by Nava Derakhshani and Joanna Wheeler
Background to creative story-based participatory methods to build accountability
SLF has been conducting an action-learning pilot in Delft, a township in Cape Town, for the past 10 months. We worked with an action learning set called the Delft Safety Group, made up of about 15 loosely organised and concerned citizens from all walks of life in Delft including young people, self-defined citizen activists (concerned with security), members of the Community Policing Forum (CPF), and members of the Neighbourhood Watch Forum (NWF). This pilot started with the experiences and perceptions of the members of the group about their daily experiences of safety and security. It considered what these experiences show about the structural context of marginalisation, violence and poverty in an urban context and how to build greater accountability. Crucially, this process supports the group to articulate how they believe this situation can change and who needs to be involved for meaningful change to happen. The focus of the pilot is on how to make cities and informal settlements safer and more inclusive, taking as a starting point the extremely high levels of insecurity and violence that characterise daily life for many within townships and informal settings. It shows how local level experiences and ideas can contribute to greater accountability and ultimately to the bigger impacts of policies and initiatives aimed at reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This pilot forms part of a global initiative,Participate: Knowledge from the margins, and is connected to other pilot projects in Ghana and Egypt. This pilot used participatory visual methodologies as part of a wider action learning approach. Specific methods included personal storytelling for transformation, collective visual power analysis and collaborative narrative-based film-making.
The role of the researcher: interlocutors and mediators
This pilot process has demanded a lot of us as researchers and from the group we are working with in Delft. We recognise that the role of SLF is partly as a mediator between different accountability actors at grassroots and national government actors. The careful negotiation of relationships with the group in Delft and with people within government has been critical, and we have been very cautious in putting much information into the public sphere about what has been happening. Trust takes a long time to build and is easily destroyed. Critical attention to our own use of power is essential at every step. We also recognise that participants from Delft are navigating complex ethical dilemmas in their own lives quite apart from this research. Their realities oscillate between radically positive and negative outcomes (reflecting the blurred lines of their engagement in corruption/violence in their lives). A lesson for us has been the importance of sufficient time for engagement: to better understand the changes in the citizens’ lives, how relationships which each other strengthen, and how to articulate and sustain commitment to a shared process. The process has enabled the group to see how much that they have to deal with in their lives and the lives of others in their community. To be able to step outside of your environment, in this case characterised by high levels of insecurity, and recognise what needs to change is an important and difficult process. The process of methodological layering has enabled the group from Delft to recognise the enormous scale of the problems they face, but also helped them and us identify pathways into change. This kind of action-learning method creates a challenge for us as an intermediary NGO in terms of how to respond to the problems that people in Delft are facing. What will their recognition lead to and what is the role and responsibility of SLF going forward? We are still finding our way.