Category Archives: News

The People in the Pictures: Launch event


The People in the Pictures: vital perspectives on Save the Children’s image making by Siobhan Warrington with Jess Crombie is now available online:

Debates about the visual representations of global poverty have been going on for many years, yet the experiences and views of those featured have been notably absent. The People in the Pictures addresses that gap.  Download and read the report to find out how those who contribute their images and stories, and members of their communities, feel about their portrayal and the image-making process.

The report was launched on Tuesday evening in London at Runway East. We had a fantastic turn out of around 90 people (despite the pouring rain) and have received positive feedback from those attending.

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children introduced the launch – fantastic to have his support. Jess Crombie, Director of Creative Content at Save the Children talked about her motivation for commissioning the research and Siobhan Warrington, lead researcher, provided an overview the research itself both the methodology and its main findings.


Jess exaplained how Save the Children would be taking the research recommendations forward (new Save the Children image guidelines, new informed consent procedures, and convening a cross-sector working group on responsible image making).   She also shared some of Save the Children’s recent creative and collaborative visual storytelling (one of the recommendations is to invest more in this kind of content.)

We finished the presentations with a short film of artist Delphine Diallo talking about her creative approach to image making in relation to the work she did for Save the Children in October last year with women and girl survivors of sexual abuse in Sierra Leone.


Staff from WaterAid, Concern Worldwide, Oxfam, Comic Relief and Save the Children set up ‘stalls’ to share examples of their recent visual storytelling to those attending the event.  These included, WaterAid’s virtual reality film Aftershock, Concern Worldwide’s outdoor exhibition Build Hope in the City , Artists Almar Hasar and Nick Ballon’s 6 stories to mark 6 years of conflict in Syria for Save the Children, the My Oxfam App, and Comic Relief’s user-generated film from Sierra Leone Meet Ikmatu and music video by Rap Man on domestic violence.


You can follow Jess and Siobhan on twitter @oraltestimony and @humanisingphoto and search #peopleinthepictures to see what others are saying about the report.

Your Views with Gillian Wearing

Gillian Wearing’s Your Views global open submissions project invites anyone to “film a very short clip of either curtains or blinds opening to reveal the view from a window”. A mutual friend suggested to Gillian that Oral Testimony Works might be able to reach new contributors through its international network.

Your Views resonates with a number of Oral Testimony Works’ interests and values – it’s inclusive, global, and celebrates the diversity of human experience. Also I like the notion that much as everyone has a different story, everyone has a different view.

Although filming your view sounds straightforward the instructions are necessarily very precise and a bit fiddly. For contributors living in places without good internet coverage there was the added challenge of uploading their large film files. I was amazed at the number of people wanting to take part and the number of final submissions.  To me the resulting film is a delight, celebrating inclusiveness, participation and networking. There is no cherry picking here, all contributors’ films are included.

Thank you Gillian Wearing for a great concept and for inviting us all to participate in the Your Views project. Thank you to all the contributors. And thank you to those of you who shared information about the project to others, in particular, Sarah Oughton from International HIV AIDS Alliance who spread the word through their Key Correspondents network of citizen journalists.  All 33 contributors were entered into a prize draw: congratulations to Chris Obiero from Kilifi, Kenya whose name was drawn first and will receive $100, and to Hussn Bibi from Hunza, Pakistan for second place who will receive $50.

Gillian Wearing on Your Views

Why did you start the Your Views project? 
GW: I had been thinking of the window as a viewfinder in a camera and the curtain being the shutter release. What we see out of our windows is limited to the location we are in and the level of floor we are on, it is not always an ideal view you would choose but it is none the less a view.  I like the fact that views from windows are governed by these aspects.  I really wanted to see what people’s views were from around the world and have this very large collaborative project, a document of as many views as possible. I love the idea that it is bringing a lot of people together under one umbrella and everyone who submits a film is credited as one of the filmmakers.

What do you enjoy about the process of Your Views?
GW: I always enjoy the surprise of watching a new view, because when the online form with a view is sent you have a brief description of the location and you build an idea from what you already know about that place. But the view is never what you can image in your mind as it is not the usual mediated view of that city, town or village that you see and that is one of my favourite parts of the project. It is the reason why I have the name of the location on the curtains/blinds before they are opened so viewers also get that moment to expect a certain idea of what they will see. What I also didn’t expect was the level of how personal each film feels even though there is a set of instructions – and many other aspects that unite each clip – what the view is filmed on, the time of day, how the curtains or blinds are opened even sometimes the angle of the camera lead to this injection of personality from the participants.

Some artists would find your approach to risky – you relinquish control to members of the public to produce content for your concepts.  What do you find appealing about that approach and its results?
GW: I don’t see it as risky at all, I love the idea of chance and not knowing what results will be.  A lot of my work has been like this dating back to 1992/93 with my Signs series where I asked people to write something on a piece of paper.  You always will find something you don’t know when you open up to inviting other people to partake in an idea.

Does Your Views have an end date? Is there a plan to share all of the views that have been submitted?
GW: So far there are over 260 views from over 60 countries. So nearly a third of the world’s countries.I am going to show all the views so far in a solo presentation of my work at the The Institute of Modern Art Valencia (IVAM), Spain in September of this year.  The completion date for the whole project will be when I have at least one view from every country in the world then I will stop.





Let’s not talk about the project

In November 2014, myself and OTW associate Jane Martin were commissioned by Theatre for a Change to carry out a needs assessment with sex workers and sexually exploited girls in Malawi.  Jane Martin is founder/director of Creative Social Change and has a background in evaluation, programming, participatory arts and theatre for development.  Theatre for a Change (TfaC) works with groups of women and girls in Malawi and Ghana who are at high risk of having poor sexual health and who have limited opportunities to assert their gender and sexual rights.

The needs assessment was a brief assignment and we worked with TfaC Malawi to review and revise the terms of reference.  We were not assessing targets or measuring outcomes; our task was not to evaluate TfaC’s activities or programming.  Our approach, methods and questions reflected our joint priorities of listening to representatives from their two target groups share their problems, concerns and priorities.

Resisting the urge to evaluate:  A very good evaluation had been carried out earlier by Sarah Middleton (see and there was no need to repeat this exercise. In the beginning we had to keep reminding ourselves of this, as the temptation to assess and evaluate things is strong!  Understanding that this was NOT an evaluation helped us to refine and focus our question areas and to prioritise who to include in the research. This prioritising was critical given the limited number of days available and our choice of participatory methods.

Theatre for research: TfaC use forum, image and legislative theatres, developed by Augusto Boal as a central part of their methodology, hence the ‘Theatre’ in Theatre for a Change.  Jane is trained in these approaches so it made sense to use them in this needs assessment: participants were familiar with them, and we all believed in their ability to generate reflection and discussion.  Chikondi, from TfaC translated for Jane during most of the sessions. Jane and Chikondi enjoyed their shared vocabulary of methods and the research benefited from Chikondi being able to smoothly co-facilitate in Chichewa, the participants’ native tongue, rather than requiring everything to be interpreted during the workshops.


Workshops and interviews: We organised three workshops (4-6 hours in length) with female sex workers in Lilongwe and Salima and with sexually exploited girls in Lilongwe. We also carried out small group interviews with TfaC staff working directly with these groups, with Queen Mothers (women who support sex workers) and with a Community Child Protection Team.  Women, girls (and a few men) shared their time, knowledge, experience and ideas, and we used different techniques to generate and document these discussions. Most interviews and workshops were recorded, translated and transcribed, and the report which shares our learning, is made up of many first-hand accounts.

The obvious and the unspoken: We thought it important to focus not on what was known and already easily accessible in reports, and funding proposals etc, but also on the things that are under the surface and not necessarily announced to NGO staff in formal interviews and workshops. Image theatre, body sculpting and interpretation, role plays and the development of fictional characters, enabled participants to share what they needed and wanted from TfaC. Other techniques used included ranking exercises and a video booth for individual expression.

Reality check: Creating opportunities to listen to programme participants or potential programme participants, talk about the priorities and concerns in their lives, in addition to documenting their experiences in relation to a particular project is important.  An individual’s relationship with a project may only constitute a relatively small part of their lives and so enabling them to talk about their lives beyond the project can reveal new, and sometimes, urgent priorities for programme strategies and activities.  In short it can provide a vital reality check without seeing everything through the lens of “the project”.

Listening to staff too: Open discussions with staff are also valuable: asking staff what they would do if they were in charge and how they would change the way things are done, provided many practical suggestions for approach, activities, monitoring and financial issues. Staff on the ground, have lots of ideas for change and should have regular opportunities to share these formally with their senior managers.

“We enjoyed working with Oral Testimony Works on the needs assessment for our Community Programme. It is always valuable to have someone external coming in to do the listening and offer a fresh perspective. The methods used were particularly interesting and the findings were well presented in country for our members of staff. The report enabled us to learn new things about our participants’ interactions with the police and health care providers as well as reinforcing our existing knowledge on the subject.”

Patrick Young, Chief Executive, Theatre for a Change

Here’s our report: Listening to female sex workers and sexually exploited girls

For more information about Theatre for a Change please visit their website: You can also follow them on facebook and twitter:

“Stigma is still my most serious challenge”

coverEveryday from 1st to 21st of July, OTW shared first hand accounts of HIV stigma from 21 men and women from Ethiopia, Mozambique and Swaziland.

Today we are very pleased to be able to share with you a joint IPPF and OTW publication featuring 12 of these oral testimonies and calling for a holistic and multi-levelled response to address HIV stigma and discrimination to ensure people living with HIV everywhere can enjoy a stigma-free and dignified life.  Siobhan Warrington introduces the publication on IPPF’s website,

“Stigma is still my most serious challenge”: People living with HIV share their experiences is available as a PDF just click on the link here:


21 stories 21 days


“We all have a story. To be able to sit here and tell my story is so good for me. It feels good.”

Every day from the 1st of July until the 21st of July we will be sharing extracts from 21 oral testimonies of 21 men and women living with HIV in Swaziland, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

We’ll share these extracts here on this blog – with daily links on twitter and facebook. On the 25th of July, our partner the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) launched a publication of these testimonies at the International AIDS conference 2014. Siobhan Warrington’s blog on IPPF’s website introduces “Stigma is still my most serious challenge”: People living with HIV share their experiences

Index of the days published so far:

The testimonies were recorded as part of the Give Stigma the Index Finger project (2011-2014) and complement the Stigma Index reports carried out in each country. The project also supported journalists in each country to improve and increase coverage on HIV stigma.

Sharing the testimonies demonstrates the lived reality of HIV stigma in all its diversity and complexity and the on-going need to address HIV stigma as part of the response to HIV. Some of those interviewed feel positive about their lives and are open about their status, whilst there are others who describe their miserable futures, or don’t feel ready to disclose to those closest to them. Some people find support within their families, others refer to their family stigmatising them more than anyone else and feel additional betrayal as a result. As well as detailed descriptions of stigma experienced, some narrators provide insights into the emotional impacts of stigma; one narrator states “the ugly words from their mouths made me feel worthless.”

In total, 140 people living with HIV in Swaziland, Ethiopia and Mozambique were able to share their experiences, memories and views freely in an open-ended interview, recorded in their own language by a counsellor or activist, with the assurance of maintaining anonymity.

“We all have a story. To be able to sit here and tell my story is so good for me. It feels good.”

This is how narrator Etetu Manyazewal*, a 24 year-old woman from Ethiopia ended her oral testimony interview. Similar positive statements emerged from a conversation with two of the interviewers from Mozambique who described oral testimony as an opportunity for “people to open up and tell you what was in the bottom of their heart”, adding, “people need this type of dialogue so they feel that they are not abandoned.”

OTW and IPPF are supporting partners to communicate these testimonies to national audiences through radio and community dialogues.

*all names shared in 21 stories 21 days are pseudonyms

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Everyone has a different view, everyone has a different story

Would you like to take part in a small global film project with Turner prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing and Oral Testimony Works?

We are looking for 20 people around the world, who have access to a video camera or can shoot video on their phone, and have a view from a window they want to share.

The brief is very simple and will be emailed to everyone who signs up.

The time commitment is minimal: it will take you 10 minutes to set up the 30-second shoot, and up to 20 minutes to transfer your video file online to our editor.

As a contributor you will receive a credit at the end of the film and DVD copy of the finished product.  The resulting short film will be available to view online, and will contribute to the larger Your Views film project.  All contributors will be entered into a special draw to win $100.

Everyone who takes part will also be helping Oral Testimony Works spread the word about the importance of representing and responding to the diversity of human experience.

To take part please email before 30th June to receive instructions.

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Serious, Responsible, Important and Accessible

These are the words used by Professor Henry Bernstein, one of the judges, to explain why Displaced: the human cost of development and resettlement was the “very worthy winner” of the Edgar Graham Book Prize 2013. The prize is awarded by the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, University of London for a work of original scholarship on development in Africa and Asia.

Chair of the judging panel, Professor Naila Kabeer, welcomed everyone to the award ceremony on Thursday 7th November at SOAS, and outlined the judging process.  Henry Bernstein then went on to explain why the judges chose this book.

“This is an intellectually serious book in its subject matter, its methodology of oral testimony, and the integrity of how it presents its findings. It is also much more accessible than many academic works: it will be read by, speak to, and inform a wide audience. The methodology, pioneered by Olivia Bennett at Panos, is of considerable interest and the book represents the fruit of significant effort and commitment over many years. It reminds us that ‘development’, as any major social change, involves human drama which we need to know about and consider in the words of those who experience it. This is a nuanced work that is politically responsible as well as intellectually important. We would like to see more books of such quality being nominated for the prize in future.”

Olivia Bennett accepted the award on behalf of herself and Dr Christopher McDowell, who was unable to attend through illness.  She thanked the judges, representatives from SOAS and the audience and declared: “we’re extremely pleased, not least because it raises the profile of the book, and should gain it a wider readership, and so amplify the voices of the displaced within it… but also because it is an endorsement of the use of oral testimony.

In full below are the excellent acceptance speeches by Olivia and Chris. Olivia talked about the process of oral testimony as well as the key themes and insights emerging from the resulting interviews, notably “the centrality and complexity of non-material factors in displacement”. She went on to explain that the overwhelming sense from the interviews with the resettled was “the sense of powerlessness and loss of control over their lives that losing their land brought – and the great difficulty experienced in regaining a sense of agency and autonomy.” She concluded her speech by describing how the collection and communication of oral testimonies can “begin to close the gap between those devising policy and those living with its consequences.”

Dr Laura Hammond, director of Development Studies at SOAS, delivered Chris McDowell’s speech, which provided a powerful political overview of development-induced displacement and highlighted the difficulties of policy influence in this sector. In this context, Chris stated, “What we can do however, and this is what Olivia and I have sought to do in Displaced, is to keep telling the human story in as much of its complexity as we can. To reveal and examine the impacts of the profound changes that resettlement brings at the level of the individual, within families, between genders and across societies both immediately and through generations.”

He concluded, “If there is one direct policy recommendation in the book, then it is an ambitious one, that involuntary resettlement in the development process should give way to resettlement-with-consent as the basis for development decision-making.”

Olivia Bennett EG Prize Acceptance Speech

Chris McDowell EG Prize Acceptance Speech

Copies of Displaced (including e-books) are available from and other sites. All royalties to Oral Testimony Works to support further oral testimony projects with marginalised groups around the world. – First-hand accounts of development past and present

In a world of constant updates of new information, do we have the space and time for first-hand accounts from previous decades?  Are oral testimonies from 1997 relevant today? Is this an archive worth investing in?  Is it worth improving access to these oral testimonies and related materials?  Who will benefit and how? Do first-hand accounts count as knowledge when it comes to international development?  

These are some of the questions and terms circulating around my head at the moment.  I’m right in the midst of thinking, talking, and occasionally dreaming about the development of a global online living archive of Panos’ 20 years of oral testimony: 1300 oral testimonies, from 42 different countries, recorded between 1993 and 2013.  Experiences and perspectives from women and men who have lived with poverty, displacement, HIV/AIDS, environmental change and conflict. The use of “living” to describe this initiative reflects the additional aim for the archive to be a platform for new activities – both new oral testimony collections as well as new ways to reach new audiences, for example commissioning artists to interpret some of the existing testimonies. The use of “global” reflects the objective of connecting with libraries, museums and universities in the countries where the testimony collections originate, to encourage national audiences to engage with this material.

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Some of the archive lives in books, some online, some in my friend’s garage and some under my desk

In addition to the questions there are the doubts. It can feel too big an undertaking; being between sectors (oral history and international development) doesn’t always feel great; I struggle to prioritise my user (students yes, but also hopefully others); and will we be able to maintain a living archive for the foreseeable future? But there’s no turning back now. Oral Testimony Works has the mandate to build on the legacy of Panos London, and I’m currently a “Digital Pioneer” (really?) on Our Digital Community’s Learning Programme. So I am just having to get used to working with those doubts.

The Digital Learning Programme is for social enterprises in the UK who are developing digital services. Being on the programme is a great opportunity: it provides a structure, mentoring and a peer network to what otherwise risks being an undisciplined process of ideas development.   We’ve completed a couple of modules and been asked plenty of uncomfortable questions – such as present your idea in 150 words (see below), what would your Minimum Viable Product look like, will you use Drupel or WordPress, is your development ‘agile’ and who is going to pay for this stuff? But it’s all good: learning comes from being challenged and this is certainly challenging.

Here’s my current 150ish words on it – using the working title will be a global living online archive of first hand experiences of development issues, past and present.

Oral testimonies are in-depth interviews drawing on personal memory and experience.  For twenty years Panos worked directly with communities to record oral testimonies with men and women living with poverty, conflict, HIV, displacement and environmental change.

Panos’ legacy is 1300 oral testimonies from men and women in 42 countries. These personal accounts provide an essential perspective on how men and women around the world have lived with development challenges over the past 20 years.

The quantity of material and the diversity of time, place and theme provide the potential for exciting user journeys through an online archive. will be a site to provoke and inspire new activities and a means to engage with new global audiences.

I’d love to receive any feedback on the idea in general, as well as what you think of the 150 word intro above.  And any ideas – other than “” – for what I should call thing much appreciated.

Book based on Panos testimonies wins Edgar Graham Book Prize 2013


We are delighted to announce that Displaced: The Human Cost of Development and Resettlement – based on oral testimonies recorded as part of a Panos London project – has been awarded the Edgar Graham Book Prize 2013.

This academic prize from the School of African and Asian Studies, University of London, is awarded for a work of original scholarship on development in Asia and Africa.  Authors Olivia Bennett and Christopher McDowell are particularly pleased that the judges commended its “exemplary use of oral testimony”.

The heart of the book draws on over 300 interviews with the displaced, gathered over several years in different countries and development situations as part of an international resettlement project, for which McDowell was the advisor.  The judges agreed that Displaced  was “highly readable” and represented “a notable achievement, which is original, accessible and vivid without compromising intellectual integrity”.

Olivia Bennett founded Panos London’s Oral Testimony Programme, and is a co-director of Oral Testimony Works.  The award is a great acknowledgement of the effort, wisdom and expertise that went into the book and of the importance of listening to the perspectives and experiences of those most affected by development.

For more information on the book please see Panos’ press release from 2012 and Olivia’s blog on the Panos website from the same time.

Copies (including e-books) are available from and other sites. All royalties to Oral Testimony Works to support further oral testimony projects with marginalised groups around the world.

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Resettlement: It’s complicated!

Reflections on the Resettlement and Benefit Sharing Conference, Hyderabad May 2013 by Siobhan Warrington

“Resettlement involves the most complex transactions in development” said Susan Wong from the World Bank in the session summing up the International Conference on Resettlement and Benefit Sharing in Hyderabad, India, 20-21 May 2013.

Large-scale infrastructure projects such as hydropower stations, roads and mining deliver benefits and often revenue to national economies.  Acquiring land for these projects generally involves the resettlement of people. Resettlement involves complicated monetary transactions (compensation packages and benefit sharing) which take place at a time of great uncertainty and often anxiety for those being resettled.  In addition to anticipated material losses resulting from resettlement, for many there are the less visible social, cultural and emotional costs involved. For me, Susan Wong’s statement was in no way an over-statement; it was a definitive observation on resettlement.

A rock on my heart

‘Maseipati MoqhaliI was invited to the conference to share a selection of first-hand accounts from the resettled, recorded as part of Panos’ Oral Testimony Resettlement Project (1997-2003). A copy of my presentation, Like a rock on my heart, is available on this link. The presentation draws on Bennett and McDowell’s book Displaced: the Human Cost of Development and Resettlement.

 “It will remain as a rock on my heart when I think of the place that I am being removed from…” These are the words of ‘Maseipati Moqhali an elderly woman from Lesotho, interviewed in 1997 prior to her resettlement to make way for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.  Her words convey the emotional anguish of resettlement, of being moved from one’s home.

Such anguish is an inevitable, and largely unavoidable, response to being told you have to leave your home, community and environment for ever.  And whilst compensation and benefit sharing can be effective ways to redress the material losses incurred as a result of resettlement, dealing with the non-material costs, the social, cultural and emotional impacts, is less straightforward.

In our desire for neat solutions, it is the definite figures, either in terms of working out compensation packages or monitoring income levels that attract our attention. We must ensure we don’t fail to see the human side of resettlement: the tricky, messy ‘people stuff’. Rather we must acknowledge and accept this human aspect and work with people to ensure that the anxiety associated with displacement is minimised by listening to, and where possible addressing, their concerns. Ensuring that resettlement becomes a development opportunity for the resettled as well as the nation will also reduce the difficulties and anxieties experienced by the displaced.  Dealing effectively with material loss can go a long way to reducing some of the stress and anxiety associated with the loss and uncertainty of resettlement.

A commitment to ensuring that large-scale infrastructure projects involving resettlement are a development opportunity for the resettled as well as the nation was at the heart of this conference.  Benefit sharing refers to the principle and mechanisms of ensuring the resettled also benefit from the development projects.  Benefit sharing is not compensation.  Compensation packages are in response to the losses incurred as a result of resettlement, whereas benefit sharing is above and beyond any compensation. Whilst compensation should at least restore people’s previous livelihoods, benefit sharing should ensure an improvement in their circumstances.

Key themes

The conference was opened by Cyprian Fisiy, Director of the World Bank’s Social Development department. He provided a valuable framework for the conference; one of social inclusion, shared prosperity, and voice.  For him, the challenge in the resettlement context is ensuring the most-affected are represented and heard, but in the context of informed, inclusive and open dialogue as opposed to protest and violence.  This need for inclusive dialogue was at the heart of the Panos’ oral testimony project with the resettled.

Land acquisition was understandably a key theme of discussion during the conference, and Cyprian’s opening address highlighted the challenge of managing land acquisition successfully – when for the majority of the resettled land equals livelihood and landlessness equals destitution. How can we ensure that land acquisition doesn’t lead to a lower standard of living, for those who have depended upon it for their livelihood, and that instead it is part of a process which ensures shared prosperity?

Case studies

The conference brought together 110 participants from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, including government officials, practitioners, researchers and World Bank staff, representing both public and private sectors.

The case studies presented were varied, not just in terms of geography but also type of resettlement and approaches to land acquisition, compensation and benefit sharing.  We learnt about urban resettlement in Latin America as well as challenging negotiations in a remote, rural and highly conservative area of Pakistan.  There were presentations on transport and resettlement in Nigeria and India, and hydropower in Laos and Uganda. We learnt about Magarpatta – a new city in India – developed as a result of farmers pooling their land and becoming equity holders of a new urban development.

There was a very positive discourse to the conference, one in which those presenting case studies of resettlement were proud to share the various ways the resettled were benefiting above and beyond their compensation.  There were also examples of new approaches to calculating compensation packages as well as compensation policies being implemented flexibly for the benefit of the resettled.

Benefit sharing

The principle of benefit sharing recognises that project benefits should go beyond restoring livelihoods to improving incomes and living standards for the resettled.   The case studies presented at the conference shared a range of mechanisms for benefit sharing. Liz Wall of Shared Resources shared research on benefit sharing in the extractive sector.  Unlike hydropower projects where there can be the obvious benefit of a free or cheap supply of electricity to Project Affected Persons, there are no such obvious “trickle down” benefits in the mining sector. There needs to be legitimate and transparent mechanisms of ensuring national revenues from mining benefit the affected communities. Foundations or Trusts are one such mechanism and their vision/aims need to arise from the needs and priorities identified during the social assessment of the mining project. Similarly, their activities need to contribute to the local or regional area development plans.

Similar mechanisms will be needed to ensure that revenue arising from a hydropower project, from selling electricity to another country for example, are specifically shared with the resettled communities, as well as going into a national poverty reduction fund. Other examples of benefit sharing included systems that enable Project Affected Peoples to effectively become shareholders in a project, receiving a percentage of the profits on an annual basis.

The case study from Pakistan, by Dr Siddiqui from the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), made the point that a commitment to benefit sharing needs to be demonstrated long before any “bricks are laid” of the development projects.  In that particular instance, gaining community endorsement was the result of listening to the community’s concerns, and physically demonstrating development actions long before resettlement to show   genuine commitment to the community’s welfare.

Several presenters and participants made the point that the effectiveness of resettlement and benefit sharing depends on the existing systems, and the capacity of implementing staff.

Many of these points – the importance of trust and transparency, and of demonstrating real commitment to the welfare of the displaced, the need to acknowledge the perspective of the resettled and to support those charged with implementing complex compensation policies at field level – were voiced in the Panos narratives. Failure to recognise these points, or to promise but not deliver, had time after time led to a breakdown of trust and confidence, and significantly impeded negotiations and dialogue.

Handshake or a fist of protest?

It seems there are two factors driving the principle of benefit sharing. There is primarily a moral commitment to ensuring that infrastructure projects for development do not lead to further impoverishment of the people displaced.  Instead, resettlement must be part of a development framework of social inclusion and shared prosperity.

Secondly, experience shows that public protest can stall or even cancel planned development projects.  A commitment to, and importantly demonstration of, benefit sharing by developers can address some of the key concerns that become causes for protest.

The presentations by Mr Dhillion and Ms Wall referred to the need for community endorsement or a gaining a “social licence” to operate.  Again, this echoes Cyprian’s opening address, and the need to move away from the resettled using their hands as fists to shake in protest at resettlement towards a context in which the resettled want to extend their hand for a handshake with developers.

However, whilst protest and dissent might spell bad news for infrastructure projects and resettlement, we need to accept that along with the emotional anguish that comes with leaving one’s home, protest and dissent are an inevitable part of resettlement.  And individuals coming together and voicing their concerns, taking control of their futures, is after all a sign of empowered citizens working together to ensure that they negotiate collectively for their rights and entitlements.   We need to be careful that the social licence gained for large-scale infrastructure and the resulting resettlement results from open and inclusive dialogue with informed and empowered citizens, as opposed to benefit-sharing becoming a form of bribery.

Restoring agency at a time of powerlessness and dependency

Related to the above point about the importance of people being active agents as opposed to passive recipients of development, there is the challenge of ensuring benefit sharing is managed in such a way that it doesn’t contribute to dependency, but instead fosters agency and sustainability.  This is crucial since resettlement itself is a process, as the Panos testimonies powerfully demonstrate, which inevitably and dramatically reduces people’s sense of power and control over their lives. And there lies a further challenge, of how to restore a sense of agency during a process which potentially breeds deep powerlessness?

Communication and Participation

The importance of communication, agency and perceptions were key themes in my presentation and communication and participation emerged as key themes of the conference.

There is no escaping from the enormity of the impact of resettlement on people’s lives.  The displaced may well be emotional, frightened, confused, angry and upset.  The fear and panic associated with impending resettlement will result in heightened and perhaps unrealistic demands and complaints.  Just as the compensation calculations can be complicated, human beings with their social, cultural and emotional lives as well as material needs can also be pretty complicated!  And compensation needs to be worked out fairly and openly, with no opportunities for people to gain more through individual consultation, bribery or use of their individual power.

None of this – anguish, conflict, complaints, speculations, rumour – can be avoided, but it can be reduced or perhaps just effectively managed, with good communication and a commitment to participation.  By good communication I mean effective, appropriate, timely, open, and transparent communication.  People need to be aware of their legal rights and entitlements and information about the development and resettlement needs to be conveyed in appropriate languages and formats, and regularly at appropriate times, not just as a one-off announcement or conversation. Trust, transparency and accountability are essential aims for that good communication.

Appropriate and effective communication needs to be used at every stage of resettlement. It is essential to take account of the changing perceptions and circumstances of the resettled as these will impact on their responses. On-going communication also provides a safety net to ensure misunderstandings don’t take permanent hold.  With something as enormous as resettlement, it is going to take several rounds of communication for people to hear it, understand it, and respond to it.

Where possible, resettlement plans should be informed by the needs, concerns, values and knowledge of those who are to be resettled.   In Mr Oguntunde’s presentation on Lagos’ Urban Transport Plan, he emphasised the importance of “meaningful consultation” and the need for stakeholder consultation to inform design and implementation of both the development project (in this case) as well as the resettlement plans.

Community endorsement is key to success and that comes through participation and a recognition that effective participation takes time.  Community endorsement and the gaining and maintenance of a “social licence ” will come as a result of listening and responding to stakeholders’ concerns.

Questions for further discussion

As a non-expert on Resettlement, questions I was left with at the end of the conference, and which I’d much appreciate hearing people’s thoughts on are:

  • What qualitative research has been carried out with those who implement resettlement on the ground?  Their experiences of communicating, negotiating, consulting, and encouraging participation with the resettled, need to be taken into account if implementation is to be improved. The Panos testimonies and conference case-studies suggest there is much to learn from their actual experiences.
  • Do there need to be communication experts working alongside social development specialists, or rather does there need to be an awareness and articulation of communication expertise amongst social development specialists, or at least part of Resettlement Management? Are there already communication guidelines to complement guidelines on consultation and participation? (I saw that BRAC’s MARG centre had published some guidelines on communication.)
  • How are people’s responses and experiences to resettlement being captured in any qualitative way? Is this not important in relation to the aspiration of measuring social success? PAPs need to be centrally involved in any assessment process.
  • Would there be a value in doing some oral testimony work with the resettled and fieldworkers in some of the case study projects shared with us at the conference?   With the shift in policy and practice towards improved compensation and benefit sharing, would the narratives of the resettled be markedly different from those recorded 1997-2003 under the Panos project?
  • Are there any examples of activities and guidelines around dealing with intangible heritage loss and resettlement?  Should all Resettlement Action Plans include a heritage project, which could involve life story interviewing, photography, maps – it could be a means to finding out what’s important and valuable to people outside the context of negotiations over compensation.  At the very least it acknowledges the importance of this to those who are being resettled, and may leave them with some tangible documentation of the worlds they have left behind.