September 2015 Discussion: Using Video as a Tool for Community-led Monitoring

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Welcome to September’s monthly discussion, which continues the theme of participatory monitoring! I’m Jessica Mayberry from Video Volunteers and I’ll be facilitating the discussion this month. Video Volunteers is a media and human rights NGO based in India. One of our main programs is IndiaUnheard, a network of nearly 200 Community Correspondents who report on corruption, human rights and community news across 120 districts of India. They report in order to show the world their realities and to get solutions. They show the videos back to government officials and communities and then create impact campaigns—either at the village level or, with Video Volunteers' staff, at the national or international level. These are stories that are of, for and by the community, but which occasionally get traction in the mainstream media as well. Our reporters are, in essence, community monitors of government programs.

Last month, Nazdeek posed several thought provoking questions about ensuring communities can meaningfully participate in documentation. And, here’s why Video Volunteers thinks it's important that communities—as opposed to outside experts—monitor:

  • It's empowering. Instead of an outsider studying a villager to see how much she has ‘changed’, villagers get to decide what matters and report back on things that are of significance to them.
  • It builds skills that stay within the community, i.e. tech, journalistic, communications skills.
  • It raises people's awareness of their fundamental rights and of wider economic factors such as government or donor funds.

As you see, community-led monitoring can take various forms. Our organization decided to use video because it is a tool that also gives people a 'voice'. This month, we’d like to get a discussion going among Working Group members and explore the potential of video as a tool for community-led monitoring. Our community-led video monitoring projects have served many purposes, including:

  • Immediate resolution: we have produced several thousand videos through IndiaUnheard, and a research/planning/scripting process is roughly as follows—identify a powerful, emotional personal story (i.e. a case study); identify what law is violated; explain grievance redress mechanisms; and deliver a call to action through local campaigns.
  • Program evaluation: we convinced UNDP to turn over the evaluation process in one of their India programs to so-called 'beneficiaries'. We conducted trainings with 20 women who then monitored the success of the UNDP program on Self-Help Groups initiatives and made videos conveying the messages from the rural women on what women's empowerment actually means to them.
  • Legal and advocacy work: when we see a certain trend emerging in the communities' reports, we launch campaigns to bring those voices to higher authorities. We are doing this currently on maternal health, education, untouchability, forced evictions and gender violence.
  • Human rights in conflict areas: for example, in Kashmir or in the so-called ‘Maoist’ areas of India. Safety is the main priority here, but thankfully there are now many great resources produced by civil society networks (e.g. Video4Change) regarding how to do this safely with video.

In our experience, video is found to be very effective because:

  • You don’t need literacy to produce a video, or to watch it. It’s effective particularly in areas with high levels of illiteracy. Also, people love to watch video—if you put up a screen in villages in India, you’ll have hundreds of people ready to watch and learn.
  • There are certain intriguing processes—like participatory video games—that bring people together and draw their attention towards generating solutions to challenges.
  • YouTube is now the biggest growing part of the Internet—video is an effective way to bring community voices to decision-makers. A video that is entirely produced by a community group can be comprehensible to audiences of experts.

I’d love to hear examples of the ways other Working Group members have used video. Which aspects of video have you found to be most helpful? What have you found challenging? It would be great to hear from those Working Group members who might be interested in trying video for the first time, too. What are some of your biggest questions or things you are keen to learn?

We believe that democratic technologies such as video have the potential to take community-led monitoring in a really exciting direction. Here are some ideas of how it could look in the future:

  • Much less top-down, ‘expert’-led monitoring: in this age of easier access to technology, it's hard to justify doing it any other way but community-led.
  • More mixing of media: datasets need stories to bring them alive. Case studies need data to make them credible. We find that one individual video may move government officials to action in an incredible way. To show a systemic problem, however, you need data. Thankfully, more and more community members have a device (their cell phones) in their back pockets, which can be used to report issues via SMS or to fill out surveys (e.g. via Facebook) asking things like the presence of teachers in a local school or the quality of electricity connection.
  • More need for collaboration: civil society organizations should make their data public, and collaborate on data collection, perhaps by coming up with a set of common questions. We have just published one news article on this aspect, presenting an example of how video can be combined with data.

What do other Working Group members have on their wish list for technology-driven community monitoring? The question, 'are you getting what is your right?' is one of the most empowering, motivating questions that communities can be asked because it encourages people to get information about their rights and to stand up for them. If the ESCR community can find more creative ways to ask that question and solicit answers to it—through video or other tools, there could be a groundswell of community participation in the ESCR monitoring work. I look forward to hearing your perspectives on this or any other thoughts you have about tools for community-led monitoring.

* Jessica Mayberry is the founding director of Video Volunteers (VV), a media and human rights NGO based in India. VV works as a team of more than 200 people–journalists, filmmakers, farmers, human rights experts, village leaders, teachers and more–who are all committed to empowering communities with a voice. Providing communities with story and data gathering skills, VV’s models of community-led monitoring and advocacy assist the world’s unheard communities to articulate and share their perspective on the issues that matter to them.

Facilitator: 
Jessica Mayberry (Video Volunteers)
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