Since the beginning of September our friends at Video Volunteers have been hosting an online discussion among members of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights about effectiveness of community-based monitoring using video. Video Volunteers is a fellow member of the Video4Change network and has been affecting change in India for ten years.

“[Contributors] report in order to show the world their realities and to get solutions,” writes Jessica Mayberry, founding director of Video Volunteers(VV), about IndiaUnheard Community Correspondents.  “They show the videos back to government officials and communities and then create impact campaigns—either at the village level or, with Video Volunteers' staff, at the national or international level.”

I helped VV design and launch the IndiaUnheard program five years ago, and it’s been amazing to see it evolve. VV and IndiaUnheard have made monitoring from within the community an essential complement to the work done by outside experts. One of the most interesting elements is the way in which VV uses video and the threat of exposure as a means to enact change. IndiaUnheard has shown that often it is the threat of bad publicity and exposure of incompetence or malice that creates change.

My colleague John Smock and I experienced the same thing in Libya during a video workshop three years ago when a trainee succeeded at getting construction of a new medical clinic jump started before his exposé revealing the failing clinic ever hit YouTube.

In VV’s case, Jessica, the director, notes they’ve created several thousand impact videos, pointing to the successes of their Community Correspondents’ campaigns. Additionally they convinced UNDP to turn over the evaluation process of one of their India programs to the “beneficiaries,” and trained 20 women to monitor the program’s success and create videos conveying messages from women in rural India about “what women’s empowerment means to them.”

Jessica says they have found video to be very effective because:

  • You don’t need literacy to produce a video, or to watch it. It’s effective particularly in areas with high levels of illiteracy. Also, people love to watch video—if you put up a screen in villages in India, you’ll have hundreds of people ready to watch and learn.

  • There are certain intriguing processes—like participatory video games—that bring people together and draw their attention towards generating solutions to challenges.

  • YouTube is now the biggest growing part of the Internet—video is an effective way to bring community voices to decision-makers. A video that is entirely produced by a community group can be comprehensible to audiences of experts.

I’ll be joining the conversation this week about Jessica’s piece. I hope you’ll join us and provide your own insights, comments, and questions.

The increasing ubiquity of cameras and other technology holds great promise for monitoring, and increasing the influence of human rights defenders. Video Volunteers makes it clear that’s more possible if we are more creative in our approach.