This article cautions against placing too much faith in pictures used in PRA. Since attributed meanings are informed by prior experience, it is not straightforward that illiterate people read pictures in the same way. Interpretations of pictures representing home grain storage with farmers, their wives and children were tested, and compared with drawings done by farmers. examples of 'misunderstandings' and differing interpretations are given. The paper concludes that pictures should be field tested, or better still, drawn by participants.
Aerial photographs were used as the focus for discussions about land use practices in an area of Kenya. Details are given of how the photographs were taken. The photographs helped to reduce spatial biases, such as the tendency for field workers to walk along the contours and along ridges. They also seemed to "confirm what made sense intuitively" in terms of land use options. During household interviews, people seemed happy interpreting the photographs though they were mostly literate and had seen aerial photographs before.
"Is it strange for soldiers in Zaire when watching a Donald Duck movie for the first time, to call out that ducks do not talk?" The general tendency to apply Western visual devices in developing countries has failed to consider the culturally specific nature of many images. It is not just a question of understanding visual "tricks" (such as how TV producers juggle with time, how artists create perspective) but of interpreting signs. "Graphic symbols and pictographs are visual signs of a predominantly symbolic nature which are culturally determined and which must subsequently be acquired before they can prove useful". The author goes on to examine what makes a picture realistic in different cultural contexts and how visual conventions like shading can be misunderstood. Artists should try to use local visual codes to develop local visual culture. This account includes an overview of other studies on visual literacy.
Experience of living and working in Zambia led the author to reflect on the differences in understanding and communication. This wide-ranging account looks at concepts such as "time" as expressed in Swahili and English, and how a "magic" world view affects the concept of causal relations. Concerned particularly with pictures as "the link between written and oral lifestyles", the author goes on to analyse his Zambian friends' perspective. Though he draws on studies of visual literacy, such as George McBean's, and lists the visual "cues" (eg perspective, superimposition) which people lack, his starting point is less ethnocentric. When a woman states that there is more Fanta in a high glass than a short glass (though it has been shown to be the same quantity), he questions "why should we consider it 'less logical' to attribute 'moreness' to something visually dominant like width or height than to attribute 'sameness' to something invisible like weight?" In oral societies people appear to be more used to verbalising "what they do not what they see" and they expect pictures to "contain what they know about objects, not just what they see". "Memory pictures" which, for example, show all four wheels of a car through twisting the picture in space, are one way of meeting peoples' visual expectations. There are many observations in this book besides those on visual literacy (eg on "greetings" in different cultures and ways of learning) which would interest PRA practitioners.
A study was carried out by Unicef to see how quickly villagers could improve their visual literacy. Various "development illustrations" were used with 480 non-literate respondents in the Mid-West of Nepal to test their understanding. The group who received some training in illustration techniques (eg concept of representing perspective) improved dramatically compared to a control group. Men scored higher than women. "Overt teaching of illustration techniques was particularly beneficial with regard to perspective and how illustrations portray the way people react to each other". Other issues highlighted were the importance of questioning whether a development illustration attracts/influences people (as well as testing comprehension) and not just to reflect local imagery and conditions, thereby "denying the imagination realms outside present experience". A small study was also conducted on the comprehension of three kinds of videos.
A formal "FAO-type land evaluation" had been carried out by Southern Highlands Rural Development project in Papua New Guinea. The objective was next to "identify the social overlay" on this physical inventory - ie "who governs who has access to what land". The team of three used aerial photographs as one of several RRA tools. The photographs were used as aids for mapping clan boundaries and as a focus for discussion in interviews, proving an immediate way "for both interviewees and interviewers to use as a reference in distinguishing between land types".
A review of literacy materials in Nepal concludes that materials have "unnecessary elaboration with little visual content". The findings of Unicef's 1988 study are summarised as guidelines for producing more effective materials. The twelve points include: motion, movement line, crosses and arrows are not understood by the audience and full figure three tone with single message are widely understood even by people with low visual literacy. The process of developing visual materials is briefly outlined, as the basis for a planned workshop on literacy illustrations.
Aerial photographs were used as a communication tool to discuss land use with farmers in Ethiopia. The farmers had no problems interpreting the photographs and could even "take one to any spot on their land shown to them on the mosaic". Each village used the photographs to present their proposals for land use allocation. The author concludes that whilst aerial photography helps technical staff "to visualise development options", its main function for the farmers was not as a planning tool (they already know their land well) but to help illustrate and demonstrate their ideas to others.
Throughout history, people have framed their design and knowledge in patterns that are easy to memorise and repeat. Before the advent of "symbol literacy" (language and mathematics), traditional cultures used patterms to record information. The left side of the brain corresponds with symbol literacy, whereas the right side being holistic and involved with rhythm, colour and shape, is associated with pattern literacy. Bill Mollison has developed a "Tree Model" which provides a unifying structure for eight recognisable pattern categories, eg waves, streamline,spirals, branches. The author goes on to illustrate how an understanding of these patterns can be applied as in permaculture design.
Ideas about communication have mostly come from the industrialised West, meaning people in developing countries have to learn "an alien visual language" in order to understand development illustrations. The first question for an illustrator to ask is "for whom am I designing this picture?" From experience in India, most designers seem to be producing for their own kind, rather than for those in the villages and are "blind to the visual language of their own culture". This practical manual suggests how to go about producing appropriate visual aids by first collecting an "inventory of visual language" in the local area (traditional designs, clothing styles, meaning of certain colours etc). Illustrators should "build on a society's achievements, not what it lacks". The design process is described step by step, with checklists on the advantages of various visual styles and ideas about layout and assessing the "audience's" response to the finished product. The author warns that the process is not easy, "using traditional visual forms to express modern ideas can be like discussing nuclear physics in Sanskrit.."
This comprehensive review of materials on visual literacy is useful not only for the references to key articles, but for the essays introducing each section. The first looks at the different ways people use pictures - for religion, propaganda, teaching. Although many pictures and diagrams are universally understood, others depend on the cultural context: 'images are as culture-bound as words and ideas'. PRA maps are discussed as examples of 'pictures and participation'. The point is made that 'pictures can deceive' as people sometimes decide to conceal certain aspects of their communities. Other sections of the review cover: visual literacy in the context of local and national information systems, the relationship between visual and verbal literacy, pictures as codes for reality, communicating ideas with pictures. A section on 'how to' books includes manuals on making visual aids and audio visuals. The review ends with a list by country of places where visual resources might be found.
A research project was conducted in nine different parts of Nepal to find out how non-literate adults responded to a variety of pictures and diagrams. Findings of the study included : villagers do not expect to receive ideas from pictures, villagers tend to 'read' pictures very literally and that villagers do not necessarily assume that thee is any connection between the pictures in a series. It was found however that 'if a picture's message is explained to villagers, they will probably remember the message when they see the picture again'. This even proved true in the case of an abstract diagram illustrating the transmission of TB. The study also compared the kind of illustrations that were most readily understood.
This book examines 'the ways in which people form images of other places and how these images influence many decisions'. Examples are given of how people's mental maps reveal their perceptions and beliefs about the world. Planners asked people in Birmingham, UK, for 'the maps that they had in their heads and which they used in moving around the centre of the city'. The response was very large because 'people seemed to like the idea of helping planners and being involved in some small way with the planning process going on in their town'. As in PRA mapping activities, the maps drawn reflected people's experiences. In another example, a black school boy in Boston drew five educational institutions in the area, 'indicative of his perception of education as an escape route from the segregated life he leads'. Our mental maps are influenced and shaped by information, such as that provided by the media and school text books. School leavers ranked the places where they preferred to live, revealing 'local domes of desirability and a shared national viewpoint' regarding images of certain towns. The book ends by looking at how to change people's mental maps : 'the maps and models of the world we carry around with us need larger and much more relevant information inputs'.
The use of drawing in the development of a gender-sensitive training methodology in the Natal/Kwazulu area
This paper argues for 'a more exploratory use of drawing as a participatory training method than currently seems to be used'. Drawing on her experience of organising workshops for craft producers (mostly poor rural women), the author discusses how drawing can serve as a 'dynamic, process of reflection, questioning and transformation'. Most traditional learning techniques are still predominantly verbal, neglecting the artistic and intuitive skills of the right side of the brain. A distinction is made between using drawing diagrammatically to summarise an idea, and 'metaphorically' to express emotions and the individual's experience. The latter is particularly relevant for discussing gender issues. One example of metaphorical use of drawing in training is: asking group participants to draw a self portrait, adding in how they felt as a result of working as a group of women. Although initially no groups asserted that gender issues were a problem, discussion of gender subordination arose through the process of drawing.
Participatory mapping is used as a way of collecting complex socio- economic and bio-physical data needed to understand the relationships between farming and forests. This has been used in Nepal where there is little other information available to fieldworkers. boundaries, features and uses of forests can be recorded, although field workers have a tendency to construct sketch maps themselves with little consultation with villagers. Participatory mapping overcomes the problem of fieldworker bias and allows a much greater amount of information to be portrayed on the map. Different user groups or key informant can produce different maps depending on their perception and use of the forest. Participatory maps are generally more accurate than fieldworker produced maps. They are considered to be detailed, non threatening, reliable and cost effective.