VisCom4Dev explores ways of visually communicating development visions, analyses and strategies of women and men in poor and marginalised communities – including people who cannot read and write – to influence those in positions of power in private sector, governments and development agencies. To promote more inclusive, equitable and transparent decision-making and policy.
The focus of the blog is on the conceptual and theoretical issues involved in ’empowerment’ and for a practice of participatory visual communication that can ‘translate’ community empowerment visions and narratives into interactive info-graphics for advocacy. And the implications for participatory processes that might facilitate this. The general ideas and principles presented are applicable to other development concepts and processes.
What does empowerment look like? how can the principles of visual dynamics and narrative design improve ‘translations’ of community voices into persuasive wordfree visuals for advocacy?
More specifically the visual exploration looks at:
- how creative application of visual dynamics of line, shape, colour and placement can help explore, clarify and articulate different possible ‘translations’ rather than imposing one particular view.
- how creative application of narrative principles can help combine these drawings into sequential narratives like 1 page comics and 60-second animations and interactive info-graphics.
- how the creative process itself can be empowering in terms of self-reflection for participants themselves and promoting inclusion, communication and respect between people from very different backgrounds – the poorest in communities who have had no formal education to leaders in powerful institutions. And the participatory visual communication principles and techniques that could be employed.
The evolution and explanation of my research and thinking can be seen in the cumulative set of OCA Visual Research Assignments that form the linking thread for this blog.
Empowerment itself is a highly contested concept with potential tensions between approaches based on individual personal choice and those based on universal human rights. These debates to some extent mirror theoretical debates between ‘modernism’ and ‘post-modernism’ and ‘post/neo-post-modernism’ in the arts and social sciences. See Empowerment Concepts.
I propose a ‘bricolage’ research approach that enables visual exploration, clarification and where possible resolution of some of the complexities and tensions at a practical level. Bricolage is a qualitative research approach that weaves together threads and ideas from different theoretical frameworks and perspectives into a more informed and multi-faceted understanding of an issue. Bricolage at a practical level ‘cobbles together’ cheap local materials for image making and combining these into interactive interactive narrative information graphics. Aiming for a ‘multicoloured cloth’ a that people can unite around. See Bricolage research.
The main theories and perspectives I attempt to weave are:
- Visual communication theory: frameworks for looking at relationships between designers, audiences and messages
- Post-structuralist semiotics frameworks for looking at the ways in which messages communicate ‘meanings’
- Translation theory that looks at the types of role a designer ‘translator’ can have as intermediary between communities and powerful institutions.
My exploration starts by considering the visual dynamics of empowerment: what does empowerment look like? Starting with images of empowerment and disempowerment from women and men in communities I have worked with. I look at ways in which more expressive empowerment images could be produced using simple marker pens, biros and cheap notebook paper through use of line/mark-making, shape and colour. I take inspiration from visual design theory, logo design and illustrators producing wordless images and cartoons.
Here I look at the wordless storytelling by comic and animation illustrators and how the drawings and photo series from women and men in communities can be made more impactful and dramatic narratives of empowerment and disempowerment through different types of composition, layout and sequencing. Again using ‘bricolage’ methods that can be used in communities and workshops.
The final part brings together conclusions and frameworks as an animated interactive infographic with guidelines on participatory techniques for visual communication. Selected ’empowerment translations’ based on audience feedback are produced for mobile phone download and made available on You Tube for global accessibility.
It is hoped that bringing this information together on this blog may also inspire others to experiment further in their own work.