Participate and Communicate – Part 1

Since ancient times, human beings have relied on various modes of communication to get their message across. Communication, by definition, is a message encoded and decoded by the sender and receiver. We discovered that communication was important for survival and with time, it became an important part of our existence. Maybe this need gave birth to the idea of “media”. We, by nature, are inquisitive beings. Any information is good for our cognition and an effective communication channel helps in our development.

Illustration by Avish John
Illustration by Avish John.

Media, by definition, is a collective communication outlet which stores and disseminates information. In today’s time, media have become as powerful as technology itself and it is often referred as the watchdog of society. However, just like anything else under the sun, “media” in itself is extremely diverse.

When we talk about media, most of us think about popular media. Popular media include print and electronic forms which fight for content and existence. But far from the hullabaloo, there exists a different type of media which is changing the world slowly.

“People at the grassroots are at the very bottom of society’s information hierarchy. They need to communicate their needs and concerns to people at all levels and to receive many kinds of information but particularly from others whose experience is relevant to their situation. This is a prerequisite to their full participation in society.” (Stuart 1989)

Participatory media or “community media”, as it is commonly known, is an entity where the audience plays an active role in identifying, collecting, analyzing and disseminating content. This type of media is managed and controlled by either a geographic community or a community of similar interest or identity. Basically, it is “media by the community”. Participatory media in the context of development became a powerful tool for the masses because it not only gave them the independence to express their issues, but also empowered them by harnessing the power of media. A fairly new concept in development communication, participatory media thrives on the fact that any medium is powerful and if put to use for societal benefit, it can clearly work wonders. In the perspective of development for social change, participatory media give the community the power to change their lives. It empowers them to see themselves as people who can not only identify their issues, but also work towards finding a sustainable solution.

Like popular media, participatory media also have different forms like print, radio and video. In recent years, community radio and video have garnered much attention for mainly two reasons: 1) Conventional literacy isn’t important for the operation of these media, and 2) they engage the audience more than any other medium. The rural communities of India are a melting pot of culture, livelihood, tribes, traditions, histories etc. The content generated by these communities can not only make the outside world aware of their presence, but also draw attention of the officials towards their issues.

A woman editing a radio program at Barefoot College community radio station
A woman editing a radio program at Barefoot College community radio station 90.4 FM at Tilonia, Rajasthan (Image source:


Rehearsal going on at Radio Bundelkhand
Rehearsal going on at Radio Bundelkhand (Image source: Development Alternatives).


A radio program in progress at Radio Mattoli 90.4 FM in Wayanad, Kerala
A radio program in progress at Radio Mattoli 90.4 FM in Wayanad, Kerala (Image source: The Better India).


Henvalvani Community Radio (FM 90.4 MHz), Chamba, Tehri-Garhwal, Uttarakhand
Henvalvani Community Radio (FM 90.4 MHz), Chamba, Tehri-Garhwal, Uttarakhand.*

Although I was always more of a visual person, I wasn’t sure how to amalgamate development work with my interest in visual communication. I completed my Masters in 2011 and right after I started working with the NGO, Video Volunteers (VV). Year 2011 was an important year in my life as it definitely gave me perspective about the kind of work I would want to do in the future. It showed me my career path- Participatory video for social change. Luckily, the model on which VV worked was how I found my calling.

“…the camera has the ability to both record and transmit sound and image simultaneously… There is freedom to choose the stories to be told, freedom to tell those stories in personal terms, freedom to use those stories to reach a goal that is intimately defined and publicly shared… It is a medium that can transform people’s behaviour, thinking and way of looking at one’s self… In addition, it has tremendous power to deliver information for KNOWLEDGE and ACTION.” (White 2003)


Community Correspondents from Video Volunteers (Image source-
Community correspondents from Video Volunteers (Image source:


*Source: Aarti Bisht, Senior Program Officer, Community Radio, Henvalvani.


[1] Stuart, S. “Access to Media: Placing Video in the Hands of the People.” Media Development 36 (1989): 811.

[2] White, Shirley. Participatory Video: Images that Transform and Empower. Chapter 3: Participatory Video: A Process that Transforms the Self and the Other, pp. 63-101. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Sumedha feels that her experience as an AIF fellow will help her to understand first-hand how strategizing and creating development projects can bring about more clarity in her interest areas. Although she grew up in India, she feels that the diversity of the country is such that it never ceases to surprise people. She enjoys interacting with new people, travelling and photography. Her conscious choice of getting into the development sector of India has supported her to work for the causes she cares about the most. At Salaam Bombay Foundation, she feels dealing with kids will be both, interesting as well as challenging. Sumedha is looking at making significant contribution to the larger society in which she grew up. Prior to AIF, she has trained adolescent girls from an underprivileged community on video making and has experience in inter-personal as well as organizational communications.

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5 thoughts on “Participate and Communicate – Part 1

  1. Love this one Sumedha … good going, and this piece aptly reflects your interest in Community and Participatory media.

  2. Thanks Sumedha for pointing a light (get it? I made a pun!) on an important aspect of not only development, but also social change and justice through media. It’s not something that is often discussed, but it’s so important and can be fascinating to do yourself. Something you do fantastically well. Keep up the good work!

  3. “It empowers them to see themselves as people who can not only identify their issues, but also work towards finding a sustainable solution.” Love the concept of participatory media for exactly this reason. Can’t wait to see this field and and the sentiment of equipping and empowering people to themselves address issues they face become more prevalent in the social sector! Wonderfully written, as always 🙂

  4. Sumedha, this is wonderful – it taught me so much about a field I knew very little about, and made me want to get involved in participatory media!! The work you do is so inspiring.

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