Participatory Video Workshop at the OU

I’ve just finished two days with Chris High and Emily Flower (and Rick who came in on the second day to help with editing) to look into Participatory Video. Emily works for Insight and is involved in many PV projects. PV is a fairly new research method that involves participants in making videos as a form of social learning which, incidentally, produces some interesting research material. During day 1 we did a number of exercises designed to show us how to get people involved in PV. The way we did this was to actually perform the sorts of activities we would be asking our participants to do.

We began with a windy rope trick. We all held hands, one person left the room, then we all twisted around over and under to make a human knot. Then the person came into the room and had to try to untangle us. This was difficult, but when asked to do so, we were able to untangle ourselves without too much trouble. This demonstrated that often if you need to know how to do something, it is worth asking your participants as they probably have enought knowledge to do it themselves.

It also was a great icebreaker. I think they turned the air conditioning on after this 🙂

Then, to get us familiar with the equipment, we split into three roughly equal groups of 5 people each and group was given a video camera with a microphone. One by one each person had to interview the person next to them, then hand the video over and explain how to use it so the next person could repeat this. We were told to ask each other to talk about our shoes. This proved surprisingly interesting and a great was to get us working together. I now know that Vlad has left one pair of shoes in a hotel and now only has three pairs, I have an unusually large number of shoes and boots compared to everyone else, Duncan’s shoes are black, leather but not waterproof, and Annie was wearing her most expensive shoes.

We then moved onto storyboarding and each created a short movie about the prop of our choice. We chose a banana and had it do duty as a mobile phone which worked well.

There were many more activities like this – assembling a video camera, tripod, mic and headphones in 2 minutes for instance. By the end of the day we all felt like we had learned quite a lot about how to get people involved in videoing and about how the technology works and how best to use it. An additional benefit that I had not expected but was told happened quite often, was the sense of effective teambuilding that these activities gave us. We also talked about where we felt that PV might fit into our research and it was fascinating listening to the research and work of the others.

Day 2 was the bigger challenge. Again we split into groups (by this time we had grouped and regrouped numerous times, each time with a different subset, so it really did not matter who you ended up with as you felt equally comfortable with everyone). We had to make a 2 minute video on a PV research topic of our choice. We spent 10 minutes explaining our research idea to each other in detail and then chose one as a group.

Jay’s research was with a group in South America (I think) who traditionally culled the cayman crocodile. Then the authorities came along and said it was endangered so they could no longer cull it. Over the past 10 years or so the crocs had increased in number and were now killing small children. Jay was hoping to use PV to enable the people to share their story with the policy-makers to effect a change to return to their traditional culling.

Martina was an Italian PhD student who was researching how nitrates and phosphorus get into ground water and pollute it. Farmers were thought to be the cause and had been instructed to put less nitrates and phosphorus but the problem was not going away. Her research had identified that the cause was more complex. The way they were combining the growing of sunflowers (I think) with wheat was stripping the soil. Then the timing of when they put the chemicals on it meant that the rains came immediately and washed the chemicals into the groundwater without improving the soil at all. She wanted to use PV to enable the farmers to show what was happening to the policy makers, who often didn’t even visit the countryside that they were legislating about.

Helen wanted to use PV to collect new mother’s birth stories with a view to highlighting the contrast between expectations and actuality, and between what the authorities say should happen (choices, support, giving birth in crouching or kneeling position) and what happened in practice (removal of choice by the staff, abandonment during most of labour with midwives elsewhere or just filling in papers and being coerced to give birth laying flat).

In the end we went for Helen’s project because that was the one we felt we could do the best job (we were an all-girl group). We decided to go for the documentary genre and used the storyboarding technique again, leaving one space blank to allow for ideas which sprang up as we were working. We had fun stuffing things up our tops so that when necessary some of us could be pregnant mothers talking about our hopes, and then contrasting that with the actuality in a sound-bite way.

After this we all sat down with one of the facilitators (we got Rick who had come in especially to help in this activity and who was invaluable) and edited our film. It was all quite rushed, but nevertheless the other two groups put together brilliant little 2 minute trailers for their PV projects. I believe Chris and Emily are planning to put these up on utube.

We finished with some discussions about how to use PV and the many interesting ethical issues surrounding it.

A rather long post, but still impossible to capture the richness of the two days content.  The research-training group are runnig weekly PV sessions on a wednesday in the Obs Lab, first floor, Venables between 3pm and 5pm. Contact Chris High if you fancy going – c.high at I think I may try to make it as I think this is a research method that has definite possibilties. I think that if done well, it could circumnavigate the problems of having to rely on self-reported data but giving us a glimpse into what is really happening, whilst at the same time minimising the effect of the researcher.

About Gill

Having worked as a Research Fellow with the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University, I have now semi-retired but retained my association with the OU as an Honorary Associate.
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