The table[1] below provides an overview of the different Video for Change approaches we have identified. While the table structures approaches so that they are separate, we recognise that they are often changing and overlapping concepts. Many initiatives might use three, four or even five approaches at the same time.


Video for Change Approach and its historical context Core values/functions

Participatory, Grassroots and Community Video
Participatory, grassroots and community-based video initiatives have been proliferating at least since the 1950s when many associations, labour unions, community and citizens’ groups and NGOs used video to challenge dominant media and discourses with initiatives that came from and addressed specific topics of a community. This Video for Change approach puts cameras in the hands of people who are impacted by an issue so that their voices, stories and perspectives can be heard.

  • Providing access to media-making tools, technologies and training as well as access to targeted audiences
  • Will often focus on addressing social inequalities and supporting marginalised groups to tell their own stories
  • Critical thinking/analysis (particularly in relation to development and politics)
  • Project self-reflexivity (reflecting on the project)
  • Focuses on locally-led change and on collective action
  • Often commits to providing local actors or participants full ownership and control over footage and editing and distribution decisions which emphasises the importance of local knowledge.

Social Documentary Video
Scottish filmmaker John Grierson is thought to have first coined the term ‘documentary’ when reviewing a nonfiction film in 1926. He believed documentary film was the next great medium of information dissemination and was best used as a tool to make ordinary citizens aware and engaged with social issues as a catalyst to social change. Since then, the lowered costs of film-making have meant that social documentaries have covered just about every social issue imaginable; some of these documentaries have changed the way we perceive, understand and respond to the world around us.

  • Usually focused on exposing a single problem/issue
  • Often guided by traditional journalistic practices and principles
  • Usually aspires for broad outreach and at times also seeks broad audience participation.
Video Advocacy
By the time we start to find the term ‘video advocacy’ being used in the 1980s, access to cameras had become far cheaper, more portable and therefore more accessible. Video Advocacy emphasises the use of video to speak to (and hopefully influence) power. Very often the goal is to contribute to policy or political change.
  • Focused on addressing specific and targeted law, policy or practice change, or influencing a particular event/ongoing situation
  • Success or impact usually determined by whether the video was able to resonate with specific and targeted audiences and participant communities based on a strategy that sets out how law, policy or practice change can come about.
Communication for Development and Communication for Change (where video is used)
‘Communication for Development’ and ‘Communication for Change’ have been used by a number of international organisations and UN agencies since the 1960s. They became more prevalent in the decades that have followed. These terms usually refer to a practice whereby local communities are supported to feed into and critique development discourse and processes.
  • Promotes inclusive social, economic and political development
  • Supports and engages with reflective, critical discourses relating to development plans, practices and outcomes
  • Can support marginalised communities to impact on and critique development and development projects
  • Usually provides access to media tools, technologies and training as well as access to targeted audience
Citizen Journalism Video
The increasing accessibility of the internet and cheap video recording devices, particularly starting in the 2000s, has led to a dramatic shift in both the production and distribution of video by everyday citizens. The use of the term ‘citizen journalism’ usually suggests the adoption of basic journalistic ethics and standards in a non-professional context, often supporting local citizens to tell local news and current affairs.
  • Supports broader public to report on the issues that matter to them.
  • Values and enables the production and distribution of local news and media.
Witnessing Video
The widespread use of the term ‘citizen witness’ emerged after major political/social events such as the Twin Tower terrorist attacks of 2001 in New York, the London Bombings in 2005 and in a developing country context, the Burmese people’s uprising (Saffron Revolution) in 2007. In each case, citizen’s still and video images became the most viewed and emblematic depictions of these major crises. Today witnessing video is regularly incorporated into mainstream and alternative news sites and is very often first picked up from social media. The term is also used by NGOs and rights based groups as a form of evidence collection.
  • Focused on exposing/addressing rights abuses or social injustice through the collection and circulation of visual evidence.
  • Can include raw video from direct witnessing of an event or personal testimony documentation.
  • Useful in quickly educating and agitating a broad audience through capturing a real-life incident that brings certain social issues to the surface.
Digital Storytelling
Digital storytelling pioneer, Joe Lambert, describes this approach to video-making as being about ‘capturing lives, creating community.’ Since 2003, digital storytelling projects have flourished around the world. Very often they share a short-video (2-5 minute) format with structured training used to enable non-professional, everyday storytellers to create their own personal ‘mini-movie’. While these stories are not always focused on social change, the form itself has a social change imperative embedded within it, since it is about developing and broadening creative, digital storytelling literacies and capacities.
  • Emphasis on intimate and personal experience as an approach to change-making
  • Focus on personal story as a form of empowerment
  • Focus on supporting people to tell their own stories, in their own voices
  • Sometimes emphasises the building-up of collective memory and/or community-building through story sharing.
Change-focused video memes, remixes and mash-ups and curated collections
Increasing access to the internet (particularly broadband access), alongside the increasing usability of video editing software and the ever-developing digital literacies of citizens has changed the way people engage with video content online, particularly since around 2005. There is now some evidence to suggest that the remixing and curating of video content ‘found’ online is becoming an increasingly popular activity in some countries, particularly among young people and this is also true for social change remixes with some of these videos quickly reaching millions of people.
  • Emphasis on engagement with issues through media
  • Can support people not directly affected by an issue (who may be located in another country) to become advocates
  • Emphasis on creative commons licensing and the value of remix/participatory cultures
  • Curated collections can focus on amplifying the reach of videos (whether online or through screening events) or serve to bring different videos together to tell a larger story.
Video Archiving
Video archiving has a long history in the context of national sound and video archives or official state or community-based library collections. These collections have at times supported specific social change-focused collections. Archiving and curation is growing as the level of video content and access to content increases and as online video-hosting capacities increase. For example, many collections can be found on large video-sharing sites like YouTube through channels or the strategic use of tagging; other initiatives create their own websites to host these archives collections.
  • Emphasises knowledge creation and access to knowledge
  • Focuses on documentation of events and histories that may otherwise be ignored or forgotten
  • Emphasis on taking responsibility for collecting and making videos available to the right people (may not be public access)
  • Can emphasise bringing together different videos to tell a larger story about a specific issue or history.
Oral History/Testimony
The practice of recording and retelling oral history is as old as humanity. Digital tools that support oral history to be recorded, found and categorised have been growing since the proliferation of cheaper video technologies and the development of the internet.
  • Emphasises knowledge creation and access to knowledge
  • Often plays a special role in indigenous communities by seeking to ensure local knowledge and languages are not lost
  • Focus is often on ensuring people are able to record the stories and histories they feel must be told
  • Can play an important role in post-violence or post-conflict reconciliation.



[1] Table created by Tanya Notley with inputs regarding resources provided by the video4change network. This table and the related text have been published in: Notley 2012; Notley, Lowenthal and Gregory 2015.