Rikin Gandhi and Aishwarya Pillai explain how video-based learning can encourage communities to be co-creators of knowledge and not just passive recipients.
Given the high illiteracy rates of smallholder farmers in developing countries and their lack of access to timely and relevant information for improved agricultural productivity, development agencies have been exploring the audiovisual medium to augment the impact of extension services targeted at this group. Although broadcast television, a trusted tool of traditional extension systems, has proven reach, the viewers’ ability to connect with and actually use the information beamed at them can be limited. The need to give voice to and involve the community in content production and the distribution process for extension services to be truly impactful paved the way for the participatory video approach, an approach which empowers the community to create and share the information they require.
Digital Green has found that mediated screenings of localised videos can transcend the limitations of old-school extension systems in terms of generic one-size-fits-all content and sub-optimal communication skills of the extension agents. An evaluation conducted by Microsoft Research India in 2009, entitled Digital Green: Participatory Video for Agricultural Extension found that facilitated or mediated video viewing can motivate farmers to adopt new agricultural practices for about one-tenth of the cost of traditional extension services.
Localising videos is a way of encouraging communities to try new ways of treating seeds or ditching commercial pesticides. Digital Green’s videos feature community members who typically belong to the same district as the viewers, demonstrating best practices in their own fields and homes, adding to the credibility of the messaging. The video screenings are mediated by trained community members who help to improve the audience’s recall of the messages shared. These videos are produced on low-cost equipment by community members, so the videos are of, by and for the community.
The approach goes beyond videos, encouraging the community to co-create knowledge. Farmers are more likely to adopt solutions they are a part of. The approach must respond to community feedback, channelling data and feedback received from the community at the individual level (during video screenings) into the video production and screening and dissemination processes and overall programme performance.
Along with details like name and gender, the farmers’ attendance at video screenings, interests, queries, comments and any impact on their behaviours as a result of adopting a new practice or technology are recorded. The farmers share their thoughts freely, from the videos they would like to watch to the viewing experience to the challenges they face in their daily routines. This feedback is used to inform further iterations of not just the videos, but also of essential background processes such as storyboarding, the messaging or even the way a screening is organised.
This community-driven content production and delivery process can be effortlessly integrated with existing public and private extension services, using functional local forums and units such as farmers’ groups and women’s self-help groups. Frontline agricultural and health workers who are part of existing development interventions can be trained to use community-sourced videos as job aids to change behaviours. The approach is fluid enough to converge with other ICT channels such as community radio, mobile messaging and interactive voice response (IVR) systems, laying the foundation for potential integrated ICT-supported extension and knowledge exchange systems with superior reach and depth of information on agricultural best practices. The video channel can be used to inform farmers of scheduled radio broadcasts, which in turn reinforce the practices promoted through the videos, while IVR allows farmers who have watched a video to share comments and queries, receiving a call back with relevant answers, vetted by experts.
Technology in itself, though, is not the solution for development issues. It can at best magnify human intent and capability. Digital Green’s approach has been successful only through partnerships with organisations that already engage with farmers, where its technology helps improve the efficiency of their efforts and broadens the participation of the communities that they work with. It is thus critical for Digital Green to identify the right organisations to partner with – those that have existing community networks and extension services at scale, are engaged with a cadre of frontline workers and provide linkages to resources required for the promoted practices. For such a community-centric learning approach to work, it is also essential to identify and engage with key influencers, local individuals who are respected and trusted within the community, who will go on to feature in the videos as ‘actors’ promoting best practices or serve as mediators screening the videos and catalysing discussions which could improve behaviours impacting the community’s well-being.
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