From my point of view as a both a facilitator and a self confessed “geek”, I see new media an exciting opportunity for community researchers and practitioners to reflect on their work. CoLab Week was a perfect example – CoLab staff and students used affordable and easy-to-use participatory media tools like blogs, audio recorders, and digital still and video cameras to create a rich collaborative space for discussion of values, motivations, and future visions.
Media created using participatory media tools by staff and activist themselves can spark storytelling and improve the internal practices of an organization so that it is technology savvy and accessible to new audiences and stakeholders. This level of reflection and adaptability can prepare community-focused activists and citizens to re-frame the discussion for a wider audience when grant-based funding sources dry up and government budget cuts loom.
Unfortunately, in time and resource strapped contexts, subsequent questions will always arise around how to keep internally expanding and replicating these kinds of media projects. In response, I become more focused on answering one immediate question:
How can I use media tools to facilitate locally led collective action and tangible social change?
During my time as a student and researcher with MIT@Lawrence and now a media consultant the CoLab, I’ve come to realize that I might be a catalyst for a new approach to producing community-minded media. For example, we recently held an iMovie training for CoLab staff and students. Our goal was to equip them with the know-how to process the raw media they gather all the time and gain technical skill through a hands-on activity to create a short thirty-second to one-minute video “quote.”
Through the course of this short one-day training, we developed some ideas on how to process existing content and capture better raw content for the next project. We had frank discussions on balancing everyday work with reflective media production and managing expectations. But we also reflected that a small organization like CoLab needs to make space to be creative and learn media skills. By doing this learning in groups, it creates team solidarity and momentum. And, it was FUN.
My interventions aim to be about more than just producing a piece about a community issue or even teaching a few youth or adult staff how to use a camera or create a video online. I also try to use each media project as a unique chance to tease out what values or mission fuel an individual or an organization. I use this discussion as a moment to collaboratively decide with the new media maker about the most appropriate media tool and message format, given time and intended audience.
I’ve discovered that if I collaboratively reflect with the local staff and participants, the learner and the organization as a whole might be able to use my involvement as a unique opportunity to hone their own strategies.
In the end, only a few of the CoLab staff in that iMovie training finished a video piece. Some decided to try a completely different medium or are still working on longer video pieces on their own time. But many of them still felt energized by the end of that long day in the computer lab. Not only were they excited by their new digital literacy, but also by the chance to reaffirm their visions and strategies for creating change in the daily grind that is working in and for communities.
Have you had a recent experience where making media has helped you reflect on your practice or strategy? Send links!