Video for Change Approaches

While Video for Change practitioners can use varied approaches and techniques to create impact, two practices are common:

  • The first practice prefers ‘bottom-up’ or grassroots change. With a deep understanding of local contexts, a Video for Change practitioner doesn’t examine issues and tensions in isolation or give preference to short-term gains (such as creating a popular or viral video). Rather, practitioners work toward longer-term gains that seek positive and sustainable social change.
  • The second practice emphasises a broad and holistic understanding of impact. Video for Change practitioners focus on understanding how the process of production and distribution affects people’s lives and how this process and the content can catalyse deeper forms of engagement with a campaign, issue or social movement.

Video for Change consider issues of power, participation and inclusion, accountability, and safety and security in designing for and assessing the impact of a video initiative. These considerations form a key pillar of this toolkit and can be explored further in Values and Methods.

The table below provides an overview of the different Video for Change approaches we have identified. While the table formats approaches so they are separate, we recognise that they are often changing and overlapping concepts. Many initiatives might use multiple approaches at the same time.

Participatory, Grassroots and Community Video

Participatory, grassroots and community-based video initiatives have been proliferating for decades. Many associations, labour unions, community and citizens’ groups and non-government organisations (NGOs) have used video to challenge dominant media discourses with initiatives that came from and addressed specific topics of a community, such as gender rights, public health, displacement, education, etc. 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.

  • Provides access to media-making tools, technologies and training as well as access to targeted audiences
  • Often focuses on addressing social inequalities and supporting marginalised groups to tell their own stories
  • Engages in critical thinking/analysis (particularly in relation to development and politics)
  • Allows for self-reflection and reflection 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, as well as editing and distribution decisions
  • 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 for social change. Since then, the lowered costs of film-making has 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, particularly in terms of accurate data, facts and perspectives, but incorporates aesthetic devices and interpretations
  • Often aspires for broad outreach and at times also seeks broad audience participation

Video Advocacy

By the time the term ‘video advocacy’ was 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 influence power. Very often the goal is to advance policy or political change.

  • Focuses on addressing specific law, policy or practice change, or influencing a particular event/ongoing situation
  • Determines success or impact according to the video’s influence on specific and targeted audiences and 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 inform 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 critique and have an impact on 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, mobile phones with good quality recording devices, and cheap video recording devices has led to a dramatic shift in both the production and distribution of video by everyday citizens. The term ‘citizen journalism’ usually suggests the adoption of basic journalistic standards in a non-professional context, often supporting local citizens to create and comment on local news and current affairs. As this approach often engages people who are new to media, a particular emphasis on ethics is often required.

  • Supports the 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 Burmese people’s uprising (Saffron Revolution) in 2007 and the ‘January 25 Revolution’ unfolding on Cairo’s Tahrir square in 2011. In each case, citizens’ still and video images became the most viewed and emblematic depictions of these major events. 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.

  • Focuses on exposing or 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
  • Quickly educates and mobilises 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 format (2-5 minute) with structured training used to enable non-professional, everyday storytellers to create their own personal ‘mini-movie’.

  • Uses intimate and personal experience as an approach to change-making
  • Focuses on personal story as a form of empowerment
  • Supports 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, mashups and curated collections

Increased access to the internet, broadband and video-editing software, as well as digital literacy have changed the way people engage with video content online. Current evidence suggests the remixing and curating of video content ‘found’ online is growing more popular in some countries, particularly among young people. Some social change remixes have quickly reached millions of people.

  • Engages with issues through media
  • Can support people not directly affected by an issue (who may be located in another country) to become advocates
  • Emphasises creative commons licensing (a public copyright license that allows for free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work) 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

Interactive Video

This is a type of digital video that supports user interaction with the content through clickable spots on the video file, which allow you to perform an action.

  • Interaction enables the user or viewer to take an action directed by the video-maker. Examples include:
    • donating to a cause from within a video
    • choosing a story path or ending, which allows the viewer to consider and assess various scenarios within a community or environment
    • responding to prompts or questions, allowing the viewer to be tested and educated on the material in the video

Immersive Media

While not technically ‘video’ (which is two-dimensional and viewed passively from the ‘outside’), it is important for video-makers to understand the possibilities of immersive media, because these types of media have been gaining ground in the realm of social change storytelling for the past decade. Immersive media creates the illusion of being immersed in a physical world through simulation.

There are many types of Immersive media, though currently the most commonly used in social change initiatives are created through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

VR is the computer-generated simulation of 3D images or environments that can be experienced as if “real” using special electronic equipment, such as a headset. AR is virtual content that can be experienced or interacted with in the real world, such as digital images that ‘pop out’ of real objects.

  • Places the media user ‘inside’ the experience, which conveys an idea of being in the same location and context of the community or issue depicted
  • The experience creates an enhanced sense of intimacy and immediacy
  • Beyond all the ethical considerations of a two-dimensional Video for Change initiative, immersive media have their own particular ethical issues:
    • There is evidence to suggest virtual environments leave users more open to manipulation than 2D experiences, and that there are influences that users don’t even notice.
    • The risk for ‘armchair activism’ — that is, claiming activism but not taking any real action — is greater because users feel like they’ve “been there”. This could lead to lazy or dismissive social change efforts.

Video Archiving

Video archiving has a long history in the context of national sound and video archives 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
  • Takes 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 retelling and recording 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
  • Often focuses 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