Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/Getting partners on board
Getting partners on board (of a wiki ship!)
One of the conditions to present project proposal to EU Commission is that the project will be implemented in partnership amongst different organizations of different nationalities. The basic idea is that each organization has a specific field of competence and a specific area of influence and so the partnership has the capacity to integrate these differences thereby achieving higher professional competence and obtain a wider project impact. Another reason for EU to insist on partnerships is that they are more transparent: it is easier to monitor a group rather then a single organization, because one can interview separately the partners and learn more about the project; while organizations will tend to be more defensive of the way they carry out their business. The idea of asking that the projects are carried out in a partnership is very good. I have also been always in favor of it. However often partnership are just designed on paper amongst partners who do not really know much about each other. They often just sign the project paper without really understanding the work involved in it. They only look at the fact that there would be some money for them to do something that they will understand better later on, with other people whom they will come to know later on, if and when the project is financed.
Our partnership was built amongst NGOs from 5 different countries: Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Romania, Syria, India. The objective of the project was to communicate to the European citizens the work in progress for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, i.e. a big United Nation Programme with 8 strategic objectives which had been receiving very little media attention. The partners of EU had to cooperate in communication in their respective States; the Indian and Syrian partners were supposed to facilitate the documentation of project on the ground. We had to film projects also in Africa and South America, but we did not have formal partnership over there.
So now that the project was approved I had to organize the partnership. But what is a real partnership in media production? If I act as a director who tells everybody what they have to do, then it is not really a partnership. Sure I have to assign roles and distribute tasks. But I have to do it in such a way that each person contribute in a creative way. So I had to find the proper balance between telling people what they had to do and leaving them free on how to do it. Well. Not too free either. I have also to find a way for which I pay the salary of contributors only as much as they really contribute. And I have to do it all at a distance, with distant partners, whom sometimes I do not know very well. And who do not know me well.
The challenge of managing a partnership is therefore give the right kind of autonomy to all so that they are motivated and creative; and at the same time to give those kind of discipline so that the work is well integrated and that good performance is encouraged (and bad performance reprobated). Videos were not the only products we were expected to make. We also have to prepare manuals about “how to communicate development cooperation work”. Writing these manuals could sound less glamourous then video making, but we had to do it if we did not want to be accused of spending the money for international cooperation just for entertaining the public. (and ourselves!) And in reality also video production starts with writing and is managed throughout on writing. All what we have to decide we have to discuss and agree in writing. We have to decide what is our target. What is our approach. What our format. All this will have to be written. And in a partnership will have to be written together. Writing together? And that also at a distance? In a spirit of partnership? How to do it?
The technical solution came from Giobi, the young communication expert hired for managing the project web site. Let's use a WIKI! It is the same computer technology used by Wikipedia. It allows multiple authors for each page. And at the same time you always keep a record of previous editions so nothing is ever lost and you can always roll back to previous editions if you want to. Great! That was the tool we needed. We set our work platform on the wiki. And we are still on board of it.
The adoption of the WIKI has been one of the most successful choices we have taken in the project. It allowed us to integrate the work of many different persons and keep on improving the process without ever losing any work done before. The WIKI has since ever continued to remain on line. And if you are reading these pages from a published hard copy of the book or are watching the video documentary can always do to the wiki and not only read what is written there, but also contribute to it by writing new pages or helping rewriting the old ones.
At the beginning I was a bit skeptic about the feasibility of this collective writing system. Writing is such an intimate and personal action. How there is any possibility in making it “collective” ? But I was surprised at seeing how all contributors, internal and external, have been spontaneously disciplined and very respectful to the contribution of the others. While writing is a personal thing, a book can be community job. And our project was definitely meant to be a cooperation job, showing what international cooperation is about.
Finally not only the manuals have been produced on the wiki. Even the script of the documentary was written in it. The interviews also have been collected on the wiki and feed backs to the work in progress was extensively given to us through the wiki. This allowed us to add on the work of the others without a final edition that would have paralyzed it all. What was possible, and it is still possible, to read on the wiki was the temporary crystallization of ongoing process that is meant to remain ongoing. In this way all team members, at the beginning, and then all the participating public, did contribute in writing the text of the documentary episodes, avoiding that single sided approach which is instead the one commonly used by news. And that would have been also the one used by RAI in broadcasting their version of this project.
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