock art. Vivid petroglyphs of hunting scenes, several thousand years old, adorning the rocks of a secret gorge. I swam in a water hole in sight of Zebras and Oryx, learned to dance a Turkana “waltz”, and dropped into a Gabbra wedding for the day. Lake Turkana and her sacred mountain Kulal lay ever in the distance to the West. The magical Hurri Hills to the East –enticing me to return and reminding me there are many unknowns ahead, and the journey has just begun.

I wonder –will the tarmac road be complete by my next visit? How will the communities be affected by the changes to come? Is there another drought on the horizon? The situation is harsh and complex. My intention is that we will form a steering committee of local leaders/elders to guide the way of the programme, ensure it is locally relevant, and to act as mentors for the trainee facilitators.


Above: Cinema under the stars, Shuka and Mike Molu’s hut in Kalacha. I recommend the camel’s milk.

Our next steps will be to define our goals and co-design a programme with our partners at Kivulini Trust to have the most beneficial impact for the communities. We will be seeking funding for what I hope will be an impactful and exciting 2-year capacity building programme. Please send suggestions if you know donors who might be interested! I’ll update you on our progress.

What is already agreed is that trainees will be recruited through the 6 cultural groups we visited. The programme will support them to become PV facilitators. We also plan to include pastoralists from southern Ethiopia and to harness cross-border connections. The trainees will introduce their communities to the PV process, working especially with marginalized groups, such as women and youth, and amplifying their concerns, enabling them to document what they value most. “Culture is number One” I was told several times when I asked about local issues…”“our culture is being eroded by western influences and by the dominant religions”.

Now, allow me to introduce you to the groups I met. There are captions to go with the images. From these photos, I hope you get a feel for the power, enthusiasm, dignity and resilient spirit I encountered everywhere. For them, and for Kivulini Trust, Culture is number one.

Link to photo album:



by Ward Karssemeijer, intern September 2012 - March 2013

Ward: Hi Chris. I just checked out you bio and it says that you studied anthropology and started working as a researcher. How did you end up doing Participatory Video with your brother Nick. 

Chris: True, it’s actually a really important part in the genesis of InsightShare. I studied anthropology in Oxford. Afterwards I became a research assistant in a multi-disciplinary team doing research on shepherds in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan after the collapse of the Soviet-Union. As an anthropologist I had many conversations with these shepherds and I had to ask them a lot of questions that I really felt uncomfortable with. Asking a shepherd, for example, how many animals he owns is like asking you how much money you have on your bank account. Also the fact that I was in charge of translating their experiences with my pen into a report that eventually may or may not be used to influence policy did not feel good. At the same time, these shepherds were having real difficulties adapting to the new circumstances. They were struggling to get enough food on the table and to buy clothes for their children.          

“It’s a bit like going up to someone who has been knocked over by a bus and asking them how things are going down there, what it feels like etc…but without being able to actually help them.”

I felt deeply troubled and uncomfortable with that experience. I was even not sleeping well. Weren’t they the ones that should do this analysis and communication? After all, they are the experts. I just found it very hard to justify the research that had no immediate direct benefit for the communities involved. At least the community should be involved in the research collection, its analysis, the reflection, and the results should be communicated in a format that makes sense to them as well. This for me is the minimum requirement…     

Ward: So you felt uncomfortable as a researcher, but how did participatory video get involved then? 

Chris: Meanwhile my brother Nick was already doing participatory video with young people in Oxford. I managed to persuade my research supervisor and head of programme to support our efforts to get funding for a participatory video project with Nick in Turkmenistan. We put together a proposal that got funded by the British embassy. This is how we realised our first participatory video project in the field of international development and research. Not much later I got offered a long-term research job that I turned down in the end to take a much more uncertain path which aimed to build on the potential we had witnessed in Turkmenistan.

Ward: What exactly made you decide to quit your job as a researcher, wouldn’t it be possible to (structurally) involve Participatory Video in your work as a researcher?      

Chris: We did continue to do some good projects together but I kept getting frustrated. I needed to see action linked directly to the research otherwise it felt like a kind of extraction. Also I started wondering if there was something about research institutes that made them closed to innovation. Maybe a fear of taking risks and seeing results that they are not used to see? There felt like some fundamental things just didn’t click, for example, our (InsightShare’s) work is about making mistakes, ‘Mistakes are Great’. In the academic world you don’t make mistakes. You are not allowed to make mistakes. From school upwards it’s about zero mistakes and getting 20 out of 20! Things needed to be so well mapped out and defined for the decision makers in these research institutions to take the risk & invest in innovative approaches…but for us PV is almost the opposite, its a lot about losing this control and opening to the unknown. But I feel like the research environment is really shifting, with new media, the belief in the value of crowd sourcing solutions etc innovative participatory approaches are now being embraced much more readily.

Ward: I think I see what you mean with the ‘fear of taking risks’. During my master thesis I failed to convince my supervisors about using participatory video as a proper research method. With them mainly questioning the way I would translate and analyse the Participatory Video data.

Chris: I think that question in itself is part of the problem. A massive paradigm shift needs to happen. It’s about the way research takes place: you write your piece of research, you prove it, you publish it in a way that it is peer reviewed etc..  You should question who the customers of research are. Academic institution and policy makers? Shouldn’t it be in the first place the communities where the research is conducted? Its a deep … deep change that needs to happen and is part of democratising knowledge production. I wish you could have made it clear to your supervisors that target groups can be involved in reflection. Even if it is subjective, or in fact because it is subjective, it provides valuable knowledge.

Ward: But what would have been the added value of using participatory research in this case? Why is it well suited to doing research?

Chris: At the end of the day research is a very natural process. We have made it terribly complicated. Humans have always done their own research. We all know how to do research and we are all experts in our own reality. Participatory video is a very natural way of doing research. Together we collect information and then watch it back. We discuss it and add or change something. The information is validated and then again shared with a wider audience a kind of “peer review” and “triangulation”. That’s where people say: “hey, that’s not how I see it at all. I think this is the problem … “. In the end a final film, which incorporates this peer reviewing, can be presented.

Ward: What type of research fits well with participatory video?

Chris: I think you can say that participatory video and research fit most seamlessly within an action research approach. We are also able to work with more traditional research if there is an interest in meaningful participation and opening up the process of knowledge production and allowing a humble approach where you go and see. It’s about really giving the community the chance to frame some of the questions in the research that allows you to get a new perspective of the problem. Furthermore, the research should be in line with our core charter.

Ward: What is the best way of using participatory video in research?  

Chris: Often the framing of the research question still comes from the ‘northerners’. The research question is posed from the NGO or researcher’s perspective. Within that question the communities are able to give their opinions. But still, asking the first question involves some kind of power dynamic. The best way would be to go to the communities with a more open agenda. We do manage to do that sometimes. When we ask them (the communities) to identify the issues themselves there are usually many surprises. When you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you ask questions? Much of what is crucial in a piece of research will be beyond the horizon of our world view and our theoretical models, methods like PV can help to build into the research approach the expectation that you are going to be surprised!

Ideally it would be about what kind of interventions the communities themselves feel are needed and what kind of research knowledge would best support them. Ideally the question would come from a clearly identified need which is deeply thought through on a community level. The communities are the ones that are asking the questions and it’s that way around. That’s what I would like to see more of.

What we would love is for research disciplines and areas of expertise to be almost offered to communities as a kind of menu card they could choose from!

I really think PV has so much to offer in terms of making power relations and the nature of research more transparent. PV offers the opportunity for research with rather than on people and the researcher to be in service to the community, rather than the “researched” being in the service of the researcher.

Ward: For the people that really became interested in research and participatory video, what would you advise them to have a look at?

Chris: We did a project called NORMA. The aim of the project was to identify key research requirements for natural resource management to support existing policies for sustainable integrated mountain development in the Karakoram-Hindu Kush-Himalayan (KHKH) region. We worked with communities in three different countries (India, Pakistan and China). These communities created their own films with recommendations for research. The communities were asked to select two representatives that would present the films during a multi-stakeholder workshop in Scotland. We then worked in small groups using participatory methods to enable an equitable exchange of views between all the key stakeholders, irrespective of their level of formal education. The aims were to identify the major research needs, strategize how they could be achieved and then predict the likelihood of success. We used the films as the starting point for the whole workshop. It became a reference all the way through the workshop.

We have just finished another initiative called Video Girls for Change, in which we trained adolescent girls to use Participatory Video & Most Significant Change. This approach has a lot in common with participatory research. The girls collected the data, in this case stories of change from other girls, we then helped them to use drama and visual techniques to group and analyse the data collected, verifying their interpretations through regular screenings and participatory exercises involving different stakeholders. Finally they put together a video report to share their learning, analysis and recommendation. One of our country partners, Angel Del Valle said:

"we are de-colonising research as girls are doing each step of the process, including analysis."

This is an excellent example of community led research. Now those girls are giving conferences and  presenting their findings and films and addressing development practitioners and researchers in webinars as equals, as “local experts”. They have grown through the process and have gained new insights about themselves, their peers, their communities and about girl programming and they have shared these locally and globally. People that are interested in finding out more can always get in touch with us.  

Ward: Thanks again Chris, for me this interview was really helpful to get a better insight into how research and participatory video can work together.