Participation and Inclusion

Make the right decisions about participation and inclusion. 

Video for Change initiatives can empower people; but they can also disempower. For example, a video can (re-)victimise people because the video-makers haven’t carefully considered the consequences of whose story and voice are included or excluded.

To prevent this, practitioners can take a number of steps to make sure their initiatives support inclusion and that this will be a positive experience for those involved. 

Initiatives encourage positive empowerment if:

  • it works towards individual and collective development
  • gives everyone opportunity to ask questions or take authority
  • works towards community building
  • has a core group who is conscious of building empowerment and realises that leadership and responsibilities can be shared.

Initiatives ideally provide people with spaces in which they can challenge views and ideologies; laws, institutions and practices; and other realities that limit their lives. In these spaces, people find new possibilities and identities for themselves and their communities. They can only do so if there are opportunities for them to meaningfully participate in decisions that affect them, and in activities that build their capacities. 

 

What is meant by participation?

At its most basic meaning, participation implies involvement in a process. In Video for Change participatory methods aim to increase input in the decision making processes. These methods help develop buy-in on an initiative, leading to better project outcomes.

Participation and Inclusion

Participatory methods are a great way of engaging people who have been marginalised or excluded. This most often includes indigenous groups, ethnic minorities, poor people, the disabled, women, and people from sexual and gender minorities. However, participation is more than just encouraging diversity, it’s about inclusive practices that lead to actual empowerment. If participation is only done for the sake of participation it could lead to harmful results.

French Protest 1968

This poster, from Paris 1968 protests against government, highlights the fundamental point that participation without redistribution of power is an empty and frustrating process for those who are not in power. It allows the powerholders to claim that all sides were heard and considered, but makes it possible for only some of those sides to benefit. The writing on the wall reads:

“I participate
you participate 
he participates 
we participate 
you participate 
they profit”

 

Participation can create a community around an initiative, or it can enable existing communities to have a say. Video for Change envisions an ‘inclusive community’, one where people involved co-produce knowledge together, which can lead to taking action together.

An inclusive community:

  • Encourages shared learning and different forms of knowledge
  • Values co-production
  • Builds the capacity of a community over time
  • Understands the barriers to participation in the context it operates, e.g. gender or race
  • Promotes the long-term sustainability of the community.

It’s important to remember that all social change initiatives exist on a continuum from less participatory to more participatory, less inclusive to more inclusive. 

Community Building

To build a community, or contribute to the further building of an existing community, participants need to feel a social connection with each other. To achieve this, it’s crucial that participatory activities develop trust and understanding. Participation is oriented to making connections among people, across issues, and over time. 

A community is flexible and shifting in alliances, power and social structures. We may see the community as the site of both solidarity and conflict. Before we can build community, it needs to become defined. 

This means reflecting on whether our activities increase inclusiveness for those people, groups or communities the video initiative seeks to support; or whether they are in fact exclusionary and may disempower these people. 

Follow these links if you would like to know more about Participation and Inclusion and Individual Development, or about various Approaches to Participation.

Reducing Powerlessness

Many people feel disconnected from the decision-making processes around them. They feel powerless to change their own circumstances and those of their community. People who are marginalised often feel this powerlessness more acutely, brought about by years of discrimination. Not involving these people in decisions about activities that hope to lead to change for them would increase this feeling of powerlessness.

Powerlessness can be lessened through meaningful participation. Meaningful participation is first and foremost about not treating people as passive recipients. Participants in a project need to define their needs and provide input. They must feel their contributions matter.

Financial limitations can restrict your ability to enable as much participation as you would wish. Participation takes time, so you need to decide how it will best contribute to achieving the project’s goals. Participation for participations sake is token, and people will quickly work that out.

We encourage you to think of resourcing creatively to increase levels of participation such as using already available resources (for example video tools that are already in the hands of community participants), investment in time and community goodwill. 

There are many ways to enable under-resourced projects get off the ground. Bring participants into discussions on how this can be achieved, you’ll be surprised at what people and communities have to offer if they believe in an idea and the people involved.

Participatory Communications

The communication model favoured for participation is one that is relatively equal rather than top down. In a dialogue there are more opportunities for speaking and listening and the communication flow is freer. The below diagram[1] illustrates the difference between (a) vertical and (b) horizontal communication.

Participatory Communications

Here, the role of the facilitator is important. The facilitator should:

  • build a space for participation
  • ensure that all voices are respected
  • step up, step back – enable quieter participants to speak more, and others to make space.

section.

 

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[1] Taken from an article on communicating on social media.