Participatory Visual Methods: a Case Study

It was twelve years ago that Bojan passed out in his English class.  It was then that his brain tumour was discovered.  Forced to go to Ljubljana to get the treatment he needed, Still Here tells the story of Bojan’s surgery and recovery.  It also tells the story of Dr Šarkić.  Once one of the most-respected doctors at Doboj’s hospital, he was expelled during the war because of his faith and ethnic origins.  Back in the town today, he still does not practice in the hospital. 

A powerful portrayal of two connected lives, divided by differences of ethnicity and religion, Still Here is just one of the 25 digital stories and participatory videos produced through the Citizen Engagement through Visual Participatory Processes project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). 

Based on participatory visual methods, the project gave citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) opportunities to tell stories about themselves, their municipalities and the systems which affect their lives.  Their stories give powerful and personal insights into the realities of citizenship, participation, democracy and local governance in BiH today.  They are useful for future SDC programming, as well as advocacy, activism and the sparking of public dialogues in BiH. 

What are participatory visual methods?

Participatory visual methods include different creative forms of communication and expression, such as drama, photography, film, drawing, design, creative writing and music.  Using collaborative processes, participants and facilitators work together to produce powerful stories.

Uniquely, this project combined two different participatory visual methods:

  • Digital storytelling is a learning, creating and sharing experience supported by technology.  Using film, animation, photos or audio recordings, participants share aspects of their life story by creating their own short digital media production.  In this project, participants used digital storytelling to create short individual narratives, sharing their experiences and views on citizenship, participation and local governance.
  • Participatory video involves participants learning basic filming skills and working together to agree narratives, and shoot and produce their films.  It is an empowering process, enabling people to take action for solving their own problems and communicating this to decision-makers, their communities and the wider public.  In this project, a smaller group of participants used participatory video to collectively analyse and synthesise the stories created through the digital storytelling process. 

By using participatory visual methods, the project opened spaces for participants to reflect, learn, and talk about issues which are not openly discussed in BiH.  It built their skills in technology, communication and visual methods.  It encouraged them to be creative and playful, and to put their own experiences, imaginations and emotions into their stories. 

By linking individual narratives with collective analysis, the project’s combination of digital storytelling and participatory video also encouraged participants to move beyond their own lives to develop shared visions for democracy in BiH. 

What did we do?

The project brought together activists, development professionals, civil society organisations, interested citizens and local government representatives in four stages:

  1. Training of trainers workshop: a small group of participants were trained in running digital storytelling and participatory video workshops.  The group went on to co-facilitate subsequent workshops, helping to form a pool of digital storytelling and participatory video trainers in BiH.
  2. Digital storytelling workshops: included ‘story circles’, for participants to tell their stories to each other, training with computers and other technology, and creative exercises.  The digital stories created cover themes such as activism, citizens’ initiatives, governance and individual transformation.
  3. As a means of involving local politicians, a selection of the digital stories was shown to four local mayors.  The mayors were also interviewed about their motivations to enter politics.
  4. In the participatory video process, power analysis exercises helped participants to identify the underlying issues in the digital stories, and to identify focal areas for the participatory videos.  Over several months, participants then worked in groups to plan, film, edit and produce collective stories about democracy and how change happens in BiH. 

The project produced 22 digital stories, three participatory videos and four video interviews with mayors.  These have been screened to local government officials, NGOs, activists and the general public, sparking discussion on the successes and failures of citizen participation in BiH.

What did we learn?

The processes involved in participatory visual methods are as important, if not more important, than the final products. 

Creative approaches, creative stories

For many participants in this project, being creative was something new.   Bosnian society is strongly hierarchical, and being creative has little social value.  Incorporating playful and creative approaches into the workshops encouraged participants to have fun and step away from their usual ways of thinking and acting.  By doing so, they were able to develop creative and compelling stories, which explored ‘hidden’ parts of themselves and their societies. 

Safe spaces and relaxed atmospheres

Participatory visual methods rely on storytellers putting their opinions, experiences and feelings into their stories.  For many participants in this project, learning to tell personal stories was one of the biggest challenges of the process. 

For trainers, it was crucial to create a safe space and relaxed atmosphere, with mutual levels of trust between facilitators and participants.  This encouraged participants to openly share their experiences, discuss challenging issues and question dominant ways of being. 

Working together

The project brought together a diverse group of participants, from different organisations, sectors, religions and ethnic groups.  In the Bosnian context, the latter are particularly rigid social categories. By working together and sharing their personal stories, participants were able to interact as individuals, outside of these boundaries, and build ongoing links for the future. 

To find out more…

Silence Speaks:

The Center for Digital Storytelling:

Visit to learn more about the project and view the stories.

Visit to see a powerful digital story about a South African boy's experience of HIV and ways it affects him and his family.

This page draws on two documents:  Work with us: How people and organisations can catalyse sustainable change and Unruly politics and methodological mash-ups: visual methods for social justice