Increasing numbers of men and women in rural as well as urban communities worldwide now have smart phones and are on Facebook, twitter, Instagram and other social networks, particularly youth. This opens up many new opportunities for creating and disseminating information on development issues with more participatory feedback. At the same time large numbers of people do not speak any of the major international languages and people who cannot read and write – generally from poorer backgrounds and women – may become even more excluded.
The research project aims to develop an approach to participatory visual communications that addresses some of the current challenges I have faced in my professional work as facilitator of participatory pictorial processes and attempts by myself and others to communicate these outcomes for advocacy to a wider audience.
Challenges of participatory pictorial methodologies
Much of my professional consultancy work has focused on development of a pictorial participatory methodology for community-led change: Participatory Action Learning for Sustainability (PALS) see my GAMEchangenetwork blog
. Focusing on visual communication potentially enables:
- clarification of complex ideas and concepts
- more information to be conveyed in a much smaller space and time
- the resources to be accessible to all, promoting more equal communication and participation across barriers of literacy and power inequalities
- requires little or no translation across national and international language barriers
- enables large-scale low-cost dissemination through download to a mobile phone from the Internet.
The outputs of these participatory pictorial processes have proved extremely powerful in terms of changing attitudes and behaviours of participants from communities and development agencies and governments. However the drawings and images from women and men in communities are rarely in a form that is easily communicated to people who were not participating in the process. A lot of the impact of the community-level imagery is lost because lack of visual literacy by people with formal education – ie those in power – who see just a lot of ‘pretty pictures by illiterates’. There is a need to find ways of giving these drawings more clarity and authority as ‘graphic design’. And promoting visual literacy as a skill that is useful for creativity and lateral thinking at all levels.
Challenges of current visual communications in development agencies
The rapid spread of technology and rapid growth in development of on-line apps and software potentially enable staff in organisations to document and produce visual materials for people at different levels of the processes they are involved in. However, there is currently a profound gap in development agencies between those who implement participatory processes on the ground and those who design ‘development messages’. Many visual materials produced by development agencies on empowerment and other topics are fairly standardised in appearance and simplistic in their messages. Their top-down (and often rather patronising) approach means that even important information risks being ignored. The most’professional’ design relies on written diagrams – often in English or French! There is a need for some sort of ‘participatory protocol’ for designers working with communities. Including ways that people in communities themselves, and local staff can use simple local materials and free software to communicate messages effectively without the need for high levels of technical skill or budget.
Aims of this Visual Research Module
Revised research question based on tutor feedback:
Visual Communication for Development: how can info-graphic design and wordless story-telling principles and techniques be combined with pictorial participatory empowerment methodologies to effectively represent community voices in international development?
My visual research for this module builds on my professional work skills and aims to address key gaps in my skill set in relation to graphic design, animation and interactivity to make much more engaging and impactful pictorial materials. It explores possibilities for new participatory pictorial ways of exploring and communicating complex concepts through bringing together:
- drawings and diagrams around empowerment, leadership and livelihoods from communities I have worked with to analyse similarities and differences across cultures
- insights and innovation from visual communications in graphic styles, wordless communication, information graphics and pictorial web design
- participatory theory from development literature
My own visual research will focus on producing three experimental innovative pieces uploaded to this blog
focusing on concepts of empowerment, leadership and coffee livelihoods:
- based on community drawings and using physical media available cheaply in low income rural and urban communities:
- drawings in pencil, marker pens, biro on flipcharts and cheap white and/or coloured paper
- collage from drawings, local photos and/or news media and/or literature from development agencies
- edited, compiled and composited as interactive animated infographics using Adobe Animate
- consider how far similar resources can be produced in communities and organisations using drawing and mobile phone processed with free infographic and animation software.