Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

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Eating healthy is a virtue not many would dispute. But even though we all know that we should get a variety of nutritious foods every day to keep ourselves and our families healthy, the demands of daily life often help us rationalize dietary shortcuts. As one mother told me, “With all the work I have to do, I don’t have time to cook all these complicated recipes. I know we should eat more healthy food, but the kids don’t like it. They just want to eat the regular stuff.”

The sentiment is instantly relatable and one that could easily be heard in family households across the U.S. But it wasn’t a suburban American mother rationalizing her family’s habit of eating fattening foods. The explanation came from a farmer in a remote hamlet in Timor-Leste during a focus group discussion (FGD) about the high incidence of malnutrition in the impoverished country. Although a variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables are sometimes available and accessible in local markets—and in many cases growing unattended in natural areas around houses and farms—poor Timorese families often limit their meals to a repetition of starchy staples.

MAP: Sara Gonzalez, Carole Reckinger

The FGD was one of many conducted as a qualitative compliment to a midterm evaluation of a Food Security project being implemented by Mercy Corps. The FGDs were aimed at capturing unexpected feedback from beneficiaries. The regular evaluation measured progress toward program targets, which include increases in on-farm production and household incomes, reductions in post harvest loss, and the establishment of small businesses to support those efforts. By looking beyond the original targets and ensuring that the program is accountable to the communities it hopes to benefit, Mercy Corps learned about key food security issues it hadn’t been addressing—such as food preference and climate change—and added project activities to address the gaps.

I joined the AIM Standing Team in 2011 while working as M&E and Food Security Advisor with Mercy Corps in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. As a member of the Standing Team I’ve had the privilege to participate in engaging and well-designed workshops in both Jakarta and Casablanca. By Joining the Jakarta workshop I became an official Standing Team member, helping to advance Mercy Corps’ commitment to accountability and to the ECB consortium. Among the things we covered was how to sell accountability,” and, in fact, membership on the Standing Team itself has been an important lever to prioritize accountability. Charged with conducting the midterm evaluation in Timor-Leste, I was able reference the Standing Team, the blog, and the Good Enough Guide. And even though AIM materials are emergency focused, the food security project team saw the value of including open-ended feedback from beneficiaries in the study.

The workshop in Casablanca emphasized the fact that communication is an essential component to promote accountability and transparency. Communication in projects is not just about sharing information. It can also be used for trust building, conflict resolution, effective participation, and provision of psychosocial support. Participatory activity is better documented by photography and video, and they convey a human context that is impossible to capture any other way. After the workshop, I put a heavy emphasis on applying photography and video to Mercy Corps projects. I created a photo essay and video for a spice market development project in Eastern Indonesia, a photo essay and video for a food security project in Timor-Leste, and another video for an aquaculture project in Timor.

The final visual communication products made the voices and experiences of beneficiaries far more prominent in otherwise dry technical reports and presentations for donors and partners. More importantly it helped to improve understanding and buy-in of the project efforts among the communities, in the government, and even within the project team at Mercy Corps. Projects often have many disparate components, and the overall vision can be lost or confused. By using voices, stories, and images from the communities where we work to bring project activities together under a shared vision, understanding and buy-in is improved among all project stakeholders. When the vision is shared, relevant new ideas and feedback can converge to strengthen it.

In response to feedback from the community during the evaluation in Timor-Leste, Mercy Corps added activities to help farmers reduce risks from climate change—such as crop diversification—and to encourage household diet diversification. Both initiatives require that the community be willing to buy, cook, and eat food that they typically wouldn’t. Using research undertaken by UNICEF and Timor’s Department of Health, we created a cookbookof locally appropriate dishes. The dishes included vegetables that Mercy Corps has begun to support the seed replication for among project farmers, as well as tilapia fish—supported by an aquaculture development component of the project.

PHOTO: Tom Pfeiffer

To disseminate the recipes and ignite community interest, the project funded 50+ community food events where the books were made available to all. Each event included music by a local band and at least four recipes were cooked at each by community members and shared. Mercy Corps limited its presence in order to build community ownership of the events. The project video is entirely in the local language and includes the testimony of several community stakeholders. The video is shown at the food events and other community meetings, helping to communicate the vision of the project and solicit continued relevant feedback from the community.


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The quite creative ECB Bangladesh consortium has made a video of a traditional Bangla skit, which includes songs about accountability in emergencies! The folk skit with songs is called a gomvira. Due to its ability to teach the audience in an entertaining way, gomvira has become quite popular in the development field. There are 2 main characters in the skit, a grandfather and a grandson. Generally one of these characters depicts a positive side of the issue while the other plays a negative role. Through a logical conversation, the positive character convinces the negative character in favor of the issue. This 30 minute video is well done, very entertaining and fun to watch! (It may take some time to load before being ready to play, so please be patient. It is worth the wait!).

In this skit, set in rural Bangladesh, the grandson explains to his grandfather the people’s rights in relation to an aid organization’s emergency response and how the agency will conduct the next emergency response with accountability. The grandfather, having had negative experiences with aid organizations, is skeptical of what his grandson says. Through the course of the gomvira, the grandson answers his grandfather’s many questions and removes his doubts.


The Story

The gomvira opens by the grandson telling the grandfather that the aid organization has told the community, including men, women, the blind, disabled, and the most vulnerable, the details of the relief project and that the people are going to be involved in the process, including the making of the beneficiary list. The distrustful grandfather believes what he has observed in the past: that only those who have good relations with the agency staff can get on the beneficiary list, while the most vulnerable do not receive any aid. The grandfather then realizes that if people have the information about the project, including how much they are to receive in aid, and if they are involved in the process, that they can then hold staff accountable. To address corruption by powerful people, individuals can complain anonymously and will not be retaliated against for complaint against the powerful.

In the past, the different needs of the varying groups in the community were not considered. Now, the grandson explains, the agency staff will hold separate discussions with men, women, children, the disabled, and the isolated and various ethnic groups to find out the unique needs of each. The aid organization will ensure that needs are met and expectations are fulfilled.

But in the end, the grandfather asks, “Why will the aid organization do all these things? It’s all their money; they can spend it like they want. Why do they need to talk to so many poor, illiterate people like us?”

The son responds, “You raised the most important question. No, they cannot spend the money as they wish. Getting assistance and living with dignity in floods, cyclones, and storm surge situations is the right of the people.”

“You mean to say getting assistance in such situations is our right?” queries the grandfather.

“It is our right and the duty of the responders to provide it to us,” responds the grandson.

They then sing: “Getting assistance in emergencies is the people’s right. If you have a complaint, don’t keep it in your mind. Tell someone.”


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World Vision Sri Lanka’s Tsunami Response Team showcased an innovative and interesting way of educating the community on their rights and responsibilities, as well as advocating for future community action. Their concise case study is entitled 3D Animation for Community Mobilisation & Accountability, and was written by Joshua Pepall and Romesh Fernando.

Providing information to beneficiaries on their rights and responsibilities and facilitating community participation in programming are key components of accountability practice. Such practices support trust and positive relationships between the community and the agency and lead to more effective outcomes. In fact, without information on their rights, responsibilities and the project, people cannot ask questions, make choices and participate.

After rebuilding over 2,000 homes for tsunami-affected families across the country, World Vision needed to provide information to the new tenants and to clarify confusing housing policies (for example, the government was responsible for installment of electricity, while the family was responsible for septic maintenance and repairing damage they caused to their home). Additionally, people were living next to each other for the first time, and they were reluctant to take responsibility for common problems. Thus an informational campaign was needed to bring people together to discuss these housing issues and provide a platform for future community mobilization. However, a traditional mass information campaign would not have been sufficient, due to the fact that the information needed to reach marginalized groups, such as women and the illiterate, and the aim was to facilitate dialogue.  World Vision decided to hire a local Sri Lankan software engineer for only a few hundred dollars to develop a 3D Animation to convey the information and generate questions, discussion and action.

A red-circle is used in the animation to identify a common community problem.

World Vision announced the meetings to show the animation using community notice boards and community organizers. Screens were made out of bamboo poles and a sheet or by using the wall of a house. After the animation was shown, people were given the opportunity to ask questions and discuss problems identified in the animation, as well as others not shown in the screening. This created a shared understanding of the problems and solutions. Next, ideas for advocacy and collective action were explained, including how the community could elect representatives for a Community Action Group to advocate on their behalf.

Have you worked on a communication campaign that used an alternative approach? Leave a comment and let us know about it!

For more information about the practice of accountability by World Vision Sri Lanka’s Tsunami Response Team, see this blog. For more on the use of innovative approaches to sharing knowledge, such as animations, visit this blog.

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On the last workshop afternoon, the Standing Team made a few videos to help explain who they were and what they do.  In their own words, here they are!

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We started looking back at the video we produced.

They will all be shown in plenary, in groups or 3-4, at the beginning or at the end of our working session.

We are aware that these  video are our first take, and these showings are an opportunity to provide suggestions to improve them.

Each participant writes something good and something bad about the video, and give it to the people featured. Feedback is provided on:

  • technical quality
  • Quality of presentation: is it relaxed / nervous? / is it clear? / is it engaging?)
  • Quality of the story



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Time to look at the videos we did. Well done, everyone!

What can we do to further them? Here are a few tips for short videos for storytelling…

How to make a good short video

  • Be clear about the key message. You must be really clear about your topic and about the message your want to convey.
  • Have a good outline, and make a script if needed. Think in “bullet points”, and make sure that each “bullet point” stands out clearly and distinctively when you tell your story. (you might for example say: there were three key steps in our approach: 1… 2… 3…”)
  • Keep it short. The shorter, the better. Aim at 2 minutes max.

Shooting it

  • memorize your outline / key points. Have it ready, as a reference, clearly written… just in case!
  • Rehearse the presentation before the shooting.
  • Imagine your audience: picture your audience, and talk as if you were talking to them. It will help you to make the message focused and clear.
  • Connect with your audience: look into the camera, make eye contact.
  • Passion, confidence and enthusiasm. Talk with passion, not as if what you say was boring…  Project your enthusiasm through the video. It will make a difference
  • Be yourself. You do not want to look as a professional anchorperson. You want to be authentic, to be yourself.
  • Watch the video as if you were looking at someone else. Do not worry too much about “you” (yes, it is weired to look and hear at yourself in the video!!). Look at the message, check if you conveyed it effectively. And do not be bothered about little things… most people will not even notice them.
  • Look at the video with a colleague, and ask for genuine feedback. Is it clear? What works well? What could be improved?
  • Do it again!  If you are not happy,  just do it over again!

And a few technical tips:

  • good lighting: take your video in a well-lit area. avoid having light coming from behind you, or directly above you, to cast bad shadows!
  • stable images: to avoid shaky videos, use a tripod (if you have one!), or place your camera on a hard stable surface, rather than holding it.
  • ensure sound quality: clear audio is very important. Avoid background noise. Speak clearly, do not mumble!
  • framing: a good choice is a medium close up: face and upper body are visible. This allow to capture well facial expression as well as gestures.
  • orientation:  keep your camera / mobile horizontal.. otherwise the video will look funny on a computer screen…
  • avoid clutter: avoid cluttering the frame with distracting elements. Ensure that the backdrop is relevant and simple.
  • keep it simple: you do not need to zoom or do fancy effects: they will distract people!
  • add interest: you can show pictures, books, posters in the video, if relevant.

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