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Putting your subject first, the key to effective co-creation

11 December 2018

Charities often have access to a wealth of people willing to give real world examples of how their work has changed  lives.

Often, this involves asking people to share personal and sensitive information. This is particularly true in filmmaking, which can be a powerful but intrusive medium. How do you find the balance between showing the importance of your organisation’s work, while ensuring participants have a positive experience? I spoke to a range of charities who do this well, to get a general sense of best practice. Here’s some tips for ensuring you and the people you work with get the most out of the process.

  1. Find the right participant

This includes ensuring that the story the organisation wants to tell is aligned with what the participant wants to communicate, and vice versa, as well as the timing and commitment being appropriate for those involved. It’s all well and good having a roster of people who have agreed to contribute to case studies, but if your story doesn’t line up with the one they want to tell it won’t be authentic. What if you can’t find someone who’s story matches up with the message you are trying to put out there? This might be an indication that you need to revise your messaging – is it truly representative of the experiences of your community?

It comes down to genuinely trying to tell their story, not using them to tell the story of the charity.

Mike South, formerly Parkinson’s UK

  1. Gain Informed consent

Participants should know and consent to exactly how and why their stories will be used, and the effect this could have on their lives. This includes any repurposing of content later, in the wake of GDPR this is additionally important cause, y’know, it’s the law, but overall it’s just good practice. People deserve to have control over where their story goes, and that comes from a clear understanding of the real implications of involving themselves in your work. Where will their face be visible? Where will their story be platformed? Who could see it? How might that affect their life? All of these elements need to be clear to you, them and anyone involved before the work begins.

Going further, some organisations also ensure that participants can revoke consent at any time, so if they change their minds, the content can be taken down. This introduces volatility, but in the long run can lead to higher-value content. If people are creating without the nagging reminder everything they say could potentially be story-fodder, they can share more freely, and deliberate later. However, they should also be aware that once the story is in the digital space, there will be no guarantee the information can be completely removed, beyond what the charity can do in their own capacity.

This atmosphere can also be facilitated with the mutual understanding that the participant has final say on the sharing of any details. This means making this clear at the start (preferably in writing) and ensuring that the participant sees the content in its final form before it’s made public.

The stories we share belong to our young people, so we only show what they are comfortable with sharing.

Lucie Walker, formerly CentrePoint

  1. Have a trusted confidant

Participants can benefit from a trusted individual being present for support, ideally someone external to the process. However, in some situations, if the storyteller has the right skills, has time to build a relationship  based on trust and mutual respect and is willing to recognise they don’t have 100% of the control of the product which comes out of it, the storyteller may be able to be that person too.  In this case, the person involved needs time and space to build this relationship and to put the best interests of the participant at the centre of the content.

  1. Work with people who get it

The process benefits from everyone understanding the needs and situation of the participant. On a practical level, this means they can make necessary adjustments to their process in order to accommodate those needs. This not only benefits the participant, but also streamlines the filmmaking process. From a content perspective, it’s beneficial because it alleviates the ‘parashooting’ problem. With an understanding for the intricacies of the given condition/culture/emotional standpoint one is entering into, there is less risk of misrepresentation.

  1. Ensure comprehensive feedback

Throughout all stages of the process, participants should be given the opportunity to feedback on how they are being portrayed and any requested changes should be carried out. No one is going to know their story better than the individual, so ensuring they are happy and comfortable with the way they are being represented is imperative, as well as useful in creating content which genuinely represents their experience of the issue at hand. This isn’t to say there is any singular truth of the complex issues charities face, but the participant should be given the opportunity to look at the work and say ‘yes, this is representative of my experience’.

If done well, the sharing of stories for charitable purposes can be a mutually beneficial experience for both the charity and the participant. The above recommendations are not exhaustive, so please do add your thoughts in the comments!

We have the platform to be able to help people communicate the lived realities of our causes, to share their journeys with the world and to incite change. If participants have a positive experience of the process  they are more likely to participate in future opportunities, giving further visibility to the issue. It can also result in a wider pool of contributors, as positive accounts travel via word of mouth. Beyond this, it should be an enjoyable experience for people donating their time to share their life with the wider world.

In the charity sector, we are trying to support communities to improve their lives and attain their rights. It makes sense to involve them much more in deciding how to portray themselves.

Soledad Muniz, InsightShare

More like this:

Regarding humanity

Ethical storytelling podcast

Filmkit for charities

Image: mentatdgt from Pexels

Molly Clarke

former digital content officer, CharityComms

Molly was formerly the digital content officer at CharityComms and a Charity Works fellow. Before CharityComms, she was studying for her MA in International Development. Prior to that, she directed, produced and edited film projects both in a corporate and not-for-profit setting in the UK and internationally.