As a part of our preparations for the Felucca Festival, we prepared invitations for the whole Village. The process was multifaceted, created in conjunction with the local community to adapt to their cultural norms of communication.
In a predominantly offline Village Community, social media, facebook and the internet do not make for tools of good use or practice. It is necessary instead to adapt to local practices of promotion and communication.
Word of mouth
Phone chain – (word of mouth by phone)
Personal invitation – knocking on the door (active word of mouth)
Poster in prominent location
Of all of the above we found that word of mouth as a result of action to be by far the most effective.
To translate – do something and people will tell others about it and come join you.
This method is especially important where the thing you are doing is defined by acronyms, buzzwords or requires some philosophical shift in behavior, that cannot be easily translated into local experience.
You can further attract additional participants, by going to other shared social spaces (doorsteps, streets spaces, cafes) and showing photo’s or information of what is already happening – increase visibility.
Through these methods during the festival we were able to get women from the village (I showed them a picture of the Boat the men on the island were building, to peak their curiosity) to come and visit Ashraf’s house on the West Bank (formerly unvisited due to perceived inaccessibility and social constraints – there are distinctly separate social spaces for men and women on the island). Kids workshops were likewise created in this manner (still kids stop me in the street and try to drag me to show them something in the Gamea), benches repaired, banners co-created, and spontaneous actions from the village encouraged.
Doing something is a powerful force in it’s own right, doing something publicly is it’s own promotion.
I cannot say that the above will work in every community, but certainly in my experience on the island it is the simplest, the most efficient and most effective. It also means actions must be in publicly accessible spaces, ensuring that participation is open and permissive rather than curated by communication channels and accessible only to a clique of those in the know. If you wish to reach a specific social group then you can choose your location according to where they will be at a specific time. In an area with high unemployment and strong polarisation between gender roles (ie. Women remain in the home (or more often together outside the home)), prepared spontaneous actions can be incredibly rewarding and engaging. This practice of “taking the market to the customer” will also give you a far better understanding of the people you seek to relate to than any psychologically inaccessible hotel room, and is a practice I have observed from traveling salesman on the island, who will set up distribution points where the women or men hang out. Sitting with them and displaying and distributing their wares, using the local network to bring them more custom where it is desired and relevant.
The best thing about word of mouth is that your action is automatically translated, it’s relevance identified by the speaker. However this does also leave room for misinterpretation so you must choose your actions carefully (until much later in the festival, many in the village perceived it as a kids event, this was largely because we adapted to our audience to begin with).
This word of mouth translation can also be used to translate documents, texts and messages by means of community. Below is an instance of this, applied spontaneously and made up on the spot. A crowd created process.
It was 2 nights before the festival, our plan was to create an invitation for the Village and deliver them door to door by hand. We based this on Nubian traditions – in the days before the wedding people hand out invites personally (both the groom and his friends, and the bride and hers), we did this so people would feel welcome, that they would feel included. Also to build a personal connection with the community.
As is often the way on the island instead we find ourselves hosts to others who have visited and want to get involved with the festival, Darsh has the idea to include them in the process. To use them to translate the idea behind the festival into Arabic, with me telling it to them in English. I suggest that we split into 4 groups, as the festival is about everyone. People begin to create their own versions of the message.
In the meantime, Daniela started collecting, clustering and facilitating translation of the Event Content
The best sentences are then selected and put together into one invitation.
We go to see Darsh’s mother, I suggest we give her the invite to see if she understands, Darsh suggests we give her and his sister a pen so they can further adapt it to fit the community.
At 1.30 am I hear a noise downstairs, Darsh is back with 4 invitations tailored to different audiences, he puts them into the computer so we can print and distribute.
The above process was totally organic, we adapted to the environment and developed the process with the host community. It didn’t feel like work, the space used was a different living rooms. It allowed us to translate what we needed to translate to the community together with them using appropriate terms and language.
I offer the above as a provocation. Consider how your present community engagement practices define the communities you reach and attract. How do your processes and spaces influence the outcomes? Whilst you are free to comment, I would prefer that you do, as there is no better teacher than experience. Please share your results with us.
I write this from a location with slow internet, photo’s will be added later.