Participatory visual processes in Nairobi’s margins


Thea ShakrokhThea Shakrokh

I recently spent a week in Nairobi with community researchers from The Seed Institute and Spatial Collective (two of the research group members within Participate []) who were learning about participatory video as an action and research strategy within their participatory research initiatives. Participatory visual processes provide creative possibilities for the very real issues affecting people’s lives to be captured. Jackie Shaw from Real Time facilitated a journey through which the researchers gained hands on experience of facilitating a participatory video process, and looked at how the approach could be used to amplify the voices of the most marginalised in their communities, and generate dialogue with decision-makers.

Community researchers in Kasarani, Kenya learning about facilitating participatory video processes.

Community researchers in Kasarani, Kenya learning about facilitating participatory video processes.

The potential of participatory video to visually communicate the context specific issues, concerns and aspirations of community members resonated strongly with the community researchers. As participatory video is a creative process there is flexibility in its use. This meant that in learning about the approach researchers were able to think about ways to connect it to their own visions for action research; it was interesting for example to hear the nuances in the way that the purpose of participatory video was interpreted:

“Participatory video is a tool for highlighting issues on the ground that do not yet have a strong presence in public debate, for example disability issues.”

“It is a group process that enables issues to come out as people have conversations through working together.”

“Participatory video will enable more people in the community to be reached and in an interactive way which will provide community ownership over the issues generated.”

“Censoring of the narrative, which traditionally happens in survey work is removed, the story coming through is true to the detail of what the community members were sharing. Also the authenticity of the voices will remain, for example the language of the youth will be what is heard.”

What came across clearly in the conversations that took place over this week, was the importance the groups placed on the empowering nature of participatory video – in particular, the way that the exploration of community stories is placed at the centre of the process as opposed to starting with the external policy context which is so often the case. By creating a space for issues to be deliberated and communicated collectively, there was a feeling of increased power behind the message articulated.

For me what is really powerful about participatory video is that it provides a space for communities and policy-makers to make connections that are grounded in the reality people’s lives, and their physical spaces. Importantly, in the context of Participate, the digital nature of video makes the perspectives and voices of people living in poverty accessible at the local, national, and international levels; from cross-community dialogues to global policy debates, with strong possibilities of dialogue between the two.


Spatial Collective community researchers sharing the participatory video process with their peers in Mathare settlement, Kenya

The next steps in Nairobi will be to take participatory video to the communities that Spatial Collective and The Seed Institute work which they hope will bring a new dynamic to their work. The Seed Institute are planning to use participatory video to provide new opportunities for children with disabilities to participate in and lead the learning and action activities that they facilitate. The Spatial Collective moved very quickly to share the method across their team of youth leaders who coordinate community-led mapping in Mathare settlement. They are planning how to make their inquiries into community issues deeper by creating spaces for wider community interactions through forums and debates around the films that are made.

Participatory visual processes can reveal and communicate powerfully about experiences from the margins by providing contextualised examples of the complex and subjective aspects and consequences of development. It will be really interesting to see how the use of video develops in both organisations and across the initiative, and also how the various actors in this post-2015 debate respond to making a very real, very human connection with people living in poverty.

Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other recent blogs by Thea Shahrokh:

States of Exception, A Tragedy in Unceasing Acts: Development Encounters


Patta Scott-VilliersPatta Scott-Villiers 2013

All names have been changed.

My bare feet are enjoying the soft carpet. Today in Istanbul I am a tourist with time to think, an outsider pampered and lightly fleeced by traders. The carpet of the Rustan Pasha mosque is the colour of the best pink guavas, and the arches and domes are tiled with twining blue-green iznic leaves, tendrils, tulips and pomegranates. Arabic script runs around the wall. I hear the sounds of the call to prayer; there is no God but God.

I’m thinking of Adala and Khatib in the West Bank, Haq, Ustaz, Sira and all of that lot in Gaza. How differently they are reacting to the occupation. And Rachel in Israel, wanting the occupation lifted, discarding ideas one after the other. What a muddle. What excellent people. Adala is a lawyer and Khatib an accountant, they live in a neat village clustered on a hillside in the Jordan valley in the shadow of a tall concrete wall topped with razor wire. Haq is a burly human rights activist in Gaza City. Some years ago, exhausted by the rejection of his eloquence against cases of abuse, he started a youth centre. I can imagine how the young people, blockaded into that strange strip of land, love his witty jokes and enormous smile. He seems to know everyone of any consequence in the sprawling claustrophobic city, among them Ustaz with his round glasses and wide open eyes. Ustaz teaches at one of Gaza’s many universities, leading his students in an enthusiastic tumble of online protest. Haq and Ustaz haven’t met Adala and Khatib face to face. That was the idea, but it didn’t work out. It was brewed up by Oxfam, an aid agency whose people devise a never-ending series of interventions in places like this. Oxfam invited all of us to research new ways of seeing the war, and then found that only I, an Englishwoman and a few of their privileged Palestinian and Israeli workers could get across all the borders and wires and security cordons that crisscross the Palestinian territories.

As I look around the Istanbul mosque, at the dome and its beguiling patterns, the arches and friezes and grace of it all, I think the people who built this place and those who built my culture have a common ethical root. We ought to be able to agree. But of course, I don’t really know which root and whether. After a while I get up, embarrassed. How can someone who isn’t, contemplate in somewhere that is, unless it’s a misunderstanding or an imposition? The proper congregation move in and out. I have a wish to talk, to resolve our differences.

Outside on the loggia I cross the worn marble paving and sit on the lower step of a stone staircase that runs up against the outer arcade of the courtyard. I’m with my sister in law and her husband on a weekend trip to Istanbul. I’m on my way home from Palestine, They came here on a cheap flight from England. We chat and read out passages from a book about Ottoman intrigues. There’s a fold-up awning and pots of sage and geraniums stamped with the moniker of the town council. A man in grey approaches. ‘Good afternoon, how are you? How are you enjoying Istanbul?’ ‘Wonderful,’ we reply. ‘You are lucky with the warm day, it will rain tomorrow. Can I get by? I am going up to my office.’ I want to discuss ethics and history with him, but he ushers us off. I wonder who he is. The imam perhaps, if he has an office here. Is his weather forecast mystical or meteorological? I think of stern teachers raging from pulpits.

Two days ago I was in Jerusalem, with half a day before my flight. I’d finished all my meetings in Palestine and would meet Rachel in the evening to talk the Israeli side of the research. I tumbled by chance into an Ethiopian orthodox church, two chambers painted with rusted golden stars hollowed from the root ball of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. I sat there for a while, this time on a wooden chair. I put money into a wooden plate and the priest nodded. I wanted to talk to him too, about centuries of agreement and disagreement about religious details, territory and trade, but no language. How can someone who isn’t, contemplate in somewhere that is? I invade, I retreat, leaving a faint trail of idealism.

I had supper with Rachel in the city vegetable market, the stalls shut up for the night and the arcades reoccupied by young Israelis eating and listening to music. She is a university teacher like me, an Israeli who wants change. She said, ‘I so wanted to be able to work with the Palestinians in the West Bank. I wanted just to be able to hear what they have to say. But they refused. Told us to keep out of their struggle and get on with our own.’ She and I were trying to work out what to do next. We knew now that we couldn’t all research together, Palestinians and Israelis in a happy little collaboration that breaks the wall in some cheerful subversive way. Round the corner drifted a violin playing a mix of Jewish wedding and Arab oasis dances. She had just come from her grandfather’s funeral, days and days in his house with waves of relatives, friends and comrades of the Zionist pioneer. How does the colonialist make amends? It seems all we do is compound history.

Three days ago I was in Gaza. Haq on the ragged seafront was explaining, ‘we are being paid by the US, the EU and Israel to die slowly.’ And then he laughed. The air conditioner was throwing out cold air, the sea lapped on the beach, the peaches from Israel had been banned by Hamas. Ustaz said, ‘at least we are very well educated.’ Sira tapped at her blackberry. She said, ‘I met a woman at the graveyard. She told me how she brought the body of her father on her back. No one helped her. I wrote a blog about it. Sometimes my blog is sad, but a lot of it is normal happy life. People who comment say they can’t believe that we have normal life in Gaza under the blockade. They think I am lying.’ The conversation lilted around, it had arches and arcades, friezes of Arabic scripts and tiled sections of twining leaves, tulips and pomegranates. The talk was of politics, fruit and every day insults twined together. Their laughter had the rich undertones of suffering.

And before that I was in Ramallah in Palestine’s West Bank. Ramallah is a limestone city, its hills crammed with new ministries and apartments. My colleague Mismaa and I were driving across town to her apartment. ‘American and European aid money built these,’ she told me. The citizens strike and demonstrate and the Palestinian Authority pays itself and backpedals. I suppose the money confuses, tempts and enrages people while the West Bank is quietly engulfed by Israel’s hungry settlements. Mismaa is studying with me in UK, and I had asked her to help me lead the research project in her homeland. Mismaa’s husband, back from work, fed us on chicken and pitta. We were playing with the idea of some revolutionary Palestinian-Israeli reframing of the terms of the questions about Palestine. We looked at each other. Mismaa will never give up, she can’t. She just isn’t like that.

Driving to Bethlehem to meet Adala and Khatib, a circuitous route around the orange-lit settlements that are creeping outwards from the tops of hills and ridges, my companions pointed out the olive groves unpicked, dessicating under the lengthening shadow of slabs of concrete and snaking razor wire; mazes of encircling wall and watchtowers watched both ways by teenagers. I saw some Bedouin huddled on a stony hillside in what looked like cardboard boxes. Mismaa told me their villages are unrecognised, so they have no electricity. Unrecognised by whom? Everyone I supposed.

Back in Ramallah, in a hotel near the Ministry of Interior, Mismaa and I met Adala and Khatib again. Adala the lawyer swept into the room. ‘Hello, hello.’ She has a lovely gravelly voice. Her headscarf is a platform for a pair of immense black sunglasses. She said ‘we have been with young people and civil leaders. They were all very cooperative, but they didn’t want to be filmed. Almost everyone we met said that Palestinians shouldn’t be collaborating with Israeli organisations and Oxfam shouldn’t encourage it. Everyone said that this kind of charity only helps the occupation.’ I heard her getting more absolute with every sentence. It is the inexorable nature of occupation, I thought. It builds rickety soapboxes. Adala is my heroine and nemesis, leading a tragic struggle against decades of steely occupation. My nemesis, because we will never agree what it is best to do. Rabeh and Khatib nodded their heads, brown eyes unblinking, adding detail from different villages under the wall.

I asked, in my researchy way, if the statements were accurate. ‘If they are and you can prove it, perhaps you can argue for a change in the way aid is done in Palestine. Something beyond this resignation… But are you putting words into the mouths of your compatriots? Do you have enough different people saying this? Is it only your friends you are speaking to?” Adala gave me a withering look. She talked over me to the others. Her black eyes were sparkling, her acolytes agreeing, insisting. ‘The Israelis should not be trying to help us while occupying us,’ she argued. She faced me. ‘You want us to reconcile with Israel don’t you?’ Then she added, ‘I am not saying you should leave. But you should listen.’ ‘No, no,’ I said, ‘I don’t want you to reconcile…, but, but…,’ I turned my palms up to the ceiling ‘I just want you to be accurate.’ She was right, of course. I get exasperated when I listen to her, so quite a lot of the time I don’t.

Adala and her friends, Haq and his friends are states of exception in their different parts of Palestine. It’s the bitter-real idea of Giorgio Agamben, the Italian philosopher who at one point studied the Nazi concentration camps. He shows how the state makes an exception of certain categories of people, and renders them into an existence that is barely alive, just in order to make itself sovereign. Rachel and I are not states of exception. We are not being dissipated and twisted by those that would rid themselves of us. Rachel once was of course, or her family were. You may ask questions of Adala, and her replies will sound repetitious and distant. She is somewhere beyond you, out in a territory of loss. A place of ghosts. I couldn’t think of anything useful to say to her.

The chorus in Gaza reached a rhythm. ‘See how we are turning on each other, blaming each other! See how we could be once again alive and happy!’ Haq makes us laugh. Not just Haq, we all make one another laugh. They are so elegant and urbane. Adala the tragic queen, barks at them, ‘you normalise and we lose everything!’ If they were face to face, which they are not since she is in the West Bank and the chorus is in Gaza and they are not allowed to meet, Haq’s laughter might work on her, or her fury might work on him.

Adala fixed her black eyes on me and talked again. I said ‘yes, yes,’ but I didn’t mean it and she knew it. I meant ‘stop talking!’ Neither she nor I stopped talking. We clashed on the field of the gorgon, the state of exception outside the walls of the promised land. The gorgon is the war, busy making good out of this divisive state of affairs, yes. We let the gorgon come. We could think of no way to avoid it. Our idealisms locked horns. She the occidentalist and I the orientalist. The Gazans turned back to their coffee and cigarettes, their stories and laughter curling up into the dome of the breezy sky. And I returned to my thoughts in the Rustan Pasha mosque, then made my way through Istanbul’s crowded streets under the aching beauty of its minarets.

Patta Scott-Villiers is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

The power of results and evidence artefacts


Rosalind Eyben photo miniRosalind Eyben

The Big Push Forward is inviting case studies as evidence about the politics of evidence for sharing at next April’s conference. Please send us your stories. If you prefer your name not to be published, we will help you edit the story to protect your anonymity.

Development projects and programmes are increasingly being planned, appraised, implemented and evaluated in terms of ‘results’ and ‘evidence’. ‘Evidence’ is about what works to solve a problem which leads to action – intervention or treatment of the problem – that delivers ‘results’ which are reported upon and possibly also evaluated. The two discourses share in common a particular understanding of causality, efficiency and accountability that originated in and remains more prevalent in countries with an anglo-saxon empiricist tradition. However, through the dominance of English-language based global institutions such as the World Bank, they are spreading widely within the international development sector and into developing countries.

Results and evidence discourses shape our working practices through artefacts, such as logical framework analyses. These gain their power through incentives (carrots) and mandatory requirements (sticks). Different results and evidence artefacts are used in different processes at various stages in the development sector’s funding cycles. Results artefacts are used for planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting purposes e.g.

  • Payment by results
  • Results reports
  • Performance measurement indicators
  • Logical framework analysis
  • Theory of Change
  • Base-line data
  • Progress reviews

Evidence artefacts are used for choice of intervention, detailed appraisal and evaluation e.g.

  • Randomized control trials
  • Systematic reviews
  • Cost-effectiveness analysis
  • Option appraisal
  • Social return on investment
  • Business case
  • Impact evaluation

We may become so accustomed to using one or more of these artefacts that no external control is required to ensure our compliance. It is also common for an organisation to voluntarily adopt one of these artefacts in the absence of any mandatory donor requirement. Or even when their use is mandatory, a grant receiving organisation may be more exigent and controlling in how they are used than may had ever been envisaged by the artefacts’ originators.

Thus artefacts can take on a life of their own, independent of the authority that had initially required their use. Whether we find an artefact useful in our endeavours will influence how we feel about it. Our personality, experience and kind of job – including for example if we are independent consultants working for different organisations – may also influence our response. But the emotional and power effects such artefacts have on us also depends on the kind of organisation we work for, not only its position in the aid chain but also on its institutional culture and leadership. For example, two recipients of a similar grant from the same funding agency may differ widely in their attitudes and response to identical mandatory requirements.

Results and evidence artefacts are increasingly shaping our work experience in the international development sector. They frame what we are trying to achieve, shape how we spend our time and influence how we relate with our colleagues, partners, grantees and donors. What has been your experience? Please send us your case studies of the effects of any one of the artefacts listed above (or of another results or evidence artefact of which you have personal experience.

The Big Push Forward is looking for…

  • A case of how you have observed a specific artefact’s effects in practice (Note that we are not looking for a commentary on an artefact’s theoretical strengths and limitations but rather for stories of how you have observed the effects in practice.
  • Between 400-700 words would be good;
  • Firsthand experience (not hearsay) and from the development sector.

We need your email address but won’t share that with anyone else if you tell us you want to stay anonymous. If you do, the organisations and individuals described in your story must be given pseudonyms. Please contact us directly with your submissions.

Rosalind Eyben is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and her Twitter account is: @rosalindeyben

Previous blog posts by Rosalind Eyben:

Eleven predictions for Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood (if they continue to remain in power)


Mariz Tadros photo miniMariz Tadros

Television viewers and newspaper readers following the political scene in Egypt may have been struck by the most recent spate of violence involving pro-President Morsi Muslim Brotherhood followers who launched a brutal attack on peaceful demonstrators which left five dead and hundreds injured.

What happened? What went wrong? The truth of the matter is that any reading of the recent political thinking from the Muslim Brotherhood (forget about the public relations interviews) suggests that this is just the beginning.  The worst is yet to come. In case some are wondering whether this is too gloomy, please note that all the evidence we have suggests some of the predictions below (number 4-9) are already coming to life.

Here are my predictions:

1: The Muslim Brotherhood, supported by other Islamist factions,  will secure the needed majority vote for passing the constitution-  even when all non-Islamist political forces boycott the referendum. We will see a repeat of the referendum on the proposed amendments to the constitution that we witnessed in March 2011, in which the Brothers (and other Islamists) mobilized a Muslim majority poor population to mark the green circle if they loved their religion (green being symbolic of Islam) and black if they wanted to follow the infidels and their religious leaders (Christian Orthodox priests in Egypt wear a black turban-like head gear).

2: The Brothers and the Salafis will win the parliamentary elections which will be neither free or fair, as religion will be used instrumentally to the maximum effect, propped up by welfare services and backed by direct vote purchasing. However, the parliamentary elections will meet the West’s satisfaction of being a milestone onto democracratization because the Islamists would have won via the ballot boxes.

3: The new parliament will issue legislation of a political nature that enables further monopolisation of power into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. It will also issue legislation of an ideological nature to deepen the Islamization of state and society by introducing new laws and revoking old ones, all under the banner of endorsing Shariah-compliance.

4. There will be a “cleansing” of the judiciary of all elements within it that are not friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood regime. This will be achieved through so-called constitutional and legal means. Instead, new graduates of Shariah school from Al-Azhar University (one of the Sunni world’s largest establishments) will be appointed as judges in their hundreds. Gradually, women judges will either be appointed to administrative non- judicial tasks or they will be “encouraged” to take up early retirement

5. The margin of separation between the executive, the judicial and the legislative will narrow increasingly, such that there will be a synchronization of agendas to endorse the Islamist state. Facilitating and catalyzing such a merger will be led by the new class of ulama (religious scholars) who will play a more behind-the-scenes role at first,  beginning but that will become increasingly open afterwards.

6. The opposition and its key leaders will be subject to intense vilification (and possibly tried) for being antagonistic towards the implementation of God’s laws and being disrespectful towards the Muslim ruler. Eventually the more confrontational leftist political parties will be dissolved under the premise that their normative framework is in defiance with the Shariah.

7. Women’s rights will shrink considerably. More young girls will be given in marriage before or in early puberty and in poor areas sex trafficking will increase. This will be covered under the mantra of marriage, which will in some instances increase polygamy. The percentage of women in leadership positions at all levels of governance will diminish and violence against women will increase under various guises.

8. Religious pluralism will be a thing of the past. More religious cleansing of the country’s ten percent Christian population will happen, through the expulsion of people from their villages and towns. Increasingly, the Islamists will mobilise people to “weed out” undesirables and present them for trial for insulting Islam and his prophet Mohamed.

9. Poverty will continue to grow, but Egypt will become an increasingly “sadaqa society”, to use Deniz Kandiyoti’s term. A sadaqa society is premised on the practice of Islamic charity where aid is distributed to the needy and faithful. The culture of the poor being the objects of religious-inspired benevolence rather than citizens with entitlements will become increasingly diffuse.

10. Independent media outlets (in particular satellite broadcasting) will be subject to increasing repression and some will be closed down. The freedom of the press will shrink considerably and in some instances, the government will not have to do anything about it – the Muslim Brotherhood militias will assume the responsibility of intimidating and threatening media professionals sufficiently such that they either quit or self-censor.

11 Finally – and this may possibly lead to a toppling of the regime – the Muslim Brotherhood will announce war with Israel. In order to do that, they could not (and would not) rely on the state of the Egyptian army. Resorting to other regional forces will be necessary and all kinds of military alliances will be made. This may seem unlikely now in view of Morsi’s brokering of the ceasefire in Gaza and his cosy relationship with the US government, but that will eventually change.

Mariz Tadros is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other recent blogs by Mariz Tadros:

The stark realities lying behind the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill


Stephen Wood photo miniStephen Wood

For those of us working internationally to uphold the rights of sexual minorities, the reappearance of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on the agenda for the Ugandan Parliament has taken on a chillingly familiar air.

In spite of a successful campaign by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL) within Uganda that prevented the Bill’s passage when it was introduced in 2009, the particularly pernicious elements of the Bill remain intact in this new assault on the human rights of Ugandan citizens. From what the Coalition can see, the worst excesses of the original legislation remain unaltered.

Increasingly though, on this occasion attention is being drawn to wider implications beyond the immediate impact of the proposed Bill. A pattern is recognisably emerging where it appears the flames of virulent homophobia are fanned at times when other issues more crucial to the interests of Ugandan citizens risk dominating public discourse.

Currently, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill lies in a queue behind another controversial bill that will determine who has access and control over Uganda’s lucrative oil resources.  Similarly, a number of high-level corruption scandals dog the Government, such as those within the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Public Service, which have led in recent weeks to aid withdrawal from a number of countries, including the UK and Germany. Simultaneously, attacks on press freedom and civil society continue to occur.

Accusations that the Ugandan Government is diverting attention isn’t just a convenient conspiracy theory being propagated by opponents of the Bill, but has also received support from the most unlikely of places.  The National Coalition Against Homosexuality and Sexual Abuses in Uganda (NCAHSAU) have come out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, arguing that current legislation on the statute books is sufficient to criminalise homosexuality. They also believe that the Bill is distracting attention from dealing with serious corruption in the country.

Alongside the headline “kill the gays” provisions within the Bill and an unprecedented intrusion into the private sphere of Ugandan society, the legislation also has troubling implications for other states within the international community and the ability for those of us engaging in development to operate safely and effectively with our partners in-country.

One of the under-discussed elements of the Bill is the provision for Ugandans who engage in same-sex activities outside of Uganda to be extradited for punishment. Considering the likelihood that if the Bill is passed, some Ugandan citizens may feel compelled to leave their country for sanctuary, this move represents a robust assertion by the Ugandan Government to take this political fight to the international community.  Yet how realistic and practical would this be? What level of intrusion into private behaviour in countries such as the UK would the Ugandan authorities be able to monitor in order to bring charges against Ugandans living here? Are countries with strong human rights provisions in their law likely to agree to extradition under this context?

I’m adding my voice to  the growing international coalition in condemning the current move to pass this dangerous, discriminatory and undemocratic Bill. As I’ve written previously, for an organisation working alongside partners globally on a variety of poverty alleviation and aid issues, this Bill represents a threat to our ability to support vulnerable communities in improving health, education, civic participation and economic outcomes in Uganda.

Stephen Wood is a researcher on the Sexuality and Development Programme in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and can be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK

Read other recent blogs by Stephen Wood: