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Posts Tagged ‘PRA’

I taught English in El Salvador when I was 24. A few of the students liked to talk with me about music. One day they wanted me to hear ‘this great song by Sepultura’, and I was like ‘Cool! That’s Orgasmatron!‘ and mentioned that I knew the Motorhead version. I don’t know what shocked them more: that I knew that particular song, or that their Sepultura version wasn’t the original.

I find myself having my fair share of those moments these days. I’m happy when good ideas in development and aid work are taken up, and especially happy when they are improved on (though I have to say that I like Motorhead’s version better than Sepultura’s). But it kinda bugs me when people talk about those ideas as if they are brand spanking new when they’ve actually been around for awhile. It seems like people should do some research, to at least know what came before.

What are some examples of 2010 re-makes?

Bottom up development

I find it weird that we are still discussing ‘bottom up’ development as a new or innovative thing in the year 2010 when it’s clearly been around for a really long time.

I started in development in 1994 in El Salvador. Most of the work that local NGOs were doing at that time was focused on helping grassroots groups and communities organize and manage their own development. A lot of time was spent in communities with community organizations. But this concept wasn’t born in the 1990s. It was grounded in Liberation Theology and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Liberation Theology emerged in the 1960s ‘as a result of a systematic, disciplined reflection on Christian faith and its implications’ as the Catholic church in Latin America was reflecting on itself and its relationship with the poor. Those who formulated the concept worked closely in communities with the poor and saw the social and economic injustice begun by colonization and continued through those in power both in governments and within the church. Liberation theology re-interpreted the scripture in a way that affirmed the dignity and self worth of the poor and their right to struggle for a dignified life. ‘Liberation theology strove to be a bottom-up movement in practice, with Biblical interpretation and liturgical practice designed by lay practitioners themselves, rather than by the orthodox Church hierarchy.’  Check here and here for good links on Liberation Theology.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Brazilian Paolo Freire, based on his experiences working on literacy with poor communities developed his Pedagogy of the Oppressed all the way back in 1968, around the same time that Liberation Theology was emerging. Freire’s philosophy has been heavily drawn from and applied to development. Especially pertinent is the concept of dialogics an instrument to free the colonized, through the use of cooperation, unity, organization and cultural synthesis (overcoming problems in society to liberate human beings). This is in contrast to antidialogics which use conquest, manipulation, cultural invasion, and the concept of divide and rule’. Freire’s ‘emphasis on dialogue struck a very strong chord with those concerned with popular and informal education…. However, Paulo Freire was able to take the discussion on several steps with his insistence that dialogue involves respect. It should not involve one person acting on another, but rather people working with each other. For more on Freire (I certainly did not do him justice) check here and here.

These 2 philosophies closely mirrored ideas that arose during the Civil Rights Movement in the US. There’s a brilliant book called “We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change” where Paulo Freire and Myles Horton (who started the Highlander Folk School in 1932 and influenced Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.) discuss the similarities between their philosophies.

Public policy and advocacy

Fast forward to 1996, where we get a new director at the organization where I’m working, a Brazilian. He simply won’t stop talking about ‘civil society’ and ‘public policies’.  ‘There will be no sustainable changes if we don’t have an impact on the level of policies and their implementation. How does this program idea impact on public policies? How is civil society involved in holding the government accountable? Where is the budget for Peace Accords implementation going?’ Changing systems, transparency, political participation by those formerly excluded, and moving away from hand outs and emergency type programs were key in the vision of how the country would improve.

Working with local partners

To that aim, we funded different local organizations that raised awareness in rights holders on their rights and that advocated for the implementation of the 1992 Peace Accords. We worked with an association of women who were demanding that the alimony laws be operationalized, ex-combatants groups from both sides of the conflict who were not getting the benefits promised them in the Peace Accords, sex workers who were being harassed and abused by police, civic education, environmental organizations who worked with local communities on issues such as deforestation, water and land rights, etc. We also met and discussed a lot with other international organizations, and many of them were doing similar kinds of work.

Local management of the development process

I was pretty much ineligible for any advancement in the organization because the director’s mandate was to nationalize and hand over the program, now that the civil war and the ‘state of emergency’ were over. Local organizations now had more political space to work without the protection of international organizations. The idea was to strengthen capacities of all local staff, to move over to a national board of directors and to nationalize the organization. At the same time, the thought was to build the administrative capacity of local organizations so that they could function transparently with full accountability.

Participatory design/participatory development

I moved to a different organization in 1998, and one of my first tasks was to help write the organization’s strategic plan. The first step in developing that plan was community consultation. Staff (all of them local by the way) facilitated a consultation process with people  in the 400+ communities where we worked. In addition, they met and consulted with community based organizations, local NGOs, local governments, national level ministries as well as other international organizations, to learn of their plans and to avoid duplication of efforts.

The community consultations were done using PRA (aka ‘participation, reflection, action’) methodologies. Many of the tools staff used were developed and written about by Robert Chambers. Check here for a great overview of PRA or these 2003 notes on PRA since 1998.  PRA traces many of its roots back to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and looks to make communities the real owners of the development process. Any externals involved act as facilitators of a process (not drivers of the discussion) who ‘hand over the stick’ to local people as often as possible so that they fully manage their own processes. Chambers warns against ‘fascipulation’ – facilitation + manipulation, and surface PRA, saying the main ingredient in PRA is having real respect for local knowledge and local people. Some reading suggestions here.

(Side note to get an idea of how awesome Chambers is. I went to a workshop with him once and he walked in barefoot, pants rolled up, hair askew. He stood in front of us holding a map. It was upside down. Someone raised their hand to tell him it was upside down. He looked down at it and said ‘it looks fine from my perspective’. Then he went into a whole discussion about perspective. As part of that discussion, he started talking about computers and network thinking and how birds fly in flocks. This guy is some kind of genius.)

Community managed projects

Following the strategic consultations, staff worked with communities to design, plan and carry out their own projects, which were also administered by the community once they had gone through project administration training and had opened their community bank account to receive deposits.

Orgasmatron moments

Thinking about sustainability and working with local communities is really not a new concept, nor is the idea of working yourself out of a job if you work in development. The buzz words of transparency and accountability have also been around for awhile. Participatory design is not new either.

I don’t know. Maybe the organizations I’ve worked with in the 1990s and up to now are just amazingly progressive. Or maybe I’m missing something and when people use the terms above they are talking about something different and much more advanced and innovative than what I’m talking about.  I mean, the White Stripes first album was a total Doors/Zeppelin rip off, but they did go on to develop their own sound as they matured, and their third album was brilliant.  Snoop’s Upside Ya Head is obviously drawing on the Gap Band’s Ooops Upside Ya Head, but both versions are excellent. I do actually like a lot of the re-makes that are out there and there are also some really good new concepts and ideas and some great people and organizations that I learn from on a regular basis.

However, Green Day are not the ‘godfathers of punk rock’ (sign the petition here and help settle that issue once and for all) – How could they be if they came out in the late 80s and punk started in the early 70s? And I keep having Orgasmatron Moments when I see people gushing over an NGO that hires local staff (no brainer) or has a child protection policy (implementing ours since 2003) or consults with communities (why wouldn’t you consult with local communities?).

I suppose, like with my students in El Salvador, it kind of sucks when you realize your idea or your version isn’t the original. But you can be annoyed or bummed out or remain in denial, or you can go back and do some research, and see what you can learn from the original and try to improve on it. With music, knowing about the original song (even if it’s horrible and the new version is much much better), usually scores you some points for legitimacy.

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Youth in Ndop, Cameroon

For the past few years I’ve been supporting the Youth Empowerment through Technology Arts and Media project (YETAM) in several countries in Africa.  The last few weeks I was in Cameroon, where the initiative is expanding to new communities, based on learning from last year’s work in Okola.

The project

The project uses technology, arts and media to spur youth engagement in the community development process and youth-led actions around challenges youth identify in their communities. In the process they think about their personal and community strengths and resources, develop skills for problem solving, team work, research and investigation, and get training on how to use some different ICTs (information and communication technologies). They also build confidence and self esteem and learn how to bring up different issues in their communities and involve their peers, families, local authorities and local leaders in actions to address them.

Audience

The main ‘audience’ for the arts and media is the communities where the youth live and nearby communities. Some of their teachers, parents and local leaders also take part in the project and related training. This helps youth to build up support for their agenda. The arts and media is aimed at engaging communities in dialog and discussion that eventually leads to positive change.  Youth often have opportunities to participate in and use their new skills and their arts and media to advocate at national levels as well. Via the Internet, the youth’s voices are amplified to also reach their global peers and decision makers. For example, the YouTube site for the project has over 100 videos made by youth over the past 2 years.

Youth drawing on issue of water

Actions

Last year, the youth in Okola identified poor quality drinking water as a key challenge. They got the community moving to restore a damaged and contaminated spring bed and improve the water quality (without external funding).  This year we’ve incorporated a stronger focus on prevention of violence and gender discrimination because those were the themes that emerged most heavily across all the participating countries in the past 2 years of the project.  We hope the youth will improve their analytical skills around these areas and begin to look at these issues in more depth, strengthen their understanding of the causes of violence and gender discrimination, and develop strategies for overcoming them.

Process

The whole process starts when staff begin discussions about the project and its goals with interested local communities and youth. It’s a dialog and negotiation process, aimed at building local ownership and partnership for the initiative. Staff identify local partners skilled in the areas of technology, arts and media to accompany and support the process.

Staff and partners learning to use GPS for Open Street Mapping

TOT

A 1-week training of trainers (TOT) ensures that everyone is on the same page with regard to the project objectives.The TOT also helps deepen staff and partners’ understanding of some of the issues such as gender and violence, and is an opportunity to build skills on new ICTs that can be used in the project.  This year, for example, we had a session on GPS and OpenStreetMap because we want to add digital mapping to the toolbox to complement hand-drawn mapping, since both are of value to the work we are doing. (Shout out to @billzimmerman and @mikel for pointing us in the direction of Ernest, our fabulous GPS and OSM trainer from Limbe).

Critical questions

At the TOT, we discuss some of the critical questions in a project like this, such as:

Whose media? The arts and media created in the project should belong to the community, not to the funding organization or the arts and media partners. This has connotations then in how it is attributed and copyrighted, and who keeps copies of it, and what it is used for. The best way to manage this seems to be to see organizations and funders as ‘sponsors’ of the project and to ‘brand’ the media as such (this project was funded by xxx and does not represent official positions of xxx).

My personal bias is that the media and any web associated with the project should not carry an institutional logo or be hosted on an institution’s website, but should be established and managed locally using free tools like WordPress and YouTube with support from partner organizations.  I think that we should be looking at these kinds of initiatives as youth and community capacity building not as an institutional branding opportunity.

A middle ground could be that the media is ‘owned’ by all the involved partners and all can use it to promote their own objectives, or that some of the media supports an institutional position and that media is put on an institutional site, and other media can be created by the community for its own purposes, and hosted/posted on free sites like the ones I mentioned. This aspect can still be a little bit tricky, if you ask me.

Whose agenda? The agenda should be built by and belong to the youth and the community. They are not making promotional materials for us or the local partners. We also should not be censoring media.  This is an issue sometimes when the position of the community does not follow institutional positions.  This can be addressed by resolving the issue of ‘whose media’.

Which media? The project aims at building skills in various media forms. The primary audience is local, and so we help youth learn to select their media form by thinking about the primary audience’s access and media habits or traditions. Often painting, drama, newsletters, comedy, poems and singing, radio, and video are more effective than say YouTube and blogging for getting a message across to local community members who may not have electricity and/or Internet. Digital media serves a purpose, but for a different audience, normally at the national or global level.  In addition, sometimes one tool is better than another for addressing a particular topic, for example, violence may be difficult to portray on a film without identifying the person who was mistreated and putting them at risk of retaliation.

At the same time, the thing that draws a lot of the youth into the project is the opportunity to learn computer skills, to manipulate and manage a camera, to go onto the Internet. So we bring these tools in as well to build those skills in young people, even though they may not have Internet access on a daily basis. We also ensure that youth have access to the tools and equipment they need to continue making digital media and accessing the Internet and computers by working with schools and partners on an agreement for owning and managing the equipment and supporting youth to use it.

Media for what? We all know that kids can make amazing arts and media and that they can learn to use computers and cameras and mobile phones without a problem. So what? The goal of the project is what children and youth learn in the process of making that media, what skills they build, and then what they actually do with their skills and their art and media that counts, what changes do they achieve for themselves and in their communities? How do they generate dialog while making the arts and media and/or how do they use their final ‘products’ to push for positive change.

Adapting to the local setting

During the TOT, partners and staff create a detailed plan for how they will train the 60 or so participating youth on technology, arts and media over a focused 2-week period and beyond through refresher training and hands-on work. We’ve set the goal of 30% theory and 70% practice to help guide partners and facilitators as they prepare their sessions. The goal is not training professional artists, journalists and technologists – it’s using arts, media and technology as tools for youth participation, action and advocacy.

Mercy presents the youth's map

Mapping

To identify the themes that the youth will focus on, we facilitate a participatory mapping process. The youth create a base map of their community and discuss the community’s history and what makes it unique – they create their community profile.

Then they identify community resources and risks based on the 4 categories of child rights:  survival, development, participation and protection. In other words, they identify what exists currently in the community that supports children to survive and develop, and how the community currently protects children, and what spaces children currently have to participate.  They then look at where those 4 categories are not doing so well, and where children are at risk.

Youth, parents and local authorities discuss the map

The map is shared on the first day of the youth workshop and discussed with participating teachers, local authorities and parents in order to generate additional input and to get buy-in from the adults.  In small groups and plenary, they together prioritize the issues and decide which ones they will focus on during the workshop and beyond, using arts and new media tools. In follow up sessions, they will also make a digital map of their area for uploading to the Internet, and their arts and media work will be uploaded as points on that digital map. The digital map and the hand drawn map bring distinct benefits to this kind of process.

I love mapping. It’s a really interesting process, because when you start by looking at resources and when you are working with youth, so many things come out that would not come up if you came in and asked about needs or problems and only worked with adults. Communities are used to NGOs coming in to ask them what they need, to train them to see only their problems and to feel like victims, and to then expect the NGO or external agent to ‘resolve things.’ If you start by identifying only needs and problems, there are so many things in a community that will be missed. I notice that youth are not as well-trained as their parents in playing the victim. They are much better at talking about their community and what it means or holds for them than their parents are. When I show up as an outsider, they often want to show me beautiful places, special places, things they have and are proud of, not their needs and problems.

Some of the challenges youth identified and will work on

The real work

After the workshops comes the real work.  The partner organizations, staff, teachers and community leaders who are involved support the youth over time to continue their learning in the different areas, to do refresher training in areas they didn’t fully catch during the first round, to generate dialog in the community around the themes youth have identified, and to work on the issues they have identified through organized youth-led actions and advocacy at different levels and engaging decision makers at the local, but also district and national, and sometimes even global levels.

This is where the real change happens and is the real heart of the initiative.

My Cameroonian colleague told me one day ‘This project is like a catalyst in my body.’ It has motivated and driven her to learn new skills and take on new challenges, to push herself to new levels to achieve the goals set out. I’ve seen it have the same effect on the youth and on myself as well. In the end, that is what we want to achieve — motivated and engaged people, working together to make positive change in their communities and beyond.

Resources

This morning I came across this toolkit ‘A Rights-Based Approach to Participatory Video Toolkit’ by Insight, and I absolutely love it. It pretty much spells out what we are doing (though we had nothing to do with writing it up), and confirms a lot of the hunches and ideas that we’ve had while developing the program. I highly recommend it if you are working on rights and media.

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