Communicating impact from ACIAR SDIP: Behind the scenes with Conor Ashleigh

It has been said that a picture tells a thousand words. If that is true, we now have several million “words” to describe the work under ACIAR SDIP, thanks to Conor Ashleigh’s work for the program. When we factor in the films as well, we’re probably up to the equivalent of hundreds of reports or papers. Images of farmers working in their fields, in their homes, working as groups, interacting with researchers, extension staff and the private sector; of the fields of rice, wheat, maize, lentils, jute and vegetables; of the technologies and partnerships and connections. These are all ably captured in Conor’s photos and films.

I was fortunate enough to join a trip to West Bengal and Bihar in mid-March to visit partners and communities that have worked with the SRFSI project to understand the impacts of the project at the individual, farm and community levels. But what exactly goes on behind the scenes? How do we get to those compelling end products? For Conor, it’s all about process, participation and production.

In terms of process, all the work has started with discussions about the elements of the program we want to communicate, which are distilled into a list of short films and images we want to capture. Each film is then scripted to identify the specific messages and statements to be included. This stage takes more work than I imagined, with emails bouncing between different team members sometimes for months – but it is a crucial part of the process to underpin the final stories and ensure we’re capturing the different and complex parts of the program.

From the outset, it is critical to ensure that we are working towards a clear aim in a collaborative way. This process spans from the organisation to the farmer, and all partners need to be actively involved. Such a process can feel like it takes a lot of time, but it means that in the end there is more accurate communication of the project and results.

Participation is about making sure that the people who are represented in our films, and it is often farmers, are more than just a one-dimensional character, showing the depth and complexity around their decisions and experiences. Participation is not tokenistic, rather results in a deeper process of engagement. Participation also means letting people make decisions about how they are represented, and in the finished product. An example of this is sharing back photos and films with participants, and asking for their feedback. It was fascinating to see Sulochana Devi in Bihar watching the film about her, joined by many other women in her village. By all accounts she was happy with the finished product.

After all the background work, the final stage of production should reflect the good process and participatory approaches, and result in a high quality, compelling story at the end, that responds to multiple levels of inputs.

 You can see Conor’s own explanation of his approach in a short film here.

 For more information, please contact Tamara Jackson (

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