Interactive, Web Video

Bear Witness: Video = Change and Impact

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Yesterday I went to a great workshop at The New School (part of the Mobility Shifts conference) put on by Witness, introducing their new Video Advocacy Planning Toolkit. Witness is an international human rights organization dedicated to training activists how to use video for social change. In the workshop, we discussed future trends of video, cool things organizations are already doing, and what Witness hopes to achieve with their toolkit. Here’s my takeaway:

First, we talked about an overview of video advocacy and Witness’ methodology of why or why not to choose video. The most important concept being: video is not always the right platform for getting your message out. Here’s their top 5 questions to ask yourself before beginning a video project:

  1. Is the video made for a reason, not simply about something?
  2. Is the video made for a specific audience?
  3. Does the video have a clear and doable request for action?
  4. Does the video have a strong message and is it the best message to move the audience?
  5. Will the video be seen by the intended audience?

Next we looked at a few case studies of both great examples of interactive video campaigns and also how those techniques were used as the basis of Witness’ toolkit. Interactive video is very clearly where video advocacy is headed in the near future. While watching video is a moving experience in and of itself (and orgs and activists should keep making them via any technology they have access to), adding interactivity leaves users with a stronger impression and far greater impact. Prime example: Drop The Weapons, a UK based organization advocating for anti-violence, brought “choose your own adventure” storytelling into the digital age with their very popular Choose a Different Ending campaign.

Now a few years later, they’ve once again developed an effective, engaging video campaign, this time built right into a Facebook platform. Who Killed Deon is a murder mystery that puts you in the middle of a London party. Things start to become unsettled, there is a bit of chaos, its clear that there’s a “situation” and then suddenly Deon winds up dead. There is a cast of characters and your job is to figure out who the culprit is. You can click on videos of the various suspects that re-tell the story through each one’s perspective. It has a phenomenal appeal to young people, on a platform they understand and its a conversation starter where they are empowered to form their own opinions and engage with each other (not to mention learn a thing or two about anti-violence).

While both Drop the Weapons campaigns are basically short films, shot via camera with actors and scenes and use YouTube’s annotation tools – on the other end of the spectrum of interactive video is flashed-based animation. Urban Ministries of Durham, a North Carolina based org that provides support to the homeless, developed a project to combat stereotypes of homelessness. Spent is a game (living on its own site) that challenges users to make it through 1 month as an unemployed single parent with only $1,000 left in savings. It puts you in different scenarios where you must choose between purchasing health insurance or buying food, paying rent or paying for transportation to work; asking you to prove that you could make your money last until your next pay check. News flash – its not as easy as it seems.

Finally, we went through the development of Witness’ toolkit. Based on the org’s popular training sessions and book, the open source toolkit is an interactive e-learning experience for planning out a video advocacy project. It helps you determine your message, your target audience and your distribution plan, plus provides you with expert Witness advice and support along the way. Case studies are included for reference depending on your issue area and the type of video you’re making. And the interactive components incorporated throughout the site are there to help make the whole process itself more engaging – because as we’ve learned: allowing the user to feel empowered and in control is going to lead to their own greater impact.

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