Most of the work we do within the field of evaluation we do through words; we write, we discuss, we present, we represent, we inform, we reflect etc. with other words most communication is done in words, either vocally or in text/reports.

When I was working in development organisations as an M&E professional I often wondered why we use words only. The evaluation reports that were produced by evaluators were actually hardly read by our donors, hardly read by our partners in the south, certainly not read by their beneficiaries and even hardly read by ourselves as well. We are using media of communication that are not facilitating reflection, communication and learning. So not only power relations, methods used and our behaviour prevent the use of the outcomes of evaluations, the media through with we communicate do not facilitate reflection and learning either.

THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS The fact that we do use written texts so often is easy to explain. Within the world of international cooperation we inevitably need means (carriers) for exchanging views and information, since we are all the time moving through space and time. For vertical and horizontal learning where not all learners/stakeholders (from donor-ngo-evaluator-beneficiaries) are present at the same time,  information carriers are needed, and most of us are very much used to writing things down to convey our own and especially others messages.

I am not saying we should get rid of words and texts (otherwise I could not have written this text either), I am saying we need to look for complementary types of carriers, like videos and pictures for at least five reasons:

ONE. One third of all people around the world cannot read or write and thus cannot communicate through time and space (except through telephone or recording).

TWO. Of all people that can read and write, half learns best through images, symbols etc and not through words or texts (Linda Kreger Silverman, spatial visual learner versus auditory sequential learner, 32% of students mainly visual spatial, 23% mainly auditory sequential, 45% is mixed).

THREE. All people can (sometimes after some explanation) understand images  (Terence Wright, 1992).

FOUR.  Images provide information that words/texts cannot (Sarah Pink, 2001). E.g. communication is 80% non-verbal and 20% verbal. An image tells more than a 1000 words (See Klein’s presentation in the blog The power of Images Images also provoke other layers of knowledge to come up, which is especially helpful in group discussions.

FIVE. Through pictures and videos people can represent themselves towards the outside world, This can greatly facilitate the exchange of views at first hand instead of interpretation by others (e.g. evaluators). For interesting examples: Donald Snowden with his Fogo process, 1967, Su Braden in a.o. in Vietnam 1998, and currently Chris & David Lunch (

If we are serious within our evaluation practice and we do include the whole chain of stakeholders, including the donor and beneficiaries indeed, the use of images (pictures and videos) is inevitable. As carriers of information but also for the exchange of views, for reflection in groups (instead of telling why things are important, show why things are important), and for self reflection (individually and in groups, looking back to the process and its results (Uccellani and Rosales, 1992)).

In the past words/texts had a much higher status than images, but since the constructivist paradigm entered the world, there is no real argumentation left for not using images as well (Pink, 2001).  In the past also pictures and videos were expensive, and complicated to make. These days there are camera’s that are cheap and extremely user-friendly.


Till date several organisations have experimented with the use of video/pictures in evaluation. Two organisations have experimented with using video in the Most Significant Change method (Insight and the Centre for Development Innovation CDI). Instead of letting people tell stories they ask people to record stories and images of change. Both the organisations and the participants are said to be very enthusiastic about the use of video. It would be interesting to explore what more or other information the use of video brings, compared to regular ‘text’ MSC.

The IOB (The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs/ Evaluation Office) has used video in one of their evaluations (2004). This was a controversial experience. The video was put on a side track for many different reasons, and provoked a heated debate. The maker once commented on this experience in a national newspaper that the programme and the Ministry did not want to see what was really going on. I saw the videos and although you could come up with all kind of criticism, the images are extremely powerfull and provoking. You see images of how we usually work in international cooperation, sometimes a painful process indeed.

In my own one-person consultancy firm I am trying to propagate the use of video and pictures as I see great potential for internal, external (horizontal/vertical) communication, learning and reflection. I did several projects with a health organisation, letting clients tell how they were able to re-organise their lives with the help of the organisation, and I followed several clients for the course of 9 months to see how they and their account managers changed over time and to reflect on these changes. Another organisation (private fund) wanted to work with video monitoring; every year progress in one of their projects would be filmed.

The project people were in general very enthusiastic about the process and product of the filming. However, one of the issues in both organisations was that the managers were sometimes shocked by the images they saw, exclaiming ‘this can’t be true’!, or ‘they/you have not understood the project properly’. This may be true but would have never been revealed without the videos. The power of images!

Despite the limited experiences with pictures and videos in evaluation, there is a world to gain in international cooperation. Through Capturing Development I want to experiment and learn in practice -with my clients- what works and what doesn’t work using videos and images.

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