Video Advocacy

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Let's Make a Video for the Website

Here is something that I bet some of us working in the Human Rights field may experience:

"Let's make a video for our website on (insert your cause here)."

Many of us don't know a lot about the process, but we do it! I have learned about what resources are available and many important considerations from this fantastic dialogue.

My questions are:

  1. Are there organizations who 'list' people willing to volunteer their time to assist non-profits make a video? I understand many non-profits may already have these talented people on their volunteer staff -- but for those who don't -- where can they turn?
  2. Are there organizations who review video (perhaps at the storyboard stage) for non-profits? Free advice!



Volunteers and Advice


These are great questions! To which I don't have an answer. From my understanding, and Jessica - please correct me if I'm wrong, Video Volunteers provides this type of service to community based organisations in India in partnership with Drishti.

However, Lucy's question has inspired me to think about how, as resource persons on this dialogue, we could set up an international database of persons willing/able to volunteer their time and energy in order to facilitate the use of video and other media for social justice organisations and activists around the world. Almost like an international craigslist of vidoe activism. Does this already exist?

I know that many of the organisations featured in this dialogue have a extensive networks of video activists around the world. But, I think it would be great if we could set up a dedicated, public and accessible space online for video activists to post their details and skills and for organisations or social justice activists to post their needs. We could also include an area for organisations/activists to upload their videos for review by professionals (now it's becoming a wikipedia of video activism!).

Anyway, I'm running with my ideas, which may already exist and, if so, I would very much like to hear about. But, if they do not, it may be something for us all to consider as follow up to this dialogue.



Hakima Abbas, Fahamu

volunteer filmmakers

Dear Lucy and Hakima,

 Yes, Video Volunteers does (or did) do the volunteer placement thing with NGOs. for the first three years of Video Volunteers, that's all we did. we sent volunteer filmmakers to NGOs--first, we sent them just to make films. then we sent them to train NGO staff to make short cheap advocacy videos. then we sent them to  train communities to make short cheap films. then we scrapped that program altogether, because we fell in love with the idea of community members making fully developed, inspirational, thoughtful longer films, as part of a full time job. so now instead of short term trainings or filmmaking, we set up these 'community video units' that you can read about on or

 we scrapped the idea of using volunteers because we found it to be much less impactful. one, the NGOs wouldn't necessarily use the films or the skills later on; and the films produced would be very promotional and therefore not have much audience resonance.

that said, i think there still is a need for NGOs to have a place they can go for volunteers. VV still has a huge database of people who want to volunteer as filmmakers, and filmmakers still contact us. every three months or so we say, 'should we hire someone to restart the volunteer program? should we offer this service again?' and so far, we've not done it, simply because we've not had the time--and not had the ability to contact the NGOs. most of our netwrok of NGOsis in India , but so many filmmakers will say, 'i'm going to mexico or jordan, can you find me a project there.' and that takes a lot of coordination. 

but i would be really happy to restart it with members of this community. i'd do anything to be part of a joint project with some of the great organizations part of this dialog.



Re: volunteer filmmakers and sharing experiences/tactics

Great that we've touched on this idea. We're in such an exciting moment where so many groups and individuals are starting to think about using video for their social change work. WITNESS has been thinking about how to help catalyze more discussion within our growing universe about how to share what we're all learning and ensure that people starting get to link to experience and resources. Partly we're aiming to do this on the Hub, our new online space for human rights media and action by having an ongoing interactive space for discussion and sharing of experiences on using video for advocacy where anyone could post a question or ask for feedback on a video they've posted. Perhaps we can collaborate with New Tactics on this? :)

We're also looking at how to do in-person exchanges of learning and new tactics with our peers around the world (we've done this in a small way in the past three year with advisory 'pods' as we worked on development of our 'Video for Change' book and recent 'Video Advocacy Institute'). Anyone who's interested in being kept posted on this should let me know.

For volunteer link-ups we've also been thinking about how to facilitate this on the Hub, since you can see member location and interests and map where people are who are doing filming, uploading and campaigning, and then contact them via their profile. I.e. we'd pull ourselves out of the picture of doing one-to-one coordinating, since like Video Volunteers we don't have the capacity to coordinate it. There are a couple of sites in development in the US (websites to come, can't find them right now) as well as web2.0 sites that link together professional video producers with others needing their services (not sure if its been used for pro bono work but why not?). Again web address to follow.


Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

A case study on community developed content production


Some of you may find this interesting.  It's a piece I wrote documenting some of the DV training/production I have conducted in an area of India with cotton farmers that has had a high number of agrarian suicides as a part of my ongoing research with embedded video. 


  • How
    have you been able to engage hostile audiences?
  • Share
    distribution techniques (media, internet, communities, etc)
  • Share
    your challenges and success!
Hostile Audiences

I'm wondering about how you engage with audiences that are hostile? Do you usually forgoe them and instead try and inform the people who are already with you rather than convert those who are not? Obviously there's varying degrees of hostility, ranging from those whose reaction wouldn't be to undermine you and those that might resort to violence.

Brandon Boat, New Tactics Intern

Re: Hostile Audiences

I'd suggest three steps to think through:

- Is video the right choice to use right now in advocacy?

- How can we assess the audience's take on the advocacy issue?

- How do we distribute or screen the video in order to exert leverage?

I wouldn't rule out hostile audiences but I'd think very carefully about what will be effective. Obviously first I'd want to make sure that video is the right choice for a setting. Then I'd assess the audience's take on the advocacy along three - what's their level of awareness, what's their attitude/perspective and what's their level of investment in the issues? You can have hostile audiences who know nothing about an issue and have very little vested in it , but have a very strong negative perspective, as well well-informed , heavily vestedhostile audiences. You then want to craft your video to respond to this - probably the best you're often going to be able to do is to try and at least change the level of information a hostile audience has on an issue. I.e on the activism curve from informing to engaging to activating you're just trying to inform.

The other point where you can work a hostile audience is deciding whether it is the carrot or the stick you're going to use when it comes to a screening, or a combo of the two. One tactic is to threaten that you are going to do widespread public screenings or mass media distribution of material if a hostile or unreceptive audiences does not sit down at the negotiating table with you. Another tactic is to offer to show a hostile or unreceptive audience the video before public screening and to give them a chance to do the 'right thing' and have that incorporated into the final video release.

I'd love to hear others experiences on this.


Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

A resource for media advocacy

It seems some activists/NGOs are keen on using audio and video tools for advocacy purposes, but are discouraged by the technical costs and challenges associated with this formj, which often makes activists shy away from using media production as realistic in light of shoestring budgets.

Here is a resource on the web that aims to address this challenge, by putting together free and open source tools (as well as training material) to make media production a possiblitiy for even smaller outfits.

check out . They have created a go-to spot for audio and video tools, tutorials and information, in order to provide pre-during-post production capabilities for those interested, but who have no budget to hire professional videographers and media experts.

Re: A resource for media advocacy

This AV NGO-in-a-box is a great tool. And they are about to come out with another update (this summer) on it that will include more information on strategy and the latest tools updates. They also can provide it on a CD if thats easier than downloading online or if you have colleagues or members who are not online. Though be aware that many free and open source tools for video are harder to use than some of the mainstream software out there - though thankfully that's starting to change.

Other resource to look at online for guidance on how to film (less on the technical tools side):

- (great resource step-by-step on how to prep for online video)

- (WITNESS animations explaining how-to of filming and strategy in five minutes each)

Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (



Theme: Changing technology and ongoing developments
  • with the
    equipment becoming cheaper and smaller, including video phones and truly
    portable video editing capability, what directions do we see this work taking,
    things impossible even just a few years ago?
  • with the
    advent of mass online video entertainment (à la 3-minute youtube clip), how do
    see this work reaching new audiences? Does this mean we have to teach sharper
    editing and better storytelling skills?
  • are there
    other low-tech models being used?  What about drawings, animation and other
    forms of art?


Changing Technology

Madhuri Mohindar, Breakthrough

I wanted to address the idea of changing technology with a short youtube video that talks about what is web 2.0 in just under 5 minutes - a really simple and fun way of understanding an often misunderstood term.

I have spoken briefly about how Breakthrough uses online video to highlight real life stories of immigrants affected by detention and deportation. So take a video like Live From Jail which highlights 3 stories shot from an actual detention center.

The key is to not just post a video and let it sit there on youtube. Sure that sometimes does well. But to address another question posed here by Brandon - how can you make sure its both addressing your audience and reaching the right people. That can only be done through more targetted outreach. We at Breakthrough send our videos to our partner group, coalition groups and our listserve - and encourage everyone to watch the video - and embed and spread it across the web. Thats the advantage of youtube - its lets you take the media and post it anywhere.

The second thing we do is outreach to blogs and online media that would be interested in highlighting our videos - immigration blogs, political blogs, human interest blogs, that really will embed the video and that are keen to talk about compelling and often unheard stories.

We also highlight our videos on other video sharing sites - not just youtube but the hub (an amazing resource for human rights videos), blip tv, mtv think and other video sharing sites. And we have accounts on myspace and facebook that we regularly update with blog entries and our media.

We also post our videos as responses to youtube videos. Our reesarch has shown that with all the negative, anti immigrant rhetoric out there, its important that positive immigration videos are really put out there, and appear on searches for immigration.

So its really important to create outreach thats targetted, especially with changing technology that allows everyone to post online video, but doesnt necessarily sift through quality content versus quantity.


Changing Technology - using mobile phones for video advocacy

I'd like to bring up something of personal interest to me - the use of mobile phones for video advocacy. Not only are unexpecting 'human rights documenters' using mobile phones to create videos of human rights abuses, but some have speculated on the future capabilities to send video to email straight from a mobile phone! 

"Although the Hub doesn't specify which videos are from a mobile phone,
Sameer said that many of the videos were shot on a mobile. He wrote, in
an email to MobileActive, "Most of the videos from Egypt and Burma have
been filmed on mobile phones, for example. In the case of Egypt, the
videos were filmed by policeman either perpetrating or participating in
the abuse, and we have seen this in a number of other cases over the
past year, Chechnya, Saddam, for example. In the future, you'll be able
to see what was recorded and sent from mobiles." He said that within a
few months people will be able to upload videos directly from a phone.
Although the Hub hasn't decided exactly how mobile uploads will work
and has yet to address some security issues, staff are considering a
system where users send video to an email address via MMS."

(found at

How have you used mobile phones to create video and/or disseminate video? How do you hope to use mobile phones in the future in your video advocacy work? 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Re: Changing Technology - using mobile phones for video advocacy

Mobile-phones are likely to be the way that many people start to use video for advocacy. We're now at almost 3 billion cell phone accounts worldwide - which far exceeds the number of 'regular' handicams, even taking into account that as yet only a small number have video capability. And a video cell-phone is a tool for filming, for editing and sharing both in a physical space and online.

On the Hub you can see cellphone documentation that mainly takes the form of direct witness documentation shot either by perpetrators (for example, the notorious footage of Egyptian police brutality), as well as by bystanders and activists (for example, Burma in September last year). Up till now this footage has circulated mainly via transferring to a computer and then uploading online but on the Hub we'll shortly have a mechanism where you can upload directly from a cellphone.

Another interesting areas of exploration for cellphone video is as a tool for sharing videos person-to-person. Many people use bluetooth capabilities to share pop videos, but this is also an excellent way to virally spread activist videos or direct evidence in a geographical space without creating a trace or culpability.

"Livecasting" is another promising area of exploration - there you are using a tool like Qik, Yahoo Live or Flixwagon to send video live from a 3G cellphone to a website. Depending on the website you can make it public or private (on Flixwagon you can make the page private). Imagine the possibilities of this - you could send evidence of police abuses directly out of a country rather than trying to email after the fact; or you could bring thousands of supporters into the room for a meeting with a key decision-maker. It also raises all kinds of challening questions about security and consent - i.e. if everyone can film and share it instantly how do we deal with the issues of risks to people filmed and consent? WITNESS is looking for some opportunities to test this out if anyone is interested in collaborating.


Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

Re: Changing Technology - using mobile phones for video advocacy

Fascinating! It's like Twitter for video - being able to send something from your phone directly to the internet. I think it's a great idea, but I can certainly appreciate the privacy issues that come with a feature like that.

Thank you for this insight - I look forward to hearing about your progress in this field! 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Video on my Mobile

Hey Sam,

I think what you pointed out about mobile phones is really interesting. It's
wonderfully democratizing in that anyone can now become a filmmaker nearly
anywhere. I know that a lot of news organizations now accept cell phone
footage from people on the scene just because it's quicker and less expensive
than sending a camera crew over. Plus, the person live on the scene can get the
most immediate footage.

At the same time though, there are aspects that I find troubling and
problematic. With unedited video, we don't know the context or very many
details about what it is that we're viewing. Philosopher Walter Benjamin in the
1930's commented on cameras (but I think it also applies to video cameras)
that, “The camera will become smaller and smaller, more and more prepared to
grasp fleeting, secret images whose shock will bring the mechanism of
association in the viewer to a halt. At this point captions must begin to
function....Will not captions become the essential component of a
picture?” So if I see a 10 second snip of footage of riot police
launching tear gas at demonstrators, I don't know if the police were provoked
with violence, if the demonstrators were peaceful, or even what the issue is about!
This leads me to think that this medium is ripe for abuse/manipulation.

In China,
I'm aware the SMS texting and mobile phones are extraordinary mobilizing and
dissemination tools. Protests can be organized with a quick message to
thousands of recipients who then forward it to even more people. But rumors and
falsehoods are also spread this way. After their recent earthquake, millions
began spreading messages that the Olympics had cursed them or that there was a
conspiracy and the government knew it was going to happen. I think the same
could apply with mobile phones and video. One could stage an incident, but film
it with a cell phone. The grittiness and amateur nature of the medium would
only validate its credibility even though the event was a farce. Maybe I've
problematized it too much, but I applaud its possibilities and fear the

Brandon Boat, New Tactics Intern

Distribution Strategy

Madhuri Mohindar, Breakthrough

Another great strategy is contests. For example, I produced a video about Anslem Ifill, a war veteran who was ordered deported, even after risking his life for the U.S.

I then edited this story down into a 30 second video that asks a question 'How can you deport those that risk their life for the US?' and we submitted this to the CNN/Youtube Republican Debate as a question. Thousands of questions were submitted to youtube - of which only 10 were selected to be posed to Presidential Republican candidates in the Republican Debate.

And although Anslem Ifill's pertinent question was not selected for the actual debate, it was provided an important platform to be heard through the contest. And Newsweek's blog Stumper, selected Breakthrough's video question for their top 10 videos, in which they write "Nearly all of my Top 10 take advantage of what I
consider the format's greatest strength--when ordinary Americans ask
about issues that affect their lives, politicians can't bluster,
posture or blame the media for bias."

Re: Distribution Strategy

Online, I think one of the most interesting opportunities is tapping into participationa, and into distributed, networked video advocacy (bearing in mind all issues of digital divide, so this only applies in settings with access).

Contests are one great way to do this - another interesting one here in the US done on a very low budget and using YouTube was done by the animal rights organization, the Humane Society of the USA and was around dogfighting. Supporters of the Humane Society were able to post 'reply videos' on YouTube (a useful function built into YouTube) to a video produced by the H.S. with the celebrity-wrestler Hulk Hogan challenging dog-fighting, and then a winner was selected for wider distribution. To give people a headstart, Humane Society provided some graphic footage of dogfighting (that most people wouldn't have access to) for participants to use. Here, the organizers could draw on the creativity of many supporters, and give them a way to get more engaged. There's more info on it here. I imagine there are some interesting possibilities to do this around hot-button public human rights issues.

You can take this a bit further and provide the capacity for collaborative editing online - for example, there is a tool called Kaltura that allows individuals and groups to share footage and collaborate on edits. The video advocacy applications are around drawing on potential volunteer support for human rights causes that otherwise can't be tapped (ie. the thousands of amateur and professional film-makers out there who would like to support human rights), and also in producing locally-specific advocacy videos. I.e. imagine you're conducting a national campaign in the USA against a particular abuse, and can draw on the support of activist groups in cities across the country. How about sharing some specific footage of a human rights abuse that the groups wouldn't have access to, and some ideas on how to structure a short video, then encouraging the groups to add in interviews with people trusted in their heir own community (because we often listen to our priest, local official etc more than we do to a distant politician) and create videos to use in the campaign at a very local level to mobilize support for legislation. The best videos and video clips can be 'cannibalized' by others for their own use, since they have access to them on the shared editing platform. We've been exploring this idea with the US Campaign for Burma, around passing selective purchasing resolutions around buying from companies that do business in Burma, at the university level in the US.


Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

Aside from web distribution...

Hi Everyone.

While YouTube and similary portals are obvious choices for sharing content, what about content aimed at those who are not online? In India, an interesting opportunity exists whereby anyone with 500 rupees can actually go to a post office and buy a channel. It's in section 3 of the national regulation:

Basically anyone can set up a TV station, which perhaps is rare (though it's kind of like cable access in North America but without the facility of a studio) but I know people in India who have taken advantage of this. To me, it would allow local content, developed by people within communities, to actually broadcast locally to those networks who are most relevant. There are some issues (i.e. it's not clear how many homes are connected to the terrestrial cable provider one liaises with) but something I am exploring. Is there something similar in other developing countries, and if so, do any of you have any experience with it?

It terms of some context, I want to use these networks to broadcast farmer developed extension information on how to cultivate GM crops, something that the state has failed in providing information to farmers on, regardless of the massive adoption among farmers of the technology...


The Hub

I'd like to extend an invitation to everyone on the discussion to come explore the Hub, an new initiative of WITNESS. I've been mentioning it in previous posts, but haven't really explained it, so here's a bit of mildly promotional sharing.

The Hub is essentially a version of a 'Youtube for human rights', but adding in the increased capacity to create meaningful community and action that are critical to advocacy. We launched it about six months ago in Beta, and it has about 1000 items of media, which have been viewed over 10 million times. You can explore it as a visitor and discover media on the whole range of human rights issues - we're highlighting an interview on torture in Papua on the home page today following International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and - and ways to act around the media. And as an uploader you can securely share media with fellow human rights activists who can embed, download and share the media for use in online and offline activism. The download option is key because it means that all your campaign participants don't need to have internet access - just one person can pull media down onto a VCD or DVD.

It's easy to join groups of like-minded online activists, as well as campaigns that aggregate media and ways to act (we're just about to launch one related to HIV/AIDS rights activism in the lead-up to the Mexico AIDS conference), and because we want partcipants to create media that can be used in advocacy we've started a toolkit section including tools for thinking through video advocacy. A next step is to create a online sharing space for experiences using video in advocacy - in which we'd love to have everyone in this discussion join us.

As I've mentioned elsewhere there's a strong emphasis on security both for the uploader and for those filmed, on providing contextualization for imagery wherever possible, and also an attempt to provide normative leadership around the impacts of participatory media creation and distribution in oppressive contexts.

Please come and take a look around - - set up a user account and view, share and act on human rights video.



Sam Gregory, Program Director, WITNESS (

A great video example from Third Way Theatre

Here is a great example of an animation video created by Third Way Theatre:

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

A critical view of a stills video on the Sri Lanka War

Hello to all in the New Tactics dialogue,

I am following the ICT4Peace website for a few days now and I came across this very critical view of a video on Sri Lanka.

What I also noticed is the brevity of the visit of the author of the video. How much indeed can you understand from a situation by "parachuting into a conflict area" and start taking pictures. What is the impact of that visit on the situation on the ground and the broader contribution to world media?

It also brings forth only some of the actors of the conflict involved and disregards many of the peace community working in Sri Lanka, and not making any mentions of the monks' community, a pretty important actor there.

Why did he do this report? What are its objectives? For whom?

In the media and peace theory I have learned of peace journalism, a theory derived for the peace theory of Johan Galtung. In a clear table it compares traditional reporting, war journalism and peace journalism. The critical post captures much of it in its analysis in my opinion.

For a description of Peace Journalism please see in this link.

As a technique, in the critical account given the author is emphasizing that people better retain images and therefore the power of stills.

All the best to all,


Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR), Cluj-Napoca

Re: A critical view of a stills video on the Sri Lanka War

Thank you, Corina, for this addition to the dialogue. I watched the video embedded in the critique you quoted (

I can appreciate the critic's statement:

"A photo presentation that captures the sad penchant for violence of both actors would be worth looking at."

But I keep pondering your questions regarding the goal of the creator of this video - for whom was this video made? Who was the intended audience?

I thought of the comment that Hakima wrote thoughtfully pointing out:

In terms of showing one side of the story, it may in fact be the
'point' of the video - eg. in cases where the government voice has
been the only voice heard on a particular situation and you want to
expose the voices of the people whose rights are being violated
rather than that of the State - and I think this is fine as long as
it is also stated clearly as the objective of the video and presented
as such to the audience."

Corina's analysis of the critique of this video makes me realize the importance of Hakima's advice. None of us as viewers of this video in this context are aware of the intended audience - which can create a legitimate critique of the fairness of such a report. Furthermore, this brings up dilemmas around dissemination of video on the internet that could possibly end up being viewed by an audience never intended to target. These all seem important factors to think about while creating, editing, and disseminating video for advocacy. 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Fantastic reading. Thank

Fantastic reading. Thank you!

Join our diaogue on 'Info-activism: Turning info into Action'

Hello video practitioners!

Join New Tactics, Tactical Technology Collective, and our featured resource practitioners from July 8 - 14 for an on-line dialogue on Information Activism: Turning Information into Action.
This on-line dialogue will be space for practitioners to share the
innovative ways in which they have turned information into action with
their advocacy campaigns. We will discuss topics such as: collecting
data, creative ways of visualizing data, digital ways of sharing this
information, and the security risks one should evaluate before
implementing these activities. We will be sharing tools and tactics
that can help you move your information into action!

As part of these dialogues Tactical Tech will premier video footage
from the Info-Activism multi-media handbook which will be launched
later this year. This video footage features interviews with
info-activists from around the world. 

Our featured resource practitioners, leading this dialogue, include (click here for more biographical information):

  • Fredrick Noronha, writer, journalist, blogger and photographer, India
  • Noha Atef, editor of, Egypt
  • WITNESS team: Chris and others
  • Melissa Gira Grant, writer and sex-worker activist, USA
  • Patrick Meier, scholar, activist and writer for DigiActive, USA
  • Sally-Jean Shackleton, Lebogang and Eva of Women'sNet, South Africa
  • Frontline Defenders team
  • Amine, co-founder of
  • Dr. Dan McQuillan, blogs about open source activism and social innovation at

 We would love to have you talk about the ways that you have used video for activism and advocacy - and share your resources! Thanks!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder


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