Jiban Karki and Sarita Panday, Research Associates from the Department of Politics, were in rural Nepal conducting fieldwork using Participatory Video with the aim of giving ordinary people a voice in policy processes that are supposed to be for their benefit.
The 2015 Nepal earthquakes killed more than 9000 people and injured more than 22,000 affecting almost a third (8 million) of the population. This initiated discussions about resilience policy development amongst the Nepalese government and its international partners to better prepare the country for future disasters. Yet, this discussion often failed to take into account perceptions or experiences of ordinary people, especially those in rural communities.
This led to the development of our project ‘Resilience policy-making: giving voice to communities’. We chose Participatory Video as a way to bring together grassroots views about disasters resilience, drawing on their own needs and experiences, and to feed these into the policy process.
Participatory Video has been praised for its ability to increase agency of marginalised individuals and communities by giving them a means to recognise and speak up about their own issues, and has been used in various settings, although rarely in Nepal. However, implementing a Participatory Video project is not without challenges.
This blog outlines our experiences of using this research method in three rural villages of Nepal – Jalbire, Hagam and Kerauja. We reflect on facilitating the Participatory Video training and overall process, including challenges, benefits and what we learnt along the way.
We worked for two weeks in each of the three earthquake-affected villages. In each village, we had a group of 8 or 9 local participants for the 10-days of training. We followed steps from our training delivered by Insight Share, but allowed the flexibility to address local needs, beginning with practical aspects of camera handling, using microphones, and filming, and then moving to editing and screening the final products at village-level events.
After much deliberation on various risks to their community, all villages chose to make a film about earthquakes. This included recollections of their suffering since 2015, the support they are getting (or not) in reconstructing earthquake-resistant houses, and their expectations from the Government and other agencies in future. The films were screened in a local school or community hall. Film viewers had an opportunity to ask questions and give feedback to the film makers and the research team after the screening.
We experienced several challenges, especially in recruiting participants, and in running the village-level screening events.
In Jalbire, key local officials whose role was to help us find potential participants either wanted us to include participants of their choice or wanted to get directly involved in the training themselves. Although some people tried to influence the process, we followed our pre-established selection criteria to minimise conflict by explaining how others can contribute to the project besides taking part in the Participatory Video process (for example, by taking part in focus group discussions and interviews). Yet, some were not happy with our offer because we could not pay them for these alternative activities.
In Hagam, our second training village, we had more difficulty in finding participants. Most adults were either busy reconstructing their earthquake-damaged houses, or had left to work in the Middle East, leaving only the elderly and children behind.
Keraunja, being one of the most remote villages in Gorkha District, was most challenging to work in however. Located almost two days’ walk away from the nearest road, the village posed a considerable risk to the researchers, as the location was largely uninhabitable due to a landslide. Unlike Jalbire and Hagam, where we first set up a meeting with key stakeholders (village leaders and community members) and asked them to send potential participants for interview, in Keraunja, we advertised our training 3 days in advance through our local NGO partner PHASE Nepal. This, as well as a village meeting with key stakeholders, helped us to easily find enough participants for our project.
Though our participant selection criteria were particularly tough, we tried our best to match them. The criteria included: an equal number of male and female participants from each village unit; including people from marginalized groups; getting participants who could invest at least 10 days, yet were educated enough to be able to learn to use the computer in such a limited time.
Many of our participants had low levels of education or had never touched a computer before, let alone used a Mac. Completing the filming and editing process was therefore a demanding job for both facilitators and participants!
The screening events were very different in each of the villages. However, a majority of the audience members at all village-level screening events acknowledged that the films illustrated a true picture of their experience of the recent disaster, and they asked us to show the films to policy-makers and seek funding to support them. The participants enjoyed the screenings and acknowledged that they benefited from making the films and watching them back in a public sphere. They valued the footage they had collected and were upset if someone suggested something negative about their final product. This was also reflected throughout the training, evident through their enthusiastic and fully dedicated approach.
This training was an eye opener regarding vast differences between our understanding of risk and those of the communities in which we were working. The communities in general considered their personal problems as risks, rather than wider risks to their villages. We didn’t find a definite word or clear definition for risk, resilience or disaster in the local languages.
The support of PHASE Nepal was invaluable in terms of participant selection and logistical support. Also, their grassroots level presence meant that we could establish a trusting environment so that the community felt at ease participating in the film making process.
Despite all the challenges of implementing Participatory Video in rural Nepal, we found it to be an effective tool to capture the voices of marginalised communities. Participants expressed ownership of their films and were extremely proud of mastering the skills to showcase their issues to the people who are accountable. In the next blog post, we will report on the screening of these films among policy audiences.
 In a future blog post, we will report on the experience of District level and High-Level screening and discussions during a policy workshop in Kathmandu.
Photos by Sarita Panday showing participatory video participants with their facilitators in Hagam, Sindhupalchok, and screening of a participatory video in Jalbire, Sindhupalchok.