What is empowerment?

From: http://www.gamechangenetwork.info/GAMEchangeVision/WomensEmpowerment.html

Some definitions

‘The process through which those who are currently disadvantaged achieve equal rights, resources and power’

“Empowerment is like obscenity; you have trouble defining it but you know it when you see it” (Rappaport 1986)

“I like the term empowerment because no one has defined it clearly as yet; so it gives as a breathing space to work it out in action terms before we have to pin ourselves down to what it means. I will continue using it until I am sure it does not describe what we’re doing.” (NGO worker quoted in Batliwala 1993)



•  is concerned with increasing realisable and informed choices within a framework ofhuman rights and equality

•  inevitably involves challenging existing inequalities in power and resources

•  involves a combination of individual initiative and collective action

• is complex processwhich consists of interlinked and mutually reinforcingdimensions;(economic, cultural, legal, political, psychological) and;levels;(e.g. individual, family, community, macro-level)

•  requires not only ‘self-help’ by those who are currently disadvantaged butchanges in those who are currently advantaged and addressing macro-level inequalities

Elements of a framework:

  • process of transformation in power relations
  • dimensions of inequalities where change is needed eg economic, social,political, legal
  • levels at which change is needed eg 

Visual Storytelling

Coding and decoding meaning

Visual storytelling requires an understanding of communication theory:

  • how images are coded with meaning/s – and how these are affected by the particular skills and views of the illustrator.
  • how viewers might then decode these images – how those meanings are read.
  • ‘noise’ affecting the relationship between the two – whether it should be eliminated or accommodated. The type of ‘noise’ will vary depending on who is looking at the work, where they are, and their cultural standpoint.
Narrative structure


Assignment 2: Theoretical Framework

TASK: (1,200–1,500 words) Look back at all the choices you’ve made in terms of format, theoretical perspective and research methodology and check that you’re happy with them – for now, at any rate.

Refocused question following tutor feedback in the light of my personal changes:

Which visual narrative principles and techniques are most effective for translating community empowerment stories into 60 second on-line animations for a global audience? How might narrative approaches differ between media (stick cartoon animation, photography, collage)?

Changes since Assignment 1: reflective explanation

Community empowerment stories from earlier work will still inform what I am communicating and how. But my main focus of questioning is now on how to translate these into powerful and convincing narratives for a global on-line audience and social network feedback mechanisms, rather than community participatory process.

As my tutor pointed out, my plans for this module were very ambitious and not everything needs to be done at once. So part of my work in this assignment has been to further focus my questions for this module – identifying which questions and issues I might leave for the final module ‘Sustaining Your Practice’. The refocusing of my question is based on a number of changes since Assignment 1:

In-depth reliable community input and feedback will not now be possible. A combination of work changes and allergy issues mean that it is now very unlikely that I will travel outside UK until 2020. This means that I will need to work with material I already have and feedback will be limited to on-line social and professional networks ie a different audience, but one that has a key role in advocacy.

Inclusion of a wider range of media: my reliance now on home-based computer work means that I will have to be more careful about RSI – and hence the amount of intensive tweening animation work I can do in Flash. As I have progressed with VisCom Advanced Practice I have become much more interested in photography and broadening my technical skills to collage, as well as other physical media that I explored in earlier OCA modules. It would be very useful for me as a UK-based illustrator going forward to look at a range of media approaches, particularly photography and collage and other techniques that could be used by designers on the ground who do not have access to advanced software.

Discovery of translation theory: As I was grappling with these issues I went systematically through the research frameworks suggested and started to look at translation theory as a very relevant way of framing the challenges faced in my new focus on community-led development advocacy.

In order to avoid the need for linguistic translation, the focus is still on wordless pictorial communication. The on-line focus – together with restrictions of RSI – also makes it sensible to focus on very short high impact animation – setting a 60 second limit. The ‘interactive cement’ will be developed in Adobe Animate (html/javascript/video) or InDesign
(interactive pdf) embedded into WordPress, but the images themselves are produced in a wider range of media.

Format for my written and visual work

The written report will be in the form of an interactive animated web page integrated into the first section of this blog with downloadable pdf, summarising my conclusions about:

  • theoretical framework encompassing visual communications theory and translation theory and ways of addressing potential challenges between the two in a global context
  • the ways in which different media (drawing, photography, collage and animation) have been used for wordless narratives and animation by selected illustrators in the context of visual communications debates
  • innovations and challenges faced in translating community empowerment narratives for a global audience discovered in my own visual research
  • experience and possible ways forward for participatory on-line feedback in terms of both visual critique and dissemination/impact for advocacy
  • overall conclusions about community-led pictorial communication for empowerment advocacy and issues for further innovation.

This will have links to sections on the blog:

VisCom Frameworks: with animated visual and text info graphics clarifying theoretical issues and linking research approach.

Visual Inspiration: animated info graphic showing linkages and principles employed by other illustrators and animators to address some of the challenges posed in wordless pictorial communication.

Communicating Empowerment: showcases my own visual research will be uploaded to this blog (and You Tube channel??) with the supporting posts and resource links including:

  • visual portfolio on concepts and strategies for empowerment, – three  interactive animated info-graphics in the different media, inspired by styles and visions of selected community drawings that can be understood and disseminated on-line across audiences and contexts

Attention to the style and presentation of this blog as an engaging global resources:

  • WordPress themes
  • 2019 graphic styles
  • African style
  • Islamic styles
  • Ethiopia
  • India

Theoretical and research frameworks

Theoretical and research frameworks are essentially interlinked. My own understanding of the distinction (based on my social science training and professional work) is roughly:

  • a theoretical framework links a set of concepts and definitions with hypotheses and/or questions (theories) about how the concepts are related to each other
  • a research methodology is the application of theory to the world to investigate the hypotheses/questions given the initial conceptual understandings.

Often there is congruence between the conceptual framework and research methods (eg qualitative or participatory methods to address issues of empowerment), but it is also possible to use a range of methods to triangulate and further confirm specific conclusions.

Theoretical framework

Framed in the overarching context of:

  • Translation theory : as a set of questions and approaches to ‘translating community voices for advocacy’ tackling some of the tensions between community empowerment and visual communication design.

I will consider potential interlinkages and tensions between:

  • Empowerment theory as the overarching aim of my work – but where inherent tensions between universalist and individualist definitions of ’empowerment’ mirror in many respects the divisions in Visual Communications theory.
  • Communication theory: the principles and methods by which information is conveyed based on largely Western audiences and research.
  • Post-structuralism/post-modernism/interpretivism: focusing on relationships and elements in a conceptual system but (following postmodernism) exploring the challenges of potential plurality and instability of pictorial (as well as verbal) meaning across cultures and contexts. Taking a qualitative and open approach, mixing different artistic styles and media.

Research methodology

I envisage the research going through a number of phases which may overlap and interlink rather than being purely linear:

  • Bricoleur: bringing together and looking at commonalities and insights across a variety of VisCom approaches in different media: photography, collage, cartoons and animation. The criteria for selection will be that inspiration for analysis will be wordless (or mostly wordless), accessible/readable by a global audience and technically as simple as possible for at least partial replication by people working directly with communities.
  • Reflective practice: exploring and applying the visual communication techniques from my ‘bricolage’ to produce a range of ‘translations’ of a small set of different community empowerment narratives.
  • Semiotics and textual analysis: as a ‘testing and discussion framework’. study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation – applied to compare and contrast both the ‘bricolage inspiration’ and my reflective translation practice. To identify which signs/concepts are common across different social categories (women/men, age, ethnicity) and context and where the main areas for misunderstanding or misinterpretation may lie. In the case of the selected community sources I generally have some accompanying verbal or textual documentation.
  • Participatory Action Research through social networks/e-feedback: through collaborating with colleagues and community friends who speak some English for feedback of their own interpretations and reactions. Possibly they may also ask others in communities where they work, if they have time/opportunity.

These are discussed in detail in Assignments 3 and 4 as I apply in practice to my research. And material on the above links will be updated accordingly (with animation and info graphics??).

Draft literature and resources review

Visual Communications resources

See Bibliography

Key resources from communities

I am aiming at a diversity of ‘translation’ approaches to a limited set of my available visual sources from earlier work in communities selected to represent a range of source media and also perspectives on empowerment that might need different translation approaches. Based on my analysis from the VisCom sources I will select 3-5 examples to explore in depth from the following possibilities:

  • Women’s empowerment: Pakistan, India, Sudan and Uganda (participatory drawings and workshop video)
  • Gender-based violence: Pakistan, India, Uganda, Tanzania (participatory drawings)
  • Men’s and women’s views of ‘Happy Families’: Pakistan, India and Kyrgyzstan (participatory drawings and video interview)
  • Men’s views on adultery, alcoholism and addiction from Uganda and Kenya (video stories)
  • Men’s control of coffee money and its consequences: DRC (role play photos)
  • Men’s control of land and its consequences: Kenya and Uganda (diagram analysis and video story)

The selection will aim to enable powerful narrative to a global audience and point to a number of different ways in which community sources can be adapted for wordless 60 second animations. Some animations will be based on one story/context only, others may combine images from different processes to increase their cross-contextual understanding/highlight similarities and variations.


• Will my choices enable me to answer my research question?
• Are they appropriate for the visual and written work I am proposing?
• Do I need to rethink anything or gather any additional texts or resources?

Reflective Commentary

See above – I needed to put this first to explain the changes underpinning my refocusing.


For links to posts on specific illustrators and animators see menu on right. Key texts highlighted in bold.

Visual Communications and design

  • Baldwin, J. & Roberts, L., (2006) Visual Communication: from research to practice, London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc.
  • Barlow, H., Blakemore, C. & Weston-Smith, M. (eds.) (1990) Images and Understanding, Cambridge, New Yorlk, Port Chester, Melbourne, Sydney: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bell, R. & Sinclair, M., (2005) Pictures and Words: New comic art and narrative illustration, London: Lawrence King Publishing.
  • Bishop, C. (ed.) (2006) Participation, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: MIT Press.
  • Blazer, L., (2016) Animated Storytelling: simple steps for creating animation and motion graphics, USA: Peachpit Press.
  • Davis, M., (2012) Graphic Design Theory, London: Thames and Hudson.
    Downs, S., (2012) The Graphic Communication Handbook, London, New York: Routledge.
  • Hall, S., (2012) This Means This, That Means That: a user’s guide to semiotics, London: Laurence King Publishing.
  • Jason Lankow, J. R., Ross Crooks, (2012) Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling, New Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons inc.
  • Julier, G., (2014) The Culture of Design Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: Sage Publications.
  • Kepes, G. & Giedion, S., (1944) Language of Vision, USA: Wisconsin Cuneo Press.
  • Kristof, R. & Satran, A., Interactivity by Design: creating and communicating with new media, Moutnain View USA: Adobe Press.
  • Macario, J. W., (2009) Graphic Design Essentials: Skills, software and creative solutions, London: Lawrence King Publishing.
  • Noble, I. & Bestley, R., (2001) Experimental Layout, East Sussex, UK: Rotovision SA.
  • Noble, I. & Bestley, R., (2016) Visual Research: an introduction to research methods in graphic design, London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc.
  • Rihde, M., (2013) The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note teaking, USA: Peachpit Press.
  • Rose, G., (2016) Visual Methodologies: and introduction to researching with visual materials, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi,Singapore, WashingtonDC, Melbourn: Sage Publications.
  • Taussig, M., (2011) I swear I saw this: drawings in fieldwork notebooks, namely my own, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Tharp, T., (2003) The Creative Habit: learn it and use it for life, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

To be added:

  • resources on participatory development and theories of change
  • Adobe Animate and javascript handbooks

Assignment 1: Research Question and Plans

Which design and story-telling principles used by animators and illustrators creating textless narratives are most important in converting farmer drawings and photos into powerful representations of farmer voices on empowerment and leadership in development?

Why I selected this research question

I want to explicitly link my visual communications visual experimentation and research with my professional consultancy work on participatory visual methodologies for development agencies in order to increase my ability to communicate the voice of farmers across contexts and to powerful people.

See: Research rationale

Key interests are the integration of textless design and storytelling principles of illustrators and animators with theories of change and stakeholder participation in international development. This is obviously a long term and multi-faceted process – particularly because my professional work covers a range of issues and I work in a wide range of media where I am keen to improve my skills.

A key challenge was therefore to narrow the question down to focus on specific technical skills most central to communicating the voice of farmers. For that reason the main focus is on Adobe Animate as a way of collating drawings and worked photographs of farmer role plays. Improving also my skills in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I also selected empowerment and leadership as crosscutting issues for my work and for which I have the most interesting cross-cultural farmer visuals.

Visual work options

My visual work will start with selection of a library of the most powerful drawings/concepts of empowerment and leadership and photo series of role plays from different cultures and selection of which farmer images to work with.

These images will then be digitised and worked on in different ways that aim to keep the energy and immediacy of the originals.

These images will then be collated into textless visual narratives as:

  • one page comic/infographics
  • 60 second animations
  • Interactive presentations combining the two

Experimenting with different solutions applying different principles from other illustrators and animators who have produced powerful textless narratives.

A selection of these will then be shared with farmers and development agencies for feedback of which solutions they find most powerful.

Finally a selection of 2-3 of the most successful solutions agreed under each head will be finalised for on-line publication.

Key texts, resources and gatekeepers

The key texts will bring together:

  • visual communications theory and participatory development theory to provide a framework for participatory visual communication for empowerment.
  • in-depth analysis of the work of illustrators and animators who have produced powerful textless, or nearly textless, infographic comics, animations and interactive experiences.

This will be combined with cross-cultural comparative analysis of:

  • drawings and photographs from participatory empowerment and leadership workshops in  Asia and Africa

My own visual research will draw on inputs and feedback from colleagues on the ground in Africa and Asia and in international development agencies as well as visual communications networks and OCA VisCom students.

For a list of resources collated so far see: Bibliography and the links in the menus in the righthand column of this page.

Time scale and plan of campaign

For further details see Narrowing down your topic Question 4.2 Action Plan

  • Mid January Assignment 1
  • End February Assignment 2 theoretical framework from VisCom and development literature, including analysis of design and animation principles used by other illustrators and animators and collation of bodies of images to be used from farmers.
  • End October Assignment 3 upgrading of technical skills (particularly Adobe Animate), drafting of infographics and animations and sharing with development networks.
  • End December Assignment 4 refining most successful infographics and animations and sharing with VisCom networks, reviewing and extending reading and consultation of background resources,
  • End March 2020 Assignment 5.

Strengths, weaknesses and strategies

Key strengths and opportunities for this proposal are:

  • my professional development experience and links. I have a good body of farmer drawings and photographs from which to select images to work with.  Because the project addresses a key challenge in my work I am hopeful that I will get the feedback I hope for.
  • I am not planning to take on so much professional work this year for a range of personal and professional reasons. So I should have a lot more time to devote to my degree.

Key weaknesses and threats

  • Although I plan to take in much less professional work, I do need to earn some income. This means I may unexpectedly need to alter my schedule.
  • I suffer from RSI that I have managed since 1994. This means that I have to be careful how much computer work I do at any one time. I have to diversify my activities and limit computer work for my degree if I have a lot of paid computer work.
  • I am doing this module alongside the Advanced Practice module. This focuses on physical skills and so should help diversify my activities. But I need to sequence assignments carefully.
  • I tend to have very many ideas and get intensely interested in things. I will need to be careful to keep focused and not take on too much. Exactly how I do this will become clearer once I have done Assignment 2.
  • Although I have postdoctoral research experience in my field, I am much less familiar with VisCom research and not so good (or motivated) at theoretical debates and critique in VisCom. Coupled with my RSI issues I will have to pace myself and spend quite a lot of time on reflection. Concept maps of theory will help.
  • I do not need to finish this module before end September 2020 and my work plan leaves plenty of time in case of overshoot.

Review and analysis of progress

I started this project with a broad idea of the types of ways in which I could integrate my work interests and visual communications work. With very many ideas. Initially doing very many maps appeared to be a bit repetitive. But as I continued I found that each idea thread could become more focused.

I think the research question I now have is reasonably clear, and can be answered in the word limit of the written assignment. Bringing all these maps together in Question 4 was particularly useful – and the collage process one I can use for other purposes in future in my work.

The topic is very important to the alternative participatory visual communications framework I am trying to develop in my work. I am  very therefore fully motivated to go into detail on the relevant visual communications theory. I am planning to increase my design proficiency in concept mapping software in my syntheses of VisCom debates – but starting with pencil/physical draft maps and moodboards in my sketchbook – and seeing how far I can also represent some of that visually.

The visual research is also something I am extremely motivated by I will need to do a thorough review of all the various processes I have been involved in to see which drawings and photos are most interesting to select. This may lead to either a broadening out of the topic from empowerment/leadership to include value chains to focus on cross-cultural comparisons, or a narrowing down to just gender or leadership or another topic.

The actual visual outputs I produce are not yet completely specified. I can see a logical progression from drawings and photos  1-page layout to 60 second animation to interactive experience using Adobe Animate. Using selected material on one issue in 2-3 cultural locations. But depending on my in-depth review of the materials I have, I may decide to focus on one set of drawings/photos and take that through. Or a broader set of drawings/photos/issues and do a cross-cultural comparative set of experiments in only one of these.

I think that my understanding, and maybe the research question itself, will continue to evolve and be refined and re-focused when I have gone deeper into the theoretical framework and had time to review all my secondary material from farmers and development agencies. And now also the relevant literature from development theory.

It will not be until the end of Assignment 2 that my plans, blog structure and thereby resources/gatekeepers etc will be completely clear. I will have to set that as a time limit, and leave any pending issues at that point for another project.

1b Research Proposal: Narrowing down the topic

1.4.1 Is the project driven by visual or written work.

This research is driven by visual challenges thrown up by my professional work on empowerment and leadership through participatory workshops with farmers, companies and development agencies. It is part of the development of a new model for participatory visual communication in development (see modelling above).

Addressing those visual challenges to translate drawings and photographs from the participatory workshops into powerful narratives that can work over multiple contexts to promote communication between farmers in different places and companies and development agencies requires research on other illustrators and animators who have developed engaging textfree narratives. This will establish some guidelines and principles that can be generalisable to other participatory communication processes – replacing currently ‘professionalised’ design with communication based directly on farmer visual images.

1.4.2 Action Plan

February – July Assignment 2

    • Review and cross-cultural analysis of existing farmer drawings and photographs in different countries in Africa and Asia from my own archive and from other colleagues – community farmer trainers and staff in companies and development agencies.
    • Download and analysis of known internet resources and search for other material on empowerment and leadership
    • Facebook discussion on VisCom4Dev set up on gamechange Facebook page
    • Review and analysis of books on textless (or near textless) infographics and 1 page comics
    • Review and analysis of textless animations on-line and methodologies of designing 60 second animations and interactive presentations.
    • Development of underlying viscom framework for the research and experimentation
    • Learning Adobe Animate in depth from manuals

July – December Assignment 3

  • Visual research and experimentation with converting selected farmer images and photographs into 1 page infographics, 60 second animations and interactive presentations
  • Sharing of my experiments as I proceed to get ideas and feedback from development colleagues (I want to get the development content agreed first)
  • Refinement of the experiments on the basis of feedback (depending on my consultancy work, I hope to be able to test directly with communities)

January-end Feb Assignment 4 

  • Sharing the revised infographics, animations and presentations with visual communications networks for feedback on design and aesthetics and communication to a wider audience
  • Further revisions to the materials in the light of that feedback and revisiting the theoretical research from Assignment 2
  • Drafting the Research Report

Feb-end March 2020 Assignment 5

  • Final revisions and review

1.4.3: Visual research: What do I want to achieve?

I want to develop skills in  designing simple textless infographics and animations  with interactivity in Adobe Animate.

I want to consolidate skills in:

  • ways of converting farmer drawings into usable digital form using image trace and blend modes etc in  Adobe Illustrator and/or Photoshop and/or Animate.
  • use of my own and other photographs eg through working over them in gouache/pen/crayon and/or collage to tell ‘reality-based’ narratives.

I want to produce:

  • a series of textless one page info-graphic comics, 60 second animations and interactive presentations based on farmer drawings and role plays about empowerment and leadership for download onto mobile phones to increase farmers’ voice in communicating with other farmers and companies and development agencies worldwide.
  • a short set of principles and guidelines on making engaging textless animation that can be applied by farmers and local organisations using locally available Apps on mobile phones

This will require review of:

  • farmer drawings on empowerment and leadership from participatory workshops I have facilitated
  •  company/NGO/academic ‘expert’ empowerment training materials
  • Design principles used by illustrators and animators who have produced simple wordless narratives, particularly those working in Flash
  • Types of Apps for local mobile smartphones

I want to promote my work to:

  • Farmers in Africa and Asia through on-line social networks and contacts I have
  • communities, companies, agencies and researchers interested in farmer empowerment
  • Illustration/animation forums interested in participatory/community VisCom

I want to refine my own skills in expressive textless visualisation and video design principles to be able to make the best use of farmer drawings

I want to explore

  • How textless visual communication works – types of framing, juxtaposition and contrast, role of humour/tension, timing etc
  • Differences in audience response to drawing and photo-based information and different roles these might play, can they be combined?
  • Different layout options for one page comics/infographics
  • Different methods of animating : stop motion of drawing process or role play, frame by frame and tweening
  • How far the same images can be used in layout and animation and what design adaptations might be needed going from sequence/infographic to animation.
  • How the original drawings are best done and preserved to maximise the ease of digitisation/photographing
  • How far these methods and principles can be applied by farmer organisations and local development organisations using software available to them

I want to prove that:

  • it is possible to create powerful textless one page comic infographics and short animations and presentations based on farmer drawings and role plays.
  • It is possible to do this at least to some extent using media available in communities and software that is available to most development agencies.

I want to involve:

  • farmers, local organisations and companies facilitating empowerment and leadership capacity-building with whom I am in regular WhatsAp/Facebook contact with in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Philippines.
  •  others working on empowerment and leadership in international development agencies and academic institutions
  •  infographic designers and animators and OCA VisCom students who might be interested in giving feedback from a design/aesthetic perspective

I want to integrate:

  •  visual communications theory (semiotics, post-modernist/feminist approaches), design and animation principles  and
  • participatory development theory: theories of change and empowerment and leadership methodologies.

to develop a new model of participatory visual communications that enables the voices of farmers to be powerfully represented in strategy and policy.

5 Narrowing down your research topic

4.1 Look through and identify main areas of interest

I started by printing out and pasting all the elements from my previous maps that were relevant for my answers in Question 3. The remaining elements I pasted on a separate page for possible follow up later in other modules or outside this degree.

Maps revisited and refined
Maps revisited and refined

2 Take each starting point and turn it into a series of questions

My starting points focused on a range of different types of output:

  1. How can information graphics best communicate voices of women, youth and men farmers to global companies, development agencies and researchers using insights from visual communications theory on semiotics and cross-cultural design?
  2. Most infographics integrate text and image. How far can the text be eliminated? When is text really needed? (involving me working with existing infographics by development agencies and seeing how far I can simplify and remove text, drawing on examples from illustration)
  3. How can collage and layout design principles be used to produce clear textless infographics using photographs of farmer role plays and drawings of empowerment and leadership?
  4. How can textless animation design principles be applied to farmer drawings and role play photographs to create powerful 60 second animations on empowerment and leadership?
  5. How far and in what ways do animation and interactivity add to clarifying textless communication farmer-identified  empowerment strategies ? What lessons can be learned from illustrators and animators?
  6. Which design and story-telling principles used by animators and illustrators creating textless narratives are most important in converting farmer drawings and photos into powerful representations of farmer voices on empowerment and leadership in development?