Participatory Video and Most Significant Change… What on earth is that?

By Victoria Bridges

I attended a course in Participatory Video and Most Significant Change (PV MSC) in early June with some trepidation. I really was quite unsure of what to expect. I did know that InsightShare is an ethical organisation which works hard to amplify voices in an inclusive way. I had already taken their popular Oxford course in facilitation and had assisted on an InsightShare capacity building workshop in Ethiopia. So, I was familiar with InsightShare’s immersive barrier-busting techniques. I understood that PV demystified equipment and I had witnessed situations where the shy stepped forward and the tech-savvy back, disrupting power relationships.

But as a documentary filmmaker from the broadcast sector, the big unknown was its connection to Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation. I arrived full of energy, open to uncertainty. Day one, led by the lively and competent Soledad Muniz, was packed with getting-to-know-you games, learning by doing. I was very grateful for this. Not taking notes allowed me to be present with my feelings. The understanding is taken in more deeply, on a bodily — even unconscious — level. I was appreciative too of the massive ‘MISTAKES ARE GREAT’ poster we’d stuck on the wall. It’s liberating to be reminded that we are all fallible and that our strength is in admitting that.

Day 2 formed the nitty gritty. We were going to get the process firsthand, by being participants in it. First, we each mulled our story of Most Significant Change for the past year in our working lives. My own professional change was related to a sad life event, so I was unsure whether to share it. But telling it, and feeling both vulnerable and accepted in doing so, was comforting. The listening ear technique, where each person has one attentive witness to their testimony, felt healing: ‘Like having therapy’, said one participant.

But how to choose which story was most significant, when, as Sole reminded us, they are all valid and important? The technique here is ingenious.

We each voted for the one which implied to us a personal transformation, inspired by the caterpillar-to-butterfly image. We voted. There was a clear winner. But it was the iteration of that choice which really struck home. We went through the subtler reasons as to why we had made the choice we did. Then we all agreed, as a group, on our joint decision-making criteria. Finally, we checked our initial choices against these criteria and made a final choice. I loved it. The criteria list seemed to come out of a hive mind. It felt magical.

The filming was really fun. One group filmed the story of most significant change, where the storyteller was to speak in one take, without limitation (unfamiliar territory to me, this!), while the rest of the team discussed a ‘storyboard’ of images with which to illustrate the testimony. As every step is always inclusive, each person then took a scene from the storyboard and was shooter-director for that scene. It minimized the potential dominating effect of those of us who work in the media versus the participants who came from monitoring and evaluation roles and, humblingly, showed us that everyone had equally effective — sometimes a lot more creative — points of view. Then came the participatory analysis: unpacking the changes, blockers, and enablers of those changes in all the stories told, that helped us unearth the data from the stories. And the screening of the finished film, of course!

What did I take away from the PVMSC course? I ‘got’ that the method works not just as a highly effective participatory monitoring and evaluation tool: Films are certainly more fun to watch than endless words are to read, helping people absorb the learning in real time, and the multiple stages guarantee democratic decision-making and inclusive participation. But it works on many other powerful levels too. I found that my admiration for true collaboration was increased. I felt gratitude.

You can check a description of the method in detail in the toolkit here