Mitigating Risk

Mitigating RiskVideomaking and video distribution can introduce significant new risks to vulnerable participants and communities, and can exacerbate others.

These risks may be caused by not speaking to participants about risks and options to remain anonymous, or through a lack of planning for the safe storage, sending or receiving of digital files.

In order to ensure your initiative practices safety and security, efforts should be made to carry out and respond to a careful risk analysis.

Video for Change practitioners can face risk as they:

  • expose stories and perspectives that are marginalised or hidden, and therefore have the potential to shift power dynamics within communities and societies
  • work with and within under-represented communities who are facing discrimination and prejudice by more dominant groups
  •  work with survivors and victims of human rights abuses to capture their stories and their struggles
  • produce videos that highlight social injustices and inequalities
  • build capacities among marginalised communities to enable them to share their own stories and experiences
  • confront established beliefs, norms and practices.

Different Video for Change approaches deal with different risks. For a full overview have a look at the various Video for Change Approaches we have identified in our research.

The risk of a Video for Change initiative varies depending on context and objectives. In high risk situations you must develop a coherent risk mitigation plan to minimise dangers to yourself, the communities you work in, and everyone involved in your initiative. At the very least, you should ensure you don’t exacerbate the issue you are seeking to address with your video project.


Understanding Risk in Order to Mitigate it

Risk is defined in multiple ways:

  • exposure to danger
  • the possibility of something unpleasant or unwelcome happening
  • the possibility of harm as a result of an action.

Embedded in the understanding of risk are:

  • Threat: anything, anyone, or any event that can cause a negative effect.
  • Vulnerability: a flaw or a weakness that can make the threat a reality, or the likelihood that a threat will happen.
  • Impact: (in this context) how severe the negative effect is.
  • Capacity: existing strengths that will allow you to minimise the chances of the threat happening.

At the heart of this is the safety and security of people – yourself, your team, the participants in your video and the members of the community.

There are multiple risk assessment frameworks you can use to better understand risk in the context of your Video for Change initiative.

You can use any model or framework to assess risk, what matters is that you have a way to understand the risks you face in making your initiative. Being able to understand – and prioritise – is the first step in mitigating risk.

The next step is taking action. You have different options in mitigating your identified risk:

  • You can accept it because consequences of the risk is minimal, or you may accept that the risk is great, but the issue is so important that it’s worth it.
  • You can reduce the risk, by working on threats, vulnerabilities and capacities.
  • You can share the risk, by working with other people in the community that are supportive of your initiative.
  • You can choose to avoid the risk, by stopping your activities or changing your approach to reduce potential threats.

Identifying threats, vulnerabilities and impacts in order to determine risk will be based upon your project's context. So will your mitigation tactics. Your tactics will change over time, so it’s important to consistently assess your risks throughout the duration of your initiative.


Risk Areas for Video for Change Initiatives

Risk areas change depending on context, they also change over time. It’s important to revisit these risk areas throughout your initiative to keep your assessment current and to better ensure that no harm can come to you and the people involved.


Risk Area Assessment Responses Risk Factor
Your Video What and who are you exposing in your video? The specific issue you are exposing and who is shown in your video. Issue dependent. In order to determine the risk factor you will need the context of the issue.
  Will the perpetrators/violators/oppressors of the social injustice be clearly identified and named? Yes, named clearly/No, not named at all/No, not named but referred to. The risk factor here increases the more you specifically identify the perpetrators/ violators/ oppressors.
  Will they be able to take any action against you? Yes/No If yes, high risk. If no, lower risk.
  What kinds of actions will they be able to take against you? List down what actions they can take against you. Possible answers: legal, harassment, physical violence, verbal threats. Determining the risk factor depends on your judgement. The more physically violent the action is, the higher the risk factor. The more actions they can take, the higher the risk.
  Are there interests that directly oppose what you are exposing? Yes/No Yes, higher risk. If no, lower.
  Which groups can take action against your video? Groups and sectors in the community who will oppose your video and can take action against you. The more groups or sectors you list, the higher the risk.
  What actions can they take to stop your video from being produced or screened? List down what actions they can take against you. Possible answers: legal, harassment, physical violence, verbal threats, starting rumours. Determining the risk factor here depends on your judgement. The more physically violent the action is, the higher the risk factor. The more actions they can take, the higher the risk.
Your location    How long will you stay in that location? Number of days/hours/weeks/months. The longer you stay, the greater the risk, though the development of strong local relationships may assist in mitigating this.
Do you need permission to capture footage in that location? Yes/No If it’s required, having permission minimises the risk. It may also be an act of courtesy. Note that depending on the cultural context what looks like permission to you may be very different in the community you are working. If you don't have permission, then you must take extra risk mitigation strategies to keep yourself and your team safe.
Do you have trusted contacts in that location to assist you? Yes/No Having trusted contacts in that location minimises the risk, especially if you don't have permission to shoot in that location.
Will the groups who directly oppose your film or video be in that location? Yes/No Having the groups who are negatively-impacted by your Video for Change project in the location, increases the risk.
The subjects    What are the risks that they themselves face? List down the risks that your video subjects face as a result of the issue your video is about. The more risks you can list down, the higher the risk factor.
Do they still have contact with the perpetrators/violators/oppressors in your video? Yes/No If they still have contact, then the risks are higher.
What further harm will come to them if the groups who oppose your video see them in the video?

List down the possible negative impacts of the opposing groups seeing the subjects on the video.

Possible answers: legal, harassment, physical violence, verbal threats, rumours.

Determining the risk factor depends on your judgement. The more physically violent the action is, the higher the risk factor. The more actions they can take, the higher the risk.
Are the subjects in your video already activists in the issues that you are tackling? Yes/No If they are already activists, they might be more aware of their risks inherent in the issue, and therefore the risk factor might be less for your project.
Your audience   How will you present your video to your audience?

List down the ways in which you will distribute your video.

Possible answers are: private screenings, public screenings, online distribution and social media.

List as many as you can.

Note that the more ways you present your video, the more public your video becomes – you will have to consider the risk factors for each way.

Note that high levels of publicity may also help protect you.

Will the groups/people who are responsible for the social injustice in your video be able to watch your video? Yes/No If it’s likely they will see the video, then the risk factor increases.
What kind of action can they take against you, your team and the people in your video?

List down the possible negative impacts of the opposing groups seeing the subjects on the video.

Possible answers: legal, harassment, physical violence, verbal threats, rumours.

The more actions that they can take, the higher the risk factor.


Mitigating Risk and Informed Consent 

On mitigating risk and informed consent Sam Gregory of WITNESS comments:

"We focus heavily on informed consent because it is such a critical element in an ethical practice of Video for Change. We emphasise an idea of informed consent that is not about paperwork or signing-off on a document but about an individual understanding the risks and benefits of appearing on video and making an informed decision on whether to do that and what safeguards they need (for example, blurring someone's face, no identifying name). In a digital world, anyone's image or words can be copied, shared, and seen. One good starting point is to begin with the 'worst case scenario' of who might see the video - which is quite likely if the images have reach and impact - and then discuss consent and protection on this basis."

Informed consent is the process of ensuring that a person identified in a video fully understands the purpose and intended use of the recording, as well as any unintended consequences of their participation. With this awareness, the person must voluntarily give his or her permission to be identified and for the recording to be used . That decision is not necessarily permanent; someone who grants consent may revoke the decision due to increased security risks. It’s important to respect the fact an individual’s decision around consent may evolve over time .

Informed consent is a key ethical principle for any activist, citizen journalist, and media maker seeking to create positive social change. Informed consent ensures those who appear in your video, such as survivors of human rights violations or those suffering from social injustice, don’t suffer further abuse or violation or become re-victimised as a result. 

It’s all the more necessary for you to undergo a risk assessment of your Video for Change initiative, so that you’ll be able to clearly inform those who appear in your video (or its credits) of the potential negative consequences of their participation.


What is Informed Consent?

Informed consent is a legal and ethical obligation of human rights defenders to protect the safety, security, and dignity of their interviewees. There are four main elements:

Disclosure

The use and purpose of the interview must be fully explained. This helps protect the interviewee’s safety and maintains an honest relationship between interviewer and interviewee.

Voluntariness

The interviewee must voluntarily give their permission for the interview to be used and express whether he or she is willing to be identified by name.

Comprehension

The interviewee must fully comprehend the implications of the interview and the intended distribution, including potential consequences of online distribution. They have the right to revoke their permission for future use of the footage – however, ensure they understand it’s not possible to permanently remove materials from the internet. Provide an example of a worst case scenario.

Competence

The interviewee must be able to comprehend the implications of his or her participation. This is an especially important issue with special populations (e.g., children, people with mental disabilities, people who have suffered significant recent trauma). 


Additional Resources

  • Secure My Video (version 2.0). A guide produced by EngageMedia to help video makers keep themselves safe at the different stages of the video production process.
  • Security-in-a-Box. Everything you need to know about keeping your internet communications secure and safe. This is especially useful for Video for Change initiatives that have a strong online component to them.
  • Informed Consent Template by Witness. A useful document you can download for free and use.
  • Ethical Wednesdays: Minimizing Risk to Those Filmed. An excellent blog-post by Madeleine Bair on how filmmakers can minimise the risks of those filmed.
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