Within development organisations communication has traditionally been associated with the promotion and boosting of the institution’s public profile, disseminating outputs and facilitating information flows. However, communications and digital media can also contribute to the development process itself, a field of inquiry broadly known as communication for development and social change.
Such approaches are rooted in Freirean notions of dialogue as being a central tenet of transformative communication, and as a practice places great emphasis on the facilitation of praxis and the nurturing of critical reflection for informed action.
The DPU has been engaging in a number of workshops that have built on the existing body of literature on participatory visual and storytelling methodologies in order to explore the interface between digital media, civic participation and urban planning.
Civic urban media not only explores the interface between these three unique fields of inquiry, but also takes the communication methodology as the object of analysis in itself. Through continued workshops, the intention is to develop a DPU methodology that considers the role that media and communications can play in challenging representations of the urban poor, and to foster networks of potential citizens’ media groups who could continue to produce grassroots digital media outputs.
Projects and workshops
Responding to COVID-19 in Informal settlements through Communication Practices: Lessons towards securing the right to housing in São Paulo and Lagos
During the COVID-19 lockdown in the summer of 2020, the DPU facilitated a series of discussions alongside União dos Movimentos de Moradia (UMM) in São Paulo and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) and the Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation in Lagos. The exchanges focussed on sharing experiences of using media and communication practices to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the potential contributions to the wider issue of housing rights.
In Lagos, JEI have been supporting the Federation through a storytelling campaign called Corona diaries of the urban poor, a citizen journalism series told from the intersection of the coronavirus pandemic and urban poverty.
In São Paulo, União have been forming a network of community representatives to carry out communication activities through alternative media channels (which include social media but also community radio amongst others). They have undertaken training activities on the use of social media and trying to generate video footage about what is going on in communities to share via WhatsApp.
The DPU team comprised of Alexandre Apsan Frediani (now at International Institute for Environment & Development) and Alexander Macfarlane (Media & Communications Officer) faciliated a series of virtual meetings which aimed to support the continued development of a research agenda around civic urban media and the right to housing, focusing on a dialogue between São Paulo and Lagos. The discussions featured the participation of members from both partners, as well as additional contributions from Bea Varnai (urbaMonde) and James Taylor (Know Your City TV).
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Freetown through a citizens’ media lens – neighbourhood planning using participatory photography
Location: Freetown, Sierra Leone
Date: February 2018
Partner: Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC)
Methodology: Participatory photography
The one-week collaborative workshop held in Freetown in February 2018 was built on the Bartlett Development Planning Unit’s recent engagements in Rio de Janeiro and Lagos that focussed on the incorporation of participatory visual methodologies into research and advocacy. Developing from the communication for development and social change (CfDSSC) field of inquiry, the workshop aimed to bring together a group of ten participants from two Freetown informal settlements, Cockle Bay and Dwarzack, in order to utilise a participatory photography (PP) methodology that could feed into the ongoing SLURC research on ‘The Role of Action Area Plans for Inclusive City-Making in Freetown’.
In order to do this, the workshop design encouraged participants to consider issues of their choosing faced by their communities, to explain the context of these issues and their impact on residents, consider both current and potential solutions, and finally to include barriers to these. This design was based on the ASF-UK CbD methodology of diagnosis, dreaming, developing and defining, whilst still remaining true to the requirements of a PP workshop. The consideration of issues at the different scales of home, neighbourhood and city is also a feature of both this workshop and the CbD methodology.
The workshop also emerged from consideration of the role that citizens’ media could play in urban planning, and how groups of citizen journalists could use photography as a tool to self-represent, tell their own narratives, recodify collective identities and interace with mainstream media discourses.
Participant photo stories
- Bashiru Brima - Water facilities
- Abdulai Conteh - Fishing
- Yusufa Conteh - Water facilities
- Sallieu Barba Kamara - Housing and flooding risk
- Joana Kaine - Toilet facilities
- Tina C. Kamara - Garbage disposal
- Elssanatu Kargbo - Bridge construction
- Fatmata Koroma - Housing density
- John Hassan Koroma - Land banking
- Ibrahim Foday Sillah - Toilet facilities
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Exploring well-being narratives through participatory video in Lagos
Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Date: February 2017
Partner: Justice and Empowermnt Initiatives (JEI)
Methodology: Participatory video
In Lagos, Nigeria, an estimated two-thirds of the city’s 23 million inhabitants live in informal settlements, where a lack of security of tenure means that residents live in constant fear of eviction. There has been a recent spate of mass evictions of the urban poor in the city resulting in a continued threat to all waterfront settlements.
Within this context DPU teamed up with Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a Lagos-based NGO working to provide community-based paralegal services in urban poor communities, to realise a workshop that explored the impact of the threat of evictions on the wellbeing of residents.
The DPU team led by Alexandre Apsan Frediani and Alexander Macfarlane, working with Sandra Boni (visiting researcher at DPU from Ingenio, CSIC - UPV), utilised participatory video as an action-learning methodology to consider a number of questions, namely: How people have faced the threat of evictions in Nigerian cities? What role has/could participatory well-being analysis through participatory video play in the urban poor’s struggles to secure tenure and avoid forced evictions?
During the five day intensive workshop, the DPU team and JEI, represented by Andrew Maki and Megan Chapman, worked with 25 participants from various communities across the city, all of whom were members of the Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation, a grassroots movement of the urban poor.
A series of diagnostic exercises aimed to unpack how ‘wellbeing’ is conceptualised by the participants and how the threat of evictions impacts upon it. Through the introduction of cameras and storyboarding exercises, the four groups were able to formulate the thematic issues and key messages that they intended to focus on, as well as developing the narrative of their videos. The groups then undertook the filming within the three communities in which they focused. This was followed by a session in which participants were able to learn the skills required to edit their videos across the final days.
The week culminated in a public screening of the four films provided a space for feedback and a chance to consider how the use of video can be incorporated further into the work of the Federation and JEI.
A video was produced in order to document the process and methodology.
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A Social Agenda for the Olympics – Favela Upgrading and Integration into the City
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date: Noveber 2015
Partner: O Instituto Brasileiro de Análises Sociais e Econômicas (Ibase)
Methodology: Participatory video and collaborative video
The DPU held a workshop with a small youth group from two favelas in Rio de Janeiro to explore a the urbanisation and integration of favaleas in the city and the potential legacy of the Olympic Games. Video was used as a research tool throughout the week.
- DPU partner Ibase had been developing a campaign to address the legacy of the Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, building on its strategy of active citizenship in order to strengthen favela organisations and networks and to advocate for an inclusive, diverse, and participatory city. In 1996 Ibase put together a social agenda with the objective of discussing the potential legacy of Rio de Janeiro’s bid to host the Olympic Games. One of its key targets called for favela upgrading and integration into the city. Rio didn’t win the bid, but the social agenda gathered great support from civil society, governments and the private sector. With Rio poised to host the Olympics in the summer of 2016, Ibase revisited the debate. The DPU, represented by Alexandre Apsan Frediani (Senior Lecturer) and Alexander Macfarlane (Media & Communications Officer), joined Ibase in November 2015 in order to realise a workshop.
- The workshop included the use of video as an integral part of the research process. The methodology envisaged video being used to trigger discussion amongst key stakeholders at a final workshop. Working with a group of young volunteers from the favelas of Borel and Providência, the participants were trained in basic video techniques as well as storyboarding and narrative construction. They were then given cameras and instructed to produce a short video of interviews with favela residents. The video was edited externally, though was edited through a process of discussion and reflection with the volunteers around the key themes, and structured in accordance with their storyboards.
- In addition, DPU and Ibase produced a second video of interviews with social movements and governmental representatives. The short video was based around the narratives that emerged around the three issues identified. The videos were shown at a final workshop held with a range of stakeholders, including government members, favela residents, social movements, residents’ association leaders. The videos were successful in initiating dialogue, culminating in the collaborative creation of action plans based on three key themes.
The use of video during this workshop emphasised process over product. The final films are not research outputs, nor are they documentaries. The videos were used within the context of the workshop in order to engage stakeholders with the issues (that had been identified with the youth group), and to instigate discussion.
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Video produced by Ibase and DPU to compliment the youth group's video in order to trigger discussion in the final workshop.
Favela Upgrading and Integration into the City – 20 years on By Mariana Dias Simpson
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