Visual Problem Appraisal (VPA) is a film based learning strategy, which aims to enhance the problem analysis of complex issues and to facilitate the development of actions. The VPA is used in workshop settings focusing on learning and change, or dealing with problem analysis and policy design. The core of a VPA is based on ‘mediated stakeholder consultations’. Workshop participants consult stakeholders through watching them on films.
A VPA set consists of a series of filmed interviews complemented with documentaries. These films provide particular perspectives on the contextual reality of the stakeholders. The set gives (prospect) practitioners, civil society actors, decision- and policy makers an opportunity to watch and reflect on a series of stakeholder interviews. These filmed interviews and the accompanying documentaries offer the workshop participants a chance to explore the complex and conflictive arena of the issue at stake. The participants soon come to realize that stakeholder consultation is not about finding out one final truth, but about experiencing personal versions and diverse framings of reality.
Participants in a VPA workshop go through a three-tier program: scoping, stakeholder consultation and action. The scoping phase varies from a quick scan to a desk study. ‘Meeting’ a number of stakeholders with the filmed interviews allows the participants to learn about the different perspectives of these interviewees and the way they frame their problems. The VPA participants analyze and structure the information encapsulated in the interviews and formulate recommendations for action. This can take various shapes such as scenario development, policy design or elaborated project proposals. Participants work individually and in small groups on a program structured by VPA facilitators and reflective forms in a workbook.
During the simulated stakeholder consultation, which is at the core of the VPA, the VPA participants view a selected number of interviews out of the available ones. The selection simulates conditions which are in line with the reality of stakeholder consultation where constraints of time, resources and access to respondents are influential. This procedure makes participants feel responsible as they realize it is a consequential decision. The VPA workshop creates a space where the VPA interviewee tells her or his story, filmed in a way that the audience experiences the role of interviewer. The audience may feel sympathy, antipathy or confusion and these feelings are not simulated but real. This becomes apparent during presentations when participants reveal their identification with their filmed informants by talking in terms of ‘we’: “we first went to see Mr. Reza” or whilst debating with another group of students: “but during the interview with us she told us […].” To create this space of mediated dialogue, the VPA film uses an ‘interview driven’ film style. The VPA interview films are extended narratives with only the interviewee on screen in long steady frames filmed on location and during activities in his/her daily environment.
The VPA film style takes time to produce due to the rapport that needs to be build with the interviewees and the long interviewing times. Moreover, the selection process of the particular stakeholder and the technical set-up of the filming are crucial and demand extra time. In narration-driven films less footage is needed because the narration melts the scenes together. The particular interview driven style limits editing as an intervention in the narrative as the sequencing and arguments are not alternated; the editing makes the interview accessible to the audience by cutting away technical problems (light, sound) while respecting the complete narrative as it was delivered during recording. Mistakes, hesitations, repetitions in the narrative of the interviewee do not exist and therefore are not cut away. In this way interview conventions are contested and do not match the audience expectation to consume parboiled arguments. The VPA films represent the every day discourse of social actors obliging the audience to deconstruct and reconstruct the storyline.