Dr Crystal Tremblay visits ILAS

On Wednesday, September 30th, ILAS had the pleasure of the touring Dr Crystal Tremblay from the University of British Columbia, Canada, who attended to present the methodology and initial findings of the study she conducted using participatory video-based research entitled, “Participatory Water Governance in Urban Africa: Building Citizenship through Participatory Video”, focusing more specifically on how the communities of informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa and Accra, Ghana access and use water, in addition to their water sanitation, whilst also reflecting on similar research she conducted with recycling cooperatives in Canada and Brazil.

Tremblay, who has also recently visited the University of Bristol and the University of Brighton to give a similar talk, and to promote her new book, “Strengthening Community University Research Partnerships: Global Perspectives”, co-edited with Dr Budd Hall and Dr Rajesh Tandon – to which ILAS’s very own Lorraine McIlrath has contributed an entire chapter – also alluded to people’s relationship with water; the idea of people actually “being water”, on top of water being an essential human right.

Doctor Tremblay’s talk was particularly topical, given the ongoing controversy and debate surrounding Irish Water nationwide, but also a reality check of sorts, given the revelation that many of the poorer citizens of Ghana are forced to pay the equivalent of almost half of their annual salary just to obtain unreliably sourced and sanitised water. Tremblay was ably supported on the day by Maeve Lydon from the University of Victoria, Canada, who, like Tremblay, specialises in arts-based engagement as a tool for policy, also works as the Coordinator for Community-Based Research Canada (CKI’s Canadian equivalent).

The event was attended by a mixture of Irish academics and ILAS-based researchers engaging in knowledge exchange; and Tremblay’s presentation stimulated much discussion and friendly debate amongst those present, as well as offering them various helpful techniques and strategies to implement when engaging in research utilising the participatory video framework. Notable examples include the use of B-roll footage (footage of what a speaker is talking about while the A camera zooms in on screen), the importance of filming for audience and purpose, and the need for all parties of the project to meet in advance of filming to agree and ensure a shared vision for its final outcome.

Tremblay concluded her talk by launching the aforementioned “Strengthening Community University Research Partnerships: Global Perspectives”, a book that looks at how the structures of community research partnerships materialise and work, and the people who then work together to give voices to those who often go unvoiced; Lorraine McIlrath’s chapter is entitled “Community-University Research and Partnerships in Ireland: Confronting the Crossroads”, in which she explores “the mechanisms and environments for embedding community-based research and research partnerships through mission, practice, policy and legislation, resources allocation and infrastructure in Ireland at institutional and national levels with a view towards the roads to be taken,” suggesting overall that Irish policies are emerging, but are not yet fully in place.

Referring back to the participatory video itself, which Tremblay later played and briefly analysed with all present, one of the immediate outcomes it had was to offer those who participated within it another means of employment: several of Tremblay’s initially amateur film crew would later receive and take up offers of similar work within their local community, giving others the chance to share their story in the same way they had theirs.

Overall, perhaps the day’s main message was that, despite the modernised digital age we live where attention spans are short and content is key, storytelling is still the main way in which we move people and effect change, regardless of the medium through which we tell it.