Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/Searching for the questions to ask
Searching for the questions to ask (even if we get inconvenient truths as answers)
It is typical of development work at the beginning of a project to conduct a survey to better understand what the project beneficiaries perceived as "their needs". This is of course different from the market studies that are meant to understand how to sell something to the public. In authentic development work there is not a predetermined "something" to sell off, but there is always the intention to respond effectively to the real needs of the people. Often to understand these needs is not simple, as illiterate populations may request for something that in fact is not a sustainable solution to their problems (we need money! give us money! We have not enough food! Give us more! etc.) Many times a certain trade off has to be negotiated between what the beneficiaries perceive is their need and what development workers have learned is capable to induce sustainable development. But in any case we need to provide the people with something they believe is a driver of the kind of development they seek. otherwise the project will fail, even if on paper it delivers the expected goodies.
In our communication project we were expected to provide to opinion makers (journalists and teachers) with the information they needed to communicate to their public about scopes and challenges of international cooperation, with special focus on the MDGs program. The first assignment I gave to the partner organizations in Italy, Belgium, Romania and Bulgaria was to understand “the communication needs” of our beneficiaries, both direct (opinion makers) and indirect (the general public).
Also in advertisement campaign you first need to understand what people want to be told. But advertisers use this knowledge it in order to say something official (what people want to listen) and then, between the lines, say what they want to get across in order to modify people tastes and desires, along the interests of the sponsors of the campaign. In our project, instead, we were trying to move in the opposite direction and try to understand what people needed to know in order to make informed choices. Paradoxically the advertisers, who do not serve the people needs. are having a easy life in presenting themselves in line with people wishes. While educators, who really cater to people needs, cannot present themselves as servants, but have to present themselves as "empowers" - that is much more difficult concept to explain. So it is generally easier to manage an advertisement campaign, where you apparently tell the people what they want to listen, rather than managing an awareness campaign, where you have to tell many “inconvenient truths”.
The project partners in Romania and Bulgaria did a very good job in clarifying the difference between the "convenient lies" and the "inconvenient truths" of the media dealing with international cooperation. The Italian and Belgian partners instead came out with dry lecturers on what international cooperation "should do" (and instead does not do enough). Long time experience in certain sectors does not necessarily bring along increased effectiveness; and in our case the novelty of the efforts by east Europeans brought vitality and authenticity. (In fact there are many arts where to be an involved amateur means to do it better then a detached professional!
On the basis of the findings of the survey on the communication needs, we understood the difficulties that opinion makers encounter when they want to talk of international cooperation and we prepared a list of questions to ask to the cooperation experts and actors. We then categorized these questions into 10 main issues and we uploaded the videos and the audios of the answers we received from the interviewed testimonials (⇒ the issues). In this way we have been able to compare the approaches of people of different cultural background and reveal how cultures differ in understanding global issues.
The playlists with the answers collected on the 10 issues had been edited before cutting from them the segments we used for the edited documentary. Even after the documentary was prepared, the complete interviews have remained accessible on line and we kept on adding additional videos after the documentary episodes were finalized, as we received new feed backs and add ons.
In this way we took full advantage of the potentiality of interactive video communication on the Internet, that allowed us to go beyond and deeper the non-interactive modality of an edited documentary.
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