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Guiding Principles


Mutual respect and shared ownership served as our guiding principles. The list below, developed by Michele Smith and Liz Miller for working with aboriginal and refugee youth, provides an ethical framework for setting up similar participatory projects. Guidelines are particularly important when working with communities that have struggled with past traumas, or those that continue to struggle with the preservation of knowledge and identity.

Community-initiated Community members are involved from the outset in the project design, development of parameters and focus areas, and distribution goals. Ideally the project is initiated by community members with the media facilitator brought in to assist group members in realizing their goals.

Shared Authority The participatory media project is a joint venture between the participants and the media facilitator. They may have different roles within the process, but they are considered to be equal partners with an equal say in how the project will unfold.

Shared Goals The goals and objectives of a project are determined at the project outset with the community members and participants. Is the purpose of the project to impact policy? Strengthen an advocacy campaign? Build membership? Foster knowledge preservation? Project goals will help determine the type and scope of dissemination efforts.

Shared Ownership and Authorship The project is jointly owned. Participants co-own the final product and have shared control over the distribution of both their knowledge and representation. Community or traditional knowledge is honoured and shared throughout the process, and a project may involve multiple authors. Ideally co-ownership and co-authorship are formalized in a contract.

Individual vs. Collective Participation and Impact Often the broader community in question, beyond the individual participants, will have a stake in the project process and outcome. This entails finding a meaningful place for community members, advocates and service providers to be involved in the project. This also involves finding balance between the needs and goals of individual participants and the broader community.

Many of these principles are challenged and pressed as they bump up against the messiness and politics of collaboration. Group dynamics, individual limitations, access to resources, past and ongoing injustices, and the institutions with which we may be embroiled all have an impact on how a project will unfold. Navigating this terrain of contradictions and inconsistencies involves being prepared to negotiate and renegotiate terms and parameters over the course of a project.