The Bartlett Development Planning Unit
  • Follow our posts

  • A A A

    Shifting Perspectives – A reflection on the use of video in the field

    By David McEwen, on 23 August 2016

    The lens is an eye. Video and photography offer a unique opportunity to represent or share a situation, an event, a person, a moment in time. Within the context of academia and research, where it can be far too easy to dilute a point through a mass of text or statistics (or big words), these mediums serve as infinitely powerful and diverse tools to reflect on a particular subject (or no subject at all).

    IMG_4423

    Through my experience on the field, I have viewed the capacities of video in a few different, interrelated ways: as a documentary, evidence gathering tool; as a democratising force, a platform with which to share hidden or silent perspectives; as a tool for advocacy, support and ‘legitimisation’. As three broad categories, these ultimately refer to the opportunity to craft a certain narrative to, one that engages with the senses on a scale that other mediums cannot. You see the sights of the cameraman, you hear what and who they hear, you feel what they feel.

    Working with local communities on our field-trip to Cambodia (as part of the BUDD masters), we used video to document the results of participatory design workshops we ran alongside community members. This proved valuable as a resource to draw from during presentations in front of key local and national government officials, demonstrating the success of our participatory planning pilot and suggesting a potential future for participation within the planning system. Similarly, while on the field in Uganda, I worked alongside local NGO ACTogether to document community planning meetings in which participatory exercises were conducted to attempt to address the issue of flooding. The video and media content produced as part of these meetings is invaluable in not only sharing the general aims and methodology of the NGO, but in legitimising its efforts, providing firsthand evidence of its work, efficacy and influence.

    IMG_5407

    The value of crafting a narrative is particularly felt when viewing video as a democratising tool, as an amplifier for those voices unheard. Within the context of London, I have used documentary films as a platform with which to express and elucidate the concerns of various community groups fighting juggernaut developers and regeneration proposals. The typical structure for participation within the planning system does not offer many opportunities to voice objections and concerns, and where present, they remain particularly formal and confined. Creating films and sharing them online, we were able to share and voice our views to a much wider audience than would otherwise be available and generate greater opportunities for discussion than standard methods for participation would allow. This felt particularly empowering as we were able to craft a message within boundaries set by ourselves, rather than an outside agent.

    IMG_5200

    The freedom offered by the last case is something that deserves greater reflection as it is not something that will necessarily be available in situations where video and media is tasked with representing the views of others in research and academic work. There is an inherent bias and degree of manipulation involved in the creation of video/film/photography; this is its greatest asset and weakness. In an academic or research context (perhaps in every context), it is important to meditate on the role of the photographer/videographer, how they may be shaping or influencing their surroundings and the material they record, and consequently the role of the editor or curator, tasked with weaving a particular narrative or message. Questions of fidelity and authenticity are necessary at each of these stages to avoid the potential of misrepresenting or distorting a subject. I am afraid I have no concrete answers though; the ultimate beauty of the medium lies in its ability to be interpreted in many different ways: to portray the right and the wrong, the easy and the hard, the simple and the contradictory, all at the same time.

     

    My final advice:

     

    Think, record, then think again.


    David McEwen is a filmmaker and architect, a recent graduate of the BUDD masters programme, with an interest in design and democratic spatial practices. His work has included the production of documentaries on development processes in Cambodia and Uganda and more recently the representation and advocacy of minority ethnic interests in urban design and planning practices in London.

    Development Administration and Planning – Understanding how development intervention is planned and implemented in Kampala, Uganda

    By Lilian Schofield, on 20 June 2016

    Over the last two decades, Uganda has attained a remarkable record of delivering development in the areas of growth and poverty reduction. The country has also seen a significant increase in the involvement of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in the development process. The MSc Development Administration and Planning field trip to Kampala was focused on exploring how development intervention is planned and implemented in Kampala, Uganda, as well as examining the role of the practitioner and observing the tools and approaches that are used to conceptualise, design, manage, monitor and evaluate development interventions.

    Kampala

    Kampala

    Kampala city tour

    The field trip commenced with a guided city tour of Kampala, which was organised not only as an introduction to the environment but also to elicit and encourage observation and reflection in terms of spaces in the city, forms of social and cultural life.

    Kampala is the biggest city and the capital of Uganda. It is also the administrative and commercial centre of the country.  Kampala has undergone changes within the last few decades and with rapid urbanisation and population growth, the city has had to deal with challenges congruent with urbanisation. Kampala, a city, which was originally built on seven hills, has now expanded to one on more than 21 hills.  The town formerly designed for 500,000 is said to now have a population of more than 2 million with migrants coming in from outside Kampala to work and find work in the city. This appears to have had a huge impact on the infrastructure.

    Kampala faces a number of challenges, which is typical of urbanised cities in developing countries – aside from improving basic necessities; these challenges also include the lack of infrastructure and population increase. NGOs in Kampala are seemingly filling in some of the gaps in government provisioning such as being involved in service provisioning. The upward trajectory of NGO prevalence seems to demonstrate that NGOs in Kampala will continue to be involved in service provisioning as the city continues to grow and government struggles to fulfil their responsibilities.

     

    Field site visit

    The students were divided into eight groups with each working with one of our eight partner development organisations in Kampala. The students spent two weeks visiting their partner organisations and observing first-hand the processes and tools involved in carrying out development projects. Through employing research strategies and appropriate methodology, students utilised various theoretical frameworks and research methods to explore and understand the phenomenon under investigation.

     Field site visits were also organised for all the students to observe development projects in action. One of the field sites visited was a project supported by Shelter and Settlements Alternatives (SSA) called ‘Decent Living Project’. SSA is a Ugandan based NGO involved in advocacy and sharing information for better housing policies, programs and practices towards sustainable improvement of human settlements in Uganda.

    Decent living project

    Decent living project

     

    Decent Living Project – Kwafako Housing Cooperative

    The Decent Living Project, which is one of SSA’s projects, supports its beneficiaries by providing affordable and eco-friendly houses as well as improving the lives of people living in informal settlements in Kampala. One such beneficiary of this project is a group of individuals living with HIV and formerly inhabiting an informal settlement. They came together and formed their own cooperative called the Kwafako Housing Cooperative. The students were introduced to some of the beneficiaries of the housing project and were also briefed about the history of the housing cooperative, which was said to be the idea of one of the beneficiaries known as Madam Betty. She was said to have noticed the lack of help for people living with HIV within her settlement and convinced them to come together and seek help. The cooperative is currently made up of 34 members who are mostly women, except for four males who upon the death of their spouses became members automatically due to the cooperative’s policy which states that once a female member dies, their husbands become members.

    Machine used in making the interlocking bricks

    Machine used in making the interlocking bricks

    SSA supports this community group through advocacy, providing capacity building through workshops. The members of the cooperative group were trained in the art of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick used in constructing their houses. Strategies used by SSA in meeting objectives include transferring affordable, sustainable and environmental housing technology.  For example, the materials used in making the interlocking soil stabilised brick are dug from the same soil found within the housing project environment. This ensures maximum utilisation of land, keep costs at a minimum and affordable whilst also being environmentally friendly. They also encourage making bricks without the need of burning wood which they explained was not environmentally friendly and as such not supported by one of their funders.

    The project which has 24 units which are almost completed is said to be also partnering with Water Aid who plan to provide water facilities to the project. Madam Betty stated that they participated in the design of the houses as well as making the bricks and helping with the building construction.

    The members of the cooperative demonstrated how the interlocking stone brick technology is made. This gave us the opportunity to observe the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised bricks as well as encouraging deeper understanding of the capacity and hard work involved.

    Housing engineer demonstration the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick

    Housing engineer demonstration the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick

    Apart from the quotidian activities which involved field site visits, collecting data and frequent group meetings, the students prepared presentations of their findings to tutors, peers and the partner organisations.

    The above picture shows demonstration of how the bricks are interlocked

    The above picture shows demonstration of how the bricks are interlocked

    Reference:

    Golooba-Mutebi, F., & Hickey, S. (2013) ‘Investigating the links between political settlements and inclusive development in Uganda: towards a research agenda’ (No. esid-020-13). BWPI. Manchester: The University of Manchester.

    Lambright, G. M. S. (2014), Opposition Politics and Urban Service Delivery in Kampala, Uganda. Development Policy Review, 32: s39–s60. doi: 10.1111/dpr.12068

    Matagi, S. V. (2002) ‘Some issues of environmental concern in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda’, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 77(2):121-138


    Dr Lilian Schofield is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). She joined the students on the overseas field trip to Kampala.  Each year, the MSc Development Administration and Planning students embark on an international research field trip. In recent years, the MSc DAP students have visited several countries including Ethiopia and Uganda.