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Cultural issues in making and using the visual problem appraisal “Kerala’s Coast”


Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is a complex multi-actor issue. Staff members of Cochin University (CUSAT) from India and colleagues from the Netherlands interpreted this issue as a challenge to initiate and enhance multi-stakeholder dialogue and action and the idea was born to produce a Visual Problem Appraisal (VPA). VPA is a film-based learning system that aims to induce social learning, to increase problem and policy analysis competencies, to reduce self-referentiality, to increase commitment for concerned stakeholders, and to enhance intersubjective consensus. In 2003 Indian and Dutch university staff members and Indian filmmakers produced two documentaries and 23 films portraying the Keralite stakeholders in their natural environment, exposing their engagement with, and different perspectives on, ICZM. Although produced for formal education, the notion emerged that the VPA might as well work in the reality of ICZM in Kerala. It was a fascinating conversion of questioning the nature of some events and frictions that occurred during the production process. As critical incidents were attributed to various cultural disparities such as local/foreign, male/female, higher/lower status, the hypothesis was formulated that if producing the VPA had already set a deep impact; how about using it directly with involved stakeholders? This hypothesis was tested in 2004 in workshops with publics, ranging from CUSAT students to local stakeholders of the Thycattussery Panchayat. The process of producing and testing the VPA Kerala’s Coast was a complex and intriguing multidisciplinary and multicultural project. We wondered what made the project a success. Framing the project as a space of cultural communication gave guidance to the questions that articulated our search to understand the process we had been immersed in. In this article we describe the events and analyze critical incidents that occurred during the production and the use of the VPA. The outcome leads to valuable recommendations for international and intercultural teams working on similar production and research projects.

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Additional information

Loes Witteveen is a lecturer in Communication and Innovation Studies at Larenstein University of Professional Education in The Netherlands. She coordinates the master programme Training, Rural Extension, and Transformation (TREAT) and produces educational films. Her international work and research interests are in rural development, (visual) learning strategies, participatory communication and media.

Bert Enserink is associate professor of policy analysis at the faculty of Technology, Policy, and Management of Delft University of Technology. His main areas of interests are participatory policy analysis, quick scan and rapid appraisal techniques, and scenario analysis. Recent research topics are public participation and social learning in coastal zone management and integrated river basin management.

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Witteveen, L., Enserink, B. Cultural issues in making and using the visual problem appraisal “Kerala’s Coast”. Know Techn Pol 19, 94–118 (2007).

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  • National Culture
  • Critical Incident
  • Power Distance
  • Uncertainty Avoidance
  • Female Director