Research Method: Participatory Film Making

11th June 2021

Funded Project:
Methods for Change

This ‘how to’ guide outlines the Participatory Film Making research method used by Andrew Irving from the University of Manchester, Robyn Swannack and Nenio Mbazima from the University of the Witwatersrand. The film was created in collaboration with Alastair Lomas, The University of Manchester.

Social scientists from the Methods for Change project came together to discuss the research methods they use and how methods create change in society. Drawing from the expertise in the Aspect network, they collaborated on a series of ‘how to’ guides which are step-by-step instructions and top-tips for adopting these methods in a range of sectors. Visual and multisensory pieces, including comics, illustrations, posters, booklets, short films and animations were then developed in collaboration with creatives to capture the key value of these research methods with a view to being able to convey them to a variety of audiences.

It is hoped that these resources will be useful for people in higher education, commercial, public sector, third sector and community organisations who are interested in experimenting with, and expanding professional skills in, the adoption of social science research methods.

Research Method: Participatory Film Making

Participatory Film Making involves working collaboratively with people using photography and film making to generate new knowledge and understandings about the perspectives and experiences of a particular group or community.

This method involves training participants to become film makers and co-researchers through guided learning and by teaching techniques such as composition and editing. The collaborative nature of this method means it is effective in displacing power relationships and can make participating in research and the creation of knowledge more inclusive and rewarding. Participatory Film Making involves identifying relevant themes and areas of interest and concern with those you are working with; investigating key themes and issues through photography and film; developing and discussing these areas through making creative outputs, which then feed into peer learning and follow-on exercises. This method is therefore cyclical and is driven by practice, whereby each process informs the next. In this method, photography and film making are seen as both life enhancing skills to be taught to participants, and an appropriate and effective pedagogical mechanism for exploring issues, topics and questions, including difficult or sensitive areas that other approaches might struggle to address. The skills participants acquire through their involvement in Participatory Film Making can then be used long after the research has ended. Participatory Film Making is concerned with both the process of learning and the end result. Developing film and photography skills together allows participants to feel included and involved in the research process and has additional benefits in terms of establishing social relations and group dynamics. Having co-researchers who are already embedded in the communities and contexts you are interested in can also be particularly valuable when researching sensitive topics or when working in different cultural contexts. Indeed, this method can be used to ask and address a range of questions and issues that may not lend themselves to other approaches, such as conventional interviews, questionnaires or textual methods. For example, when working in informal contexts, with vulnerable groups or children, they can facilitate a better understanding of people’s lived experiences.

You can find all the research outputs from the Methods for Change series here

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