Participation and Inclusion

Creating change from the bottom-up is the leading framework of the Video for Change approach, which usually focuses on the needs of the communities and movements the initiative seeks to support.

People may find new possibilities and identities for themselves and their communities and movements within a Video for Change initiative. They may also find spaces in which they can challenge views and ideologies; laws, institutions and practices; and other realities that limit their opportunities, options or ability to express themselves too.

But 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.

A Video for Change initiative can encourage positive empowerment if it:

  • gives those most affected an opportunity to ask questions, give advice or exercise authority over decision-making
  • has a core group of stakeholders who are conscious of building avenues for individual and community self-empowerment, and ensures that leadership and responsibilities are shared.

What Do We Mean By Participation?

Participation means involvement in a process. In the context of Video for Change, participatory methods increase contributions from affected communities and key stakeholders such as community organisations, local governments and private enterprises in decision-making and design processes.

However, participation requires more than just encouraging diversity. It is also important to commit to inclusive practices in both creative input and decision-making. This creates actual community buy-in to an initiative and will lead to better, more sustainable initiative outcomes.

An inclusive initiative:

  • encourages shared learning and different forms of knowledge
  • values co-creation
  • builds capacity of a community over time
  • understands barriers to participation in the context it operates, e.g. gender or race
  • promotes long-term sustainability of the community.

Effective participation takes time, but limitations on your finances, time or other resources may restrict your ability to enable as much participation as you would wish.

As part of your planning process, consider how participatory methods will best contribute to the initiative’s goals. 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), and investing time in community goodwill.

Working With Communities

Video for Change envisions people co-producing knowledge together, which can lead to taking action together.

Participatory methods are therefore an effective way to engage and develop ownership, engagement, and democratic practice for groups that are historically marginalised or excluded. These include indigenous groups, ethnic minorities, poor people, the disabled, women, the elderly, disadvantaged youth, or people from sexual and gender minorities.

Thoroughly understanding a community’s context is crucial before working with that community. This means reflecting on whether your activities increase inclusiveness for those people, groups or communities the Video for Change initiative seeks to support, or whether they are in fact exclusionary and may disempower them.

If done well, participatory activities foster trust and understanding, and support connections among people, across issues and over time. Below are two impact stories from video initiatives that illustrate this beautifully. Seeing things together with the blind is from Indonesia and tells the story of a filmmaker creating a film with visually impaired artists. Pakorpa Susangho describes an empowering participatory video process with widows in Ghana.

Impact Story: Seeing things together with the blind

The Unseen Words is a short documentary from Wahyu Utami. The film follows the activities of a traditional Javanese ketoprak troupe, Distra Budaya, which consists of people with visual impairments.

Video Title: The Unseen Words

Year: 2017

Duration: 30 minutes

Location: Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Made by: Wahyu Utami and Distra Budaya

Issue: Inclusivity

Aim of video: Expanding Distra Budaya’s network. Showcasing the creativity of blind communities. Raising public awareness on the abilities of the blind community and Distra Budaya.

The Unseen Words documents the activities of a traditional Javanese ketoprak troupe, Distra Budaya, which consists of blind members and operates under the guidance of the Mardi Wuto Foundation in Yogyakarta. Production of The Unseen Words was funded by a grant from the Yogyakarta City Department of Culture (2017). The film won Best Documentary Short Film in the Indonesian Film Festival (2017).

Filmmaker Wahyu Utami first became acquainted with Distra Budaya when she watched their performance at the open-air stage of the 2014 Yogyakarta Arts Festival. Utami was immediately taken aback by the troupe’s performance. Although it was a no-frills performance, for her it was something extraordinary. The group’s performance raised many questions in her head, including the preparations that the group undertakes to stage such a performance. One scene in particular persisted in Utami’s memory, in which the performers made use of their inability to see as the basis of a joke. For Utami, once somebody is able to laugh at oneself, they have accomplished an extraordinary feat.

Utami’s curiosity drove her to get to know the troupe better, and by the end of 2016, she expressed her wish to tag along with them. She received a positive response from the members of Distra Budaya and was thereon permitted to take part in all their practice sessions.

For almost a year, Utami attended each practice session, which took place once a month in the library of the Mardi Wuto Foundation, located in the Dr. Yap. Eye Hospital complex. AsUtami had no previous close contact with persons with disabilities, she initially struggled to communicate properly with members of the troupe. For her, the most difficult process was dismantling the paradigms firmly embedded in her mind on the nature of disability itself.

In general, Utami’s knowledge about disability came only from the media and other people’s words, which often spoke of disability in the language of limitation, pity, and other non-empowering terms. Without realising it, these ideas influenced the way she perceived her friends living with disability. As a filmmaker, Utami asked herself: how could she deliver a story about equality if she herself does not yet perceive them as equals? Thus, she tried to dive deep within herself and dismantle perspectives and biases which were unconsciously embedded in her mind. The process of dismantling these pre-existing paradigms in her head was quite an arduous one.

It was only in 2017 that Utami had the courage to join a film facilitation program organised by the Yogyakarta Department of Culture. She passed the selection process and obtained a grant for film production over the course of three months. Her documentary film was created using an observational approach. Although she already obtained permission from the Distra Budaya members to film, she always informed them each time the camera was recording. Moreover, while shooting the videos, she avoided taking close-up shots of the members’ faces as she did not want to place an emphasis on their disability. Instead, she wanted viewers to focus more on the relations between the subjects and their surroundings.

Video Background

Utami invited the members of Distra Budaya to attend the film’s first screening. To watch a film together with the blind community was a novel experience for her Distra Budaya friends, and perhaps a novel experience as well for the majority of viewers in attendance that night. . From the onset of the film’s production, Utami realised that her film was indeed made to be watched together with her friends from Distra Budaya. She was very happy to see that while “listening” to The Unseen Words, her new friends laughed along during the comedic scenes, applauded when the film ended, and returned home with happy faces, a sense of pride, and an empowered feeling. Through the film, the general public was also able to see and appreciate the process that the troupe goes through to stage a performance, as well as their openness towards collaboration. The Distra Budaya members had felt the need to expand their network and, through the film, they were eventually able to form additional networks.

Post-release impact

Utami confessed that she did not hold overly great expectations for her film, but it received very high appreciation from viewers upon its release. The 2017 Indonesian Film Festival ‘FFI’ chose The Unseen Words as its best documentary short film. Since then, the existence of Distra Budaya became known to producers of the popular Indonesian television program Kick Andy on national television (METRO TV). As a result, the Distra Budaya troupe was invited to speak during the show. The group also received financial support for the purchase of musical instruments and ketoprak costumes, while the remaining amount was put aside as cash savings.

The Unseen Words has been screened in a number of film festivals such as NETPAC – Jogja Asian Film Festival and the Indonesian Documentary Film Festival. The film has also been requested at several screening events and discussions organised by film communities, independent as well as academic, from various regions. These include the Yogyakarta State Islamic University’s Disability Services Center, Indonesian Islamic University in Yogyakarta’s Communications Science Study Program, University of Jambi’s Student Activity Unit, the 2017 Aceh Film Festival, the Solo Merdeka Festival, Kediri Department of Culture, and Sineroom Semarang.

During this period, media outlets came to feature Distra Budaya and several university students and academics conducted research on the troupe. After several film screenings, one incident in particular left the biggest impression. During a Q&A session at the 2017 Documentary Film Festival, a mobility-impaired viewer named Yovin expressed his appreciation and said that he became more confident after watching the film. Moreover, when the film was screened in Semarang, it compelled the local blind community to try their hands on the arts again.

In 2018, the Distra Budaya practice room was transformed into an examination room for the Dr. Yap Eye Hospital, and the Mardi Wuto Foundation’s secretariat relocated. At the time of writing, the Distra Budaya troupe uses a private home as their gathering place. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the troupe temporarily went on hiatus but has now resumed its activities. In 2022, Distra Budaya aims to legally register itself as an organisation so that it would be able to access cultural development funds from the government.

Impact Story: Pakorpa Susangho

In the small village of Kulbia in Ghana, 10 widows join a participatory video project to explore land issues affecting bereaved women in the community. Customary laws still dictate that when a woman’s husband dies, the land they both worked on is given to male-headed households.

Title: Pakorpa Susangho (Widow’s Cry)

Location: Ghana, West-Africa.

Issue: Widows fight land corruption in Ghana through a participatory video project

Aim/purpose of the video: Achieving changes in unjust laws that deny women their land rights.

Organisation: Joint partnership between the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), local partner organisation Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM) and InsightShare

Featured methodologies: Participatory Video, Advocacy Video

Video length: 12 mins.

Year: 2012

In the small village of Kulbia, in the Upper East region of Ghana, 10 widows joined a participatory video project to explore land issues affecting bereaved women in the community. In this village, customary laws dictate that when a woman’s husband dies, the land they both worked on is given to male-headed households.

Film Background

The group of widows documented these customary practices and the impact of landlessness on widows, their dependents and the community as a whole. The widows came together over four months to plan and make their film, which shares their stories and highlights the corruption and abuse that denies the women their livelihood.

The film also shows how the local land custodian, or Tindaana, eventually agrees to support the women’s rights. The video was screened to the public at the local women’s resource centre so everyone could see the commitments made by the Tindaana.

The small village of Kulbia was selected as the location for the participatory video process for the following reasons: the Ghana Integrity Initiative’s (GII) long-standing and trusted relationship with its local partner organisation Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM), the noted prevalence of corrupt practice affecting widows, and the willingness of the village chief to accept and welcome the project taking place within the community.

The three-stage project took nearly four months to complete (July-October 2016), including three weeks of workshops/ fieldwork facilitated by InsightShare during two trips from the UK. GII and WOM undertook a careful selection project, which recruited 10 widows as participants.

The group of widows represented a broad age group (29-59 years), diverse backgrounds and a range of experiences and outcomes following the deaths of their husbands. All of them faced intense pressure on their time and energy — from subsistence farming, income-generating activities, childcare and other factors — however, the project achieved a remarkable 100 per cent attendance across all stages, which gives some indication of the enjoyment and value the participants derived from joining the process.


During intensive workshop sessions, the participants explored how corruption affected widows in their community and resulted in many being left landless and destitute. Many hours were spent telling and retelling personal stories within the safe space of the workshop, which helped build a picture of the different experiences in the group.

The participants worked together to determine the focus and content of their video, to plan sequences showing the challenges they face and, crucially, to demonstrate their awareness of corruption and its role in their landlessness.

Power-mapping exercises helped the women determine who is responsible, who contributes, and who could assist them in combatting corruption. The participants then carefully planned specific messages to reach their target audiences.

Over the following months, participants worked in small groups and travelled to various locations, including their homes and farmlands, to record their personal stories. They recorded discussions with several women from the community and interviewed many customary leaders (including chiefs and Tindaanas) and locally elected officials.

Draft edits of the video were screened and discussed locally, which not only helped to guide and inform the group’s investigation of the issue but also raised awareness of the project and the profiles of the participants within their community. The resulting video titled Pakorpa Susangho (Widow’s Cry) was created during a final workshop incorporating footage from across all stages.

On the final day of the project, a day-long event was organised to premiere the video and to engage key stakeholders in a discussion, including representatives from the House of Chiefs, local government, civil society organisations, local customary leaders, journalists and community members.

The participants also presented the video by describing their personal experiences as widows and the impact on their lives. The screening was followed by discussions, group-work and presentations, Q&A sessions, etc. The participants helped facilitate the process and used the video cameras to document everything, including the many pledges of support made by various officials.


Since the video was launched, numerous screenings and discussions have taken place within the community and across the country, helping to raise awareness of the issues and contributing towards broader anti-corruption advocacy campaigns. GII is tracking the commitments by various officials and customary leaders, who are being pressed to realise the changes they agreed to.

GII has trained two community members as paralegals to support women in retaining control over their land, and further training for more women is planned in the near future.

The participants have continued to lobby their traditional leaders to stop the practice of widowhood rites, and are actively supporting women recently widowed to refuse to undergo the degrading rituals. Married women (non-widows) have also been sensitised to the issues — through screenings and informal discussions — and many have asked to be involved in future dialogue around the issues.

The women of Kulbia have reported some successes, including several widows who have avoided the practice of losing their land to male-headed families, and a significant improvement in their relations with fellow community members and overall standing within the community.

“Participatory Video will yield more results than legislative reform when it comes to addressing harmful traditional practices and engaging local leaders and communities to achieve behavioural change,” says Okai Michael Henchard, Ghana Integrity International.

Participatory Communications

Participation favours the communication model that is relatively equal and horizontal, as opposed to top-down. When setting up a dialogue, opportunities for speaking and listening should be provided, and the flow of dialogue should be relatively free.

The role of a facilitator is important. The facilitator should:

  • actively build a space for participation
  • ensure that all voices are respected
  • provide a space for quieter participants to speak more and to approach decision-makers
  • ensure that all participants are invited and enabled to participate fully.

The video below, Work With Us: Community-driven research inspiring change, gave some of the most marginalised people the opportunity to communicate directly with decision-makers. The video offers insights and stories that can emerge from participatory research, and how this can contribute to the policy arena.

Work With Us: Community-driven research inspiring change from participate2015.

Working with Individuals

There are always risks and benefits for individuals participating in a initiative, and it is important for you to make people aware of potential risk. You may discuss, for example, how benefits of participation may outweigh the risks.

One way to ensure they are aware of the risks is to seek their consent for participation. This can only be meaningful, however, if the individuals understand the initiative’s processes and aims through the Impact Statement.

Here is a check-list of considerations to use during your planning.

Risk and Benefits:
  • Is the individual aware of potential risks and benefits of participating in a video initiative, including the possibility of being identified?
  • Has the participant been made aware that the video will be available for many years to come?
  • Do the benefits of the video initiative outweigh the risks to participants? As one example, does s/he know that anyone, including their employer or worst enemy, may see the video?
Informed Consent:

See our section on Informed Consent in the Risk Management section to learn more.

  • Has any pressure, direct or indirect, been applied by the video-maker or any other person or group related to the initiative to an individual to participate in the initiative?
  • Is the individual free to leave the initiative at any time?
  • Has the participant been given rewards, including monetary incentives to participate? If so, how has their coercive impact been minimised?
  • Has the practitioner been honest about his/her intentions and methods?
  • Has the practitioner or group representative given unrealistic promises to obtain participation?
  • Has the practitioner promised that the footage/interview of the participant will be included in the final video when there may be a possibility that it will be edited out?
  • Has the practitioner considered if the individual’s participation is acknowledged? For example, will the participant be appropriately credited in the video, if they choose to be so (or there is a joint decision to do so)?
  • Is there an opportunity for a transfer of skills that could be useful for the participant?
  • If initiative participation extends over meal times, will meals be provided?
  • If there is potential for profits upon release, how will profits be distributed? Has this been discussed with the participant?
  • Are there legal contracts in place to ensure that this financial distribution can/will be enacted?

For more information about risk see the Risk Management section.

This impact story from Kashmir Unheard illustrates some of the above considerations, both from the perspective of the subject of the video and the community journalist making the video.

Impact Story: Unlawful military violence in Kashmir

The impacts of a citizen journalist video from Kashmir Unheard in Northern India, which managed to bring unlawful military violence to the public’s attention and was effective in raising support for a victim.

Title: Call to action for a victim of unlawful military violence in Kashmir.

Location: Kashmir, Northern India.

Issue: Human rights, military violence

Aim/purpose of the video: To bring unlawful military violence to the wider public’s attention and raise support for a victim.

Organisation: Kashmir Unheard

Featured methodologies: Video for Advocacy, Community Correspondent, Impact Video

Video length: 3 mins.

Year: 2017

This video aims to bring unlawful military violence to the wider public’s attention by focusing on the story of one victim, Altaf Ahmad. It also focuses on raising support for him and his family.

Film Background

In June 2017, Altaf Ahmad, a resident of Aglar Pulwama in Kashmir, North India, was riding home from work on his bicycle when Indian military personnel shot him three times after mistakenly thinking he was a militant. Altaf fell to the ground and was left for dead.

Almost immediately after the incident, Rayees Ahmad, a community correspondent of Kashmir Unheard, received a message about what had happened. He rushed to the scene only to discover no one was allowed to come near Altaf.

After waiting for some time, Rayees and a few others couldn’t bear to merely stand by and drove over to where Altaf was lying on the ground. Surprised to discover Altaf still alive, Rayees helped to quickly get him to a nearby hospital. After receiving emergency treatment, it became clear Altaf would need long-term medical treatment and surgery if he wanted to be able to move around again freely.

As a Kashmir Unheard correspondent, Rayees wanted to make a video about Altaf’s incident. Kashmir Unheard is a group of 23 community correspondents who want to show the world ‘their’ Kashmir. They were formed in September 2014 after local activist training by Video Volunteers, a partner of the Video for Change Network based in Goa, India.

The group is currently supported by two editors and a coordinator, and its ‘newly minted story-tellers with cameras-in-hand’ are capturing the ‘unheard’ stories happening in their communities.

Their methodology is simple: first they discuss the issues they want to document with the affected communities to raise their support and make sure the message is conveyed properly. Then they collectively identify a call-to-action and make the resulting videos public by using a variety of popular social media platforms.


When Rayees first talked to Altaf about the idea of making a video about his incident, Altaf refused. He was too afraid of what might happen. However, after two more meetings, Altaf changed his mind and agreed to make his story public.

Rayees and Altaf chose to leave all graphic and violent footage out. The video focused on Altaf and how the incident has affected his family: their young child, Altaf’s pregnant wife and their highly uncertain future.

Atlaf’s story went quickly viral after the video was published in July 2017. On Facebook alone it was shared 5000 times and seen by over 200,000 people. Support for Altaf and his family started pouring in. Many people wanted to help and were curious to know about Altaf’s recovery.

Altaf had refused to ask for money in the video, but confronted with the wave of support for his family, it was decided that Kashmir Unheard would share the bank-account details of Altaf as part of its outreach campaign.

Kashmir Unheard made a second version of the video, which ended with a call-to-action to support Altaf and his family.


Four months later, the video helped raise enough money for Altaf to undergo surgery (December 2017), cover the medical costs of delivering their second baby, renovate their house, pay the school fees of their older child and open a provisional shop selling basic household necessities, which Altaf still runs today.

Although some people called his wife a “digital beggar”, the positive monetary impact stands in stark contrast to Altaf’s struggle for justice. The video was brought to the attention of the district commissioner of Pulwama district and reported to the police.

Again, financial compensation was given, but no further investigation took place and the soldier firing the shots has never been prosecuted. Meanwhile, Altaf remains partially disabled and traumatised for life.

In this video, published February 2018, you can learn more about the impacts of the video for change initiative for Altaf and his family.


Working as a community correspondent for Kashmir Unheard is not without risk. In an interview with EngageMedia, Rayees, who has documented other human rights offences in Kashmir, explains that in Kashmir one has to be very careful, avoid the army and be aware that sometimes videos simply ‘disappear’ after being publicised online.

Rayees has never forgotten the day he was harassed in front of his parents’ house by military personnel in April 2018. Uniformed soldiers beat him and snatched his phone. “They threatened me, kept asking me if I worked for government and told me to stop investigating things,” he says.

It remains unclear whether the military’s visit relates directly to the Altaf video or to Rayees’s other activities for Kashmir Unheard, which he joined in 2017 and for which he has produced 45 videos so far.

However, the incident has strengthened his conviction to keep working as a community correspondent: “I am a journalist, I am supposed to be doing what I am doing. I am not afraid, I will not stop!”

Rayees’s confidence, commitment and Kasmir Unheard’s style of working has earned him the support of the Pulwama district commissioner, who has become his friend and helps to protect him.


MIT’s Co-creation Studio The Co-Creation Studio is a new initiative at MIT Open Documentary Lab. A great resource with research and information on alternatives to a singular authorial vision.

Participatory Methods. A site full of resources to generate ideas and take action for inclusive development and social change.