Social innovation and citizen social science through participatory film – YouCount National Workshop in Budapest

The YouCount research team, which has been working in Siklósbodony since 2021, presented its methodological findings at the conference "Visuality, Action, Participation - Visual Interventions and Participatory Research" at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest on 20 October 2023. The conference organisers invited artists, filmmakers, social researchers and students from different universities in Hungary to provide an overview of the current field of visual social interventions within the social sciences.

Filmmaker Sára Haragonics and senior researcher Márton Oblath presented the methodological innovation carried out in collaboration with local young people. They presented the general context of how Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Citizen Social Science (CSS) use arts-based working formats. They discussed how the role of artistic activities is defined in these contexts and explored whether emerging methodological expectations of hands-on practice are divergent or complementary. The continuous transposition of artistic articulations can lead to a saturated generalisation of social experiences more sincerely. The question of a tight, pre-designed methodology versus a repertoire-based, more improvisatory research strategy has also been raised.

The afternoon workshop, dedicated to the more specific research findings of the YouCount project in Siklósbodony, was attended by around 30 people, including researchers, filmmakers, university students and two YouCount Young Citizen Social Scientists (Y-CS), Gina Bartáné Somogyi and Dominika Ágoston. It began by introducing the YouCount framework and presenting the specific challenges faced by a tiny settlement of 120 people trying to develop a sustainable farm that relies on state funding but is based on permaculture principles.

This was followed by screening the 25-minute participatory feature film "What is Innovation? The participating young people developed this mystery science fiction film as a playful reflection on the social innovation process taking place in their village. The film not only offered an interpretive framework for local social innovation, anchored in the experiences of young people but also represented an intervention. It was intended to confront the village with a question: the prioritisation of four specific challenges that emerged during the garden development process that, according to the young citizen scientists, should be addressed to help the gardeners overcome perceived difficulties and sustain the farm. The four difficulties to be separated and addressed were water scarcity, health conditions, road maintenance, loneliness, or social isolation.

After the screening, workshop participants were offered two options. They could either participate in a Q&A format discussion with the makers of the film and delve into a more nuanced examination of how the film reflects the local unfolding of the social innovation process. Alternatively, the audience could take part in a one-hour participatory filmmaking exercise to create visual responses to the specific questions posed by the actors on screen.

Interestingly, more experienced researchers opted for direct discussion with the young citizen scientists. They were interested in the experiences of developing and maintaining a long-term relationship between the local inhabitants and the researchers, the possibilities of and obstacles to sustainable garden development in rural Hungary, and also pointed out the linearity of the unfolding social innovation and the momentum-oriented representation seen in the movie. Students and arts-based practitioners participated in the participatory video (PV) workshop. Their personal and funny reflection videos offered various answers to the questions raised by young researchers in the movie, also emphasizing the macro level and global embeddedness of the issues.

Author: Márton Oblath, ESSRG, researcher of case Hungary B

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