Notes from various sessions (Sept & Oct 08) – MB

9/11/08 – Popular Communication Workshop @ IDEPSCA
— some notes —

One of the priorities that the popular communication team (PCT) at IDEPSCA has set for their work is to challenge la mala imagen que tiene el público of immigrants and day laborers in LA and beyond. Their approach will be two-part; personal stories and analyses of the dynamics their communities face in LA.

The team reflected on the audio clips that were recorded at the recent health fair using the gcast system; one challenge is how to create recordings on the fly that communicate a story and a message. One member noted that they had technical difficulty with their audio recording; it never appeared on the gcast site.

Pedro then led a training on aspects of digital storytelling, including uploading photos and audio recordings to our vozmob sites (gcast & the as well as how to download this media and import it into the basic Windows video editing software, to compile and edit it into digital stories with audio and visual tracks. Each member of the PCT wrote and then recorded a short story matched with photographs taken on their cell phone or digital camera. Those familiar with working on computers were quick to pick up the various skills and systems that Pedro introduced. For those with less computer literacy, the process was understandably slower. Zamoran mentioned having had some prior computer training.

Not all members of the PCT have cell phones, and fewer have a camera phone.

10/28 – PCT meeting @ La Placita, site of the hunger strike for immigrant rights:

Zamoran was the only member of the PCT to make it to la Placita. We reviewed all of the photos that had been posted to the vozmob site thus far from phones. Zamoran acted as the ‘photo editor’; we discussed image selection and which images seemed most powerful. For the purpose at hand (posting photos on one of the walls of the placita) she selected all of those that were clear, pulling any that were too dark.

Sasha then showed Zamoran how to post and edit stories (in text form) attached to the various images on the blog, and how to promote certain content to the main page.

In conversation before and after the workshop, Zamoran reported that she’s now very comfortable using the phone, uploading images, etc. She has been going to the hunger strike every day and producing media, including ten 30-minute tapes of video that she hopes to edit into a documentary. She’s been talking to the strikers every day, as well as interviewing people in the metro, on the bus, etc. She seems to have become the resident documentarian for the hunger strike!


Sasha showed all some of the media that’s been posted recently. Zamoran had produced a lot; Brandon and A. have also called in, Brandon recording ‘man on the street’ or news style interviews with some of the hunger strikers. Sasha then discussed what is not yet happening; i.e. the PCT has not, for a variety of reasons, been training other people at the hunger strike in how to use the vozmob tools. The call-in number for audio recordings hasn’t been circulated through RISE or any of the media coverage until very recently, spearheaded by Amanda. Interface with the general public therefore hasn’t happened, largely due to organizing limitations.

I was concerned that we are likely not capturing the nuances of both accomplishments and obstacles… that we (the organizers and researchers) are starting to narrate the successes (and challenges) of the project with very little narration by the PCT members themselves. We still have limited understanding of the individual PCT members’ changing relationships to technology, as well as changes to group dynamics… We’re hoping that the interview and participatory evaluation tool(s) that we’re currently working on (spearheaded by Carmen) will help tease that kind of information out, and also will help better establish a shared sense of accountability, an element that Amanda has also expressed interest in.

Sasha and Carmen both made the point that there are various visions from the different stakeholders of what the Mobile Voices project agenda should be, such that participation likely means different things from each perspective.

At the OurMedia conference in Ghana this year, Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron, Alexandra Juhasz, Robert Downing and others, all in their own ways, asked ‘What does ‘participatory’ mean now?’ (Sasha echoed this question today in our discussion.) It has become a buzz word not only among donors, foundations and development practitioners, but also fan culture, IT and software developers, Web 2.0 champions, etc, — often used in very different ways. What is its current conceptual and practical value for activists, academics community media advocates and other communities? One of the things I took away from our conversation today was that the greatest value of the term at this point may be that it can help raise critical questions and encourages self and group reflection, often on difficult or complex topics; e.g. who defines social change; who narrates progress; what IS participation; is participation ever impossible or inappropriate (a la Heeks’ essay); can ‘participation’ be imposed or become burdensome instead of empowering, etc. None of this is to say that my commitment to a participatory approach has waned; just that I think that it’s practice, in reality, is messy and challenging and inevitably contentious at times. It’s the dialogue at the core of the communication for social change and participatory approach that is so rich and unique.

Also, critical reflection — as part of a the cycle of dialogue and action. This is what’s exciting about an academic/community partnership –- the potential of each partner to bolster the critical reflection and learning of the other. I do think that good research can us help continue to rethink the concepts of participation and social change and that exploring these kinds of questions or tensions together is where the action is! (some of it anyway!)


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