Participatory media production as a tool for research
The collaborative process of making media has a number of useful outcomes in the field of research. Taking the media production process away from the external professional maker, sidestepping the established media conventions, and utilising the digital and networked society allows the research community to explore issues, exchange and investigate ideas, form societies and networks and open dialogue.
As networked media has emerged, and with it the proliferation of digital production tools that are readily available to the everyday person, an unrestricted access to the system of cultural exchange has blossomed and has “democratized the process by which [media] maybe produced and distributed” (Dann 2014).
Collaborative or co-produced media can be in the form of video, photovoice, podcast, digital storytelling, stop motion animation, blogging, journalism, campaigning, music, art, to name a few. This open platform of collaborative media production can empower its makers by giving them a voice – having their voices heard by decision maker, their own networks, peers and communities, or even wider afield. The collaborative process can also produce a valuable artefact that can be analysed and interrogated, or used as reflection or evaluation tools.
What is participatory media production?
Participatory media production is an organic, bottom-up approach that involves a community of people working together, often with a facilitator, to produce a piece of media that is relevant them, their wider community, or to satisfy the need to have their voice heard.
Using the principle of participation – the involvement of citizens in a wide range of decision-making to improve their community needs, build support for that community, encourages a sense of cohesiveness within their community, and ensuring a more positive impact on their social and economic lives – this “dynamic, interactional, and transformative process of dialogue between people, groups, and institutions… enables people, both individually and collectively, to realise their full potential and be engaged in their own welfare” (Singhal, 2001).
The members of the community taking part in the process work together to choose a theme or topic to investigate through media production, learn the technical skills required to produce the media artefact and take part in the making and doing process. The participatory manner of media production has the “power to move community members from being dependent and passive in order to become actively involved in the creation of a more meaningful society” (Paranjape, 2007), as well as work on other areas of their personal growth through developing their communication skills, literacy, confidence, decision making, knowledge of subject and so on” (Goldfrab, 2002).
The finished product does not have to be a polished artefact. Imperfections invite the audience to engage with the media product as they can feel that they can contribute to its continuing development and discussion.
An average project length is between 12 – 24 hours. The nature of collaborative participatory media production encourages dialogue between participants throughout the process and allows for reflection to take place at each stage, this is why longer projects are recommended.
How can participatory media production be used in research?
1. As a tool to engage groups to look at an issue.
2. To empower and teach others about a theme or topic
3. As an inter-disciplinary tool – Used in a collaborative process between researchers to explore a shared theme
4. As an evaluation tool – the final product could be the evaluation, or the process of making the product.
5. Interrogating the final product – visual analysis
Capturing people’s voices – using their vernacular, collecting data
Example of participatory media production
Gender and Fairtrade: the stories of women cocoa farmers in Ghana
A film produced by Dr Roy Maconachie and Simon Wharf from the University of Bath’s Department of Social & Policy Sciences and Computing Services Audio Visual Unit was nominated for a prestigious British Universities Film and Video Council Learning on Screen Award 2017.
Their film, ‘Gender and Fairtrade: the stories of women cocoa farmers in Ghana’, which was also produced with Dr Elizabeth Fortin at the University of Bristol, was one of only four entries to have been nominated for the General In-House Production Award.
Based on research carried out in Ghana over the summer of 2015 with support from the British Academy, ‘Gender and Fairtrade’ documents the enormous contributions made by women to the production and supply of cocoa, despite the fact that their role often remains under-valued and, in some cases, unrecognised.
Locating a ‘third voice’: participatory filmmaking and the everyday in rural India – Sue Sudbury (Full article)
This article reflects on practice-led research involving a community video project in southern India. The filmmaker also asked four of the women in this project if they would use their cameras to film their everyday lives. In the early 1980s, Barbara Myerhoff mentioned in a conference panel session the concept of a ‘third voice’ created through participatory research, when the ethnographer’s and the subjects’ contributions are edited together in such a way to form a new perspective [Kaminsky, M. 1992. “Myerhoff’s ‘Third Voice’: Ideology and Genre in Ethnographic Narrative.” Social Text 33: 124–144 (127)]. In this article, the filmmaker discusses how she used participatory and observational documentary techniques and ‘video diary interviews’, to produce five different sources of footage ‘blended in such a manner as to make it impossible to discern which voice dominates the work … films where outsider and insider visions coalesce’ [Ruby, J. 1991. “Speaking for, Speaking About, Speaking With, or Speaking Alongside: an Anthropological and Documentary Dilemma.” Visual Anthropology Review 7 (2): 50–67 (62)]. This article examines the challenges of working in this way and considers whether this technique of filmmaking can reveal new knowledge about the everyday lives of four particular women living in rural Andhra Pradesh. Read the full article of Locating a ‘third voice’: participatory filmmaking and the everyday in rural India
For more information about participatory media production
If you would like to talk to us about how participatory media production can be incorporated into your research please contact: J.R.Brown@brighton.ac.uk
Dann, L. (2014). Only Half the Story: Radio Drama, Online Audio and Transmedia Storytelling Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast and Audio Media, 12 (1-2). pp. 141-154. ISSN 1476-4504
Kinkade, S, & Macy, C. (2003). What Works in Youth Media: Case Studies from Around the World. International Youth Foundation.
Media Trust. (2012). Changing young lives through media. April 2012
Paranjape, N. (2007). Community media: local is focal. Community Development Journal Vol 42 No 4 October 2007. P 459-469, 468
Singhal, A, Devi, K. (2003). Visual Voices in Participatory Communication. Communicator Vol XXXVIII No. 2 June-Dec 2003. P 2.
Sobers, S. (2005). What is the definition of Community Media, and what is the prime area of emphasis for this research? First Born Creatives in association with the University of the West of England
Winckler, J. (2016). 16 November. Interview about voice and participation at University of Brighton, 144-155 Edward Street, Brighton, UK.