Evaluation5's Blog

April 15, 2010

The power of images

Filed under: learning, power of images — Tags: , , — evaluation5 @ 2:18 pm

Marlen Arkesteijn/CapturingDevelopment

Yesterdag I stumbled across a superb crash course on the Power of Images that easily summarizes one of the courses on Visual Antropology I once embarked upon.  On TED.com Jonathan Klein (from Getty Images) shows in 6 minutes how images have changed (and are still changing) the world, our perspectives, our action, how they have stopped wars, (and inevitably also provoked wars) etc.

Naturally not the images self change the world, but the reaction they provoke in us! Klein states that actually not photographers are making the images, but we ourselves do. “We bring to each image our own values and belief system, and as a result images resonate through us.” Although Klein is referring to social change at large and is referring mainly to social campaigning and lobbying, our field of work “Monitoring and Evaluation” could definately learn and use some of this power.

I am certainly not the first and only one to say this. It is already more than six years ago, in 2004, that in the Netherlands some pioneers experimented with the power of images and video for monitoring and evaluation.  At that time the Policy and Operations Evaluation Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands, used video as an innovative research method, next to more conventional methods, for an evaluation of a rural development programme in Tanzania.
Inspired by Klein’s short introduction on the power of images I dove once again into my book and videoshelf and viewed the CDrom/video after 6 years time.

For the evaluation-video the makers selected 200 persons in 11 villages (of a total of 230.000 people in 71 villages). After interviewing some people of a village, they would let other villagers view the footage for comments and validation. They also interviewed head of villages, district staff, representatives of local organisations etc. One of the aims of the evaluation was to research whether the rural development programme, supported for 15 years by the Netherlands Government, had contributed to improved livelihoods of the local people and to structural poverty alleviation.

The video research obtained, after finishing, great criticism! And I must say, indeed, the filmmakers focussed mainly on the perspectives and expectations of the local population, and indeed, structural poverty alleviation involves more than only improved livelihoods of local people, and indeed, it was not very clear how representative this video was for all other villages. And okay, the feel of the video/CDrom was very Dutch in the sense that it highlighted all negative issues with headings like ‘Problems’, ‘Criticism’, ‘Failures’.

But holy cows! What a sharp problem analysis, what a lack of communication, how clear it becomes where the sharp edges and gaps of the programmes are, and more important, what the potentials of the programme are.  Expectations between local population and the programme did not match; it seemed part of the design and at least part of the implementation of the programme was sloppy and corrupt. And really, having worked in international cooperation for some time, I recognized the gaps, the dispair, the uneasyness, hopes, good and bad intent. What I found most inspiring was that the local people were calling for transparancy and justice.

The video/CDrom provoked a lot of discussion in the Netherlands, and the findings were not (fully) shared by the Minister nor by the Evaluation Department of the Ministry. Maybe after all it was not a good idea to use video in this way as a product, to show all the painfull situations, with views too raw to digest, with too direct a representation and voice of the local people, for what was mainly an accountability evaluation. The impact of images can also be too strong, I presume.

But as an instrument for learning, to share the various perspectives on rural development and how it could be done, especially in situations where project/ district staff, donors, local people and other stakeholders do not automatically meet, it can be absolutely powerfull. As an instrument for provoking discussion, to reflect together where the gaps and concerns are, to start understanding each other’s point of view, to come collectively to new and adjusted designs, it is powerful. I think it is high time we start using the power of images including video to its full potential.

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