The Question of Inclusion
Survivors rarely get the opportunity to shape the agenda of projects.
by Sophie Otiende
There is no doubt that creative mediums are powerful in developing narratives and teaching about specific issues. The issue of human trafficking and modern slavery has relied on creative mediums to reach masses whether one using images, videos, graphic or words. The Antislavery Knowledge Network projects were no different. The YOLRED project particularly stood out, the creation of a graphic novel that not only captures survivor’s reflections on their experiences but also serves as a tool for awareness creation on the issue of modern slavery in relation to child soldiers specifically was exceptional. Most of the time, when you speak about child soldiers, the common narrative has been stories of boys. This project highlights stories of girls who were child soldiers and have been reintegrated back to their communities.
Creative mediums can also digest and reproduce complex issues in a simple way that people can relate. Most of the projects in AKN used a combination of research and creative work. The latter was mainly used to collect data but also present findings in some cases. It’s mainly in the creative work that we see inclusion of survivors and the communities affected by the issue of modern slavery. Creative mediums are flexible, easy to learn and some of the ways it was used for inclusion include:
- In the BuildX project that focused on building safe physical spaces for survivors, they were trained on using digital tablets and recorded audio journals that were eventually used as data in the design of a safe space. In a project that was focused on architectural design, it was interesting to see the ways in which they incorporated survivor contribution. Identifying the fact that in such a project, inclusion of survivors in certain aspects was not easy.
- In the Rights Lab Project, survivors were trained on photography and pictures were used both as final product and for data collection. Creative skills like writing and photography can be used long after the project. In building the capacities of the beneficiaries with creative skills, the project not only shifted the power dynamics to ensure inclusion but also ensured sustainability of these approaches.
It was interesting to see the different ways the projects chose to include survivors and make them central in their process and final products. Development work in general has not been inclusive, the very nature of the work that we do is designed so that there are service providers and service recipients. The former set the agenda and the latter mainly receive services. Service providers have power, are seen as experts while the opposite is believed of survivors.
Survivors rarely get the opportunity to shape the agenda of projects, lead them or even work on them. They are always seen and described as beneficiaries and this position is the true test of inclusion because as a beneficiary of a project, the underlying power imbalance is already built in the structure itself. The question then becomes can beneficiaries really be included? How inclusive can we really be with the inherent power differences in the system? It is against this background that most projects were working on and some of the challenges that come with that backdrop are still visible. In analyzing the work that was produced, the navigation of this power dynamic is central. It is these questions that most of the projects attempted to answer.
Trust as an element
Most of the projects admit to the fact that trust is difficult to achieve especially with the power dynamics involved. This is mentioned and discussed as a limitation in some projects. Most of the data and work being done required trust that had to be developed. Project timelines and the fact that certain aspects of the projects had to be done by people that survivors or members of the community considered strangers was a hurdle. Trust is earned and takes time. In the context of survivors that have gone through trauma, gaining trust can be difficult. At a project management stage, some projects limited the interaction between the people unknown to the survivors or community to ensure that whoever they worked with was someone they trusted.
Further questions to explore on this include:
- How can survivors/community members be included further in the system to minimise the reliance on outside expertise?
- When building the project, how can partners build in development of trust as a risk?
Most of the projects understood the “North and South” power dynamic as a barrier to gaining trust. In development, there has always been the assumption that the partners from the North (mainly Western countries) had the responsibility to train and build capacity of the partners in the South (mainly developing countries).
In AKN projects partners like Rights Lab recognized this dynamic and chose to use local experts to work directly with survivors to encourage trust and also to avoid going through the hurdle of developing trust. This also significantly reduced the power dynamics and the experts from the Rights Lab remained a support system and played an advisory role in the project. This ensured that the participants were always in touch with the people that they trust and have worked with before. In BuildX project, the same dynamic was maintained but a training bringing together all project partners helped in explaining the project and findings.
Inclusion is a process
Most of the projects focused on being ethical, making survivors central and trying as much as they could to ensure that they participated. As mentioned before, there is a culture and context of operation that any project that strives to do this will be fighting. Questioning what inclusion looks like at every stage of the project is vital. This means questioning the process used to produce materials in these projects as much as we question the products themselves. Things like what informed consent looks like, are part and parcel of process and cannot be seen/identified in the final product. The LESLAN project translated their informed consent forms in different local languages to ensure that there the people participating understood their project.
When looking at inclusion as a process rather than a moment, its possible to slowly reduce the existing power dynamics through things like capacity building. The LESLAN project ensured that the project did not only focus on the immediate delivery of the project but also focused on building the capacity of their local partners and also focused on career development of the people engaged in the project. Training survivors/communities during these projects means that those skills can be used beyond these projects to continue documenting and telling their own stories. Buying equipment like phones, cameras give control to people that are used to being subjects to begin to ask questions on composition.
Therefore, for me, looking at how these projects navigate their process of production and examined the question of inclusion in the process is quite fascinating. In tackling inclusion, some of the things I would have loved to see is a deeper analysis of inclusion and its relationship with the power dynamics that exist.