Participation and Inclusion

Participation and Inclusion

Make the right decisions about participation and inclusion. 

Video for Change initiatives can empower people; but they can also disempower. For example, a video can (re-)victimise people because the video-makers haven't carefully considered the consequences of whose story and voice are included or excluded.

To prevent this, practitioners can take a number of steps to make sure their initiatives support inclusion and that this will be a positive experience for those involved. 

Initiatives encourage positive empowerment if:

  • it works towards individual and collective development
  • gives everyone opportunity to ask questions or take authority
  • works towards community building
  • has a core group who is conscious of building empowerment and realises that leadership and responsibilities can be shared.

Initiatives ideally provide people with spaces in which they can challenge views and ideologies; laws, institutions and practices; and other realities that limit their lives. In these spaces, people find new possibilities and identities for themselves and their communities. They can only do so if there are opportunities for them to meaningfully participate in decisions that affect them, and in activities that build their capacities. 


What is meant by participation?

At its most basic meaning, participation implies involvement in a process. In Video for Change participatory methods aim to increase input in the decision making processes. These methods help develop buy-in on an initiative, leading to better project outcomes.

Participation and Inclusion

Participatory methods are a great way of engaging people who have been marginalised or excluded. This most often includes indigenous groups, ethnic minorities, poor people, the disabled, women, and people from sexual and gender minorities. However, participation is more than just encouraging diversity, it’s about inclusive practices that lead to actual empowerment. If participation is only done for the sake of participation it could lead to harmful results.

French Protest 1968

This poster, from Paris 1968 protests against government, highlights the fundamental point that participation without redistribution of power is an empty and frustrating process for those who are not in power. It allows the powerholders to claim that all sides were heard and considered, but makes it possible for only some of those sides to benefit. The writing on the wall reads:

“I participate
you participate 
he participates 
we participate 
you participate 
they profit”


Participation can create a community around an initiative, or it can enable existing communities to have a say. Video for Change envisions an ‘inclusive community’, one where people involved co-produce knowledge together, which can lead to taking action together.

An inclusive community:

  • Encourages shared learning and different forms of knowledge
  • Values co-production
  • Builds the capacity of a community over time
  • Understands the barriers to participation in the context it operates, e.g. gender or race
  • Promotes the long-term sustainability of the community.

It’s important to remember that all social change initiatives exist on a continuum from less participatory to more participatory, less inclusive to more inclusive. 

Community Building

To build a community, or contribute to the further building of an existing community, participants need to feel a social connection with each other. To achieve this, it’s crucial that participatory activities develop trust and understanding. Participation is oriented to making connections among people, across issues, and over time. 

A community is flexible and shifting in alliances, power and social structures. We may see the community as the site of both solidarity and conflict. Before we can build community, it needs to become defined. 

This means reflecting on whether our activities increase inclusiveness for those people, groups or communities the video initiative seeks to support; or whether they are in fact exclusionary and may disempower these people. 

Follow these links if you would like to know more about Participation and Inclusion and Individual Development, or about various Approaches to Participation.

Reducing Powerlessness

Many people feel disconnected from the decision-making processes around them. They feel powerless to change their own circumstances and those of their community. People who are marginalised often feel this powerlessness more acutely, brought about by years of discrimination. Not involving these people in decisions about activities that hope to lead to change for them would increase this feeling of powerlessness.

Powerlessness can be lessened through meaningful participation. Meaningful participation is first and foremost about not treating people as passive recipients. Participants in a project need to define their needs and provide input. They must feel their contributions matter.

Financial limitations can restrict your ability to enable as much participation as you would wish. Participation takes time, so you need to decide how it will best contribute to achieving the project’s goals. Participation for participations sake is token, and people will quickly work that out.

We encourage you to think of resourcing creatively to increase levels of participation such as using already available resources (for example video tools that are already in the hands of community participants), investment in time and community goodwill. 

There are many ways to enable under-resourced projects get off the ground. Bring participants into discussions on how this can be achieved, you’ll be surprised at what people and communities have to offer if they believe in an idea and the people involved.

Participatory Communications

The communication model favoured for participation is one that is relatively equal rather than top down. In a dialogue there are more opportunities for speaking and listening and the communication flow is freer. The below diagram[1] illustrates the difference between (a) vertical and (b) horizontal communication.

Participatory Communications

Here, the role of the facilitator is important. The facilitator should:

  • build a space for participation
  • ensure that all voices are respected
  • step up, step back – enable quieter participants to speak more, and others to make space.

Approaches to Participation

Paolo FreireThe focus on participatory practices in media-making emerged from anti-colonial movements and particularly relates to the thinking of Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire (1921-1997) in the 1960s. Freire worked in educating poor landless farmers in Brazil to empower them to demand release from their oppressive conditions. Freire’s point was to enable the farmers themselves to decide and determine their own aspirations and needs. 

Participation in Video for Change has usually been understood as a methodology or approach, as in Participatory Video. This approach implies bringing the video-makers, the subjects of the film and the communities who are most affected by the issue the video is focused on, into the decision making process. This means allowing these actors to be part of the process that defines the aims, the production process and the outcomes of the project. These approaches to video-making emerged from a liberationist ethos that was developed in the 1960s to empower people who have been traditionally marginalised in society. 

Participation as an ethical principle isn’t about providing a set of recipes for success. Instead it is about making participation a key consideration of all Video for Change initiatives.

Participation and Inclusion and Individual Development 

There are always risks and benefits for individuals participating in a project. It’s crucial that individuals are aware of potential risk and how the benefits may outweigh the risks they take to participate in a project. One of the ways that a participant can do this is to give consent to their participation. However, consent can only be meaningful if the individuals invited to participate understand the project’s processes and aims. 

Here are a number of considerations for individual participation. These considerations are presented as a list of questions that can be used as a checklist. 

a. Informed consent.

  • Has an individual who’s participating given informed consent? 
  • Is the individual able to give informed consent? 
  • Will the project aims, processes and outcomes change over time and if so, is there a need to seek consent again? 
  • Does the individual understand that he/she may be identified?
  • Does the individual understand that he/she is giving consent to work that may be exhibited to the public in different domains and forms? 
  • Has he/she has signed a consent form?

b. Coercion. 

  • Has any direct or indirect coercion been applied by the video maker or any other person or group for an individual to participate in the project? 
  • Is the individual free to leave the project at any time? 
  • Has the participant been given rewards, including monetary incentives to participate? If so, how has their coercive impact been minimised?

c. Deception. 

  • Has the practitioner been honest about his/her intentions and methods?
  • Has the practitioner or group representative given unrealistic promises to obtain participation? 
  • Has the practitioner promised that the footage/interview of the participant will be included in the final film when this isn’t the case (there is a possibility that it will be edited out)?

d. Reciprocity.

  • Has the practitioner considered if the individual’s participation is acknowledged? For example, will the participant be appropriately credited in the video? 
  • Is there an opportunity for a transfer of skills that could be useful for the participant? 
  • If project participation extends over meal times, will meals be provided? 
  • If there is potential for profits upon release, how will profits be distributed?  Has this been discussed with the participant? 
  • Are there legal contracts in place to ensure that this financial distribution can/will be enacted?

e. Risk and benefits. 

  • Is the individual aware of potential risks and benefits of participating in a video project including the possibility of being identified?
  • Has the participant been made aware that the video will be available for many years to come?
  • Do the benefits that the video project bring outweigh the risks to participants?

For more information about risk see the Mitigating Risks section.



[1] Taken from an article on communicating on social media.