In these methods, the process of creation is enacted through ‘play’. Play presents both a difficulty and an opportunity. Many dismiss the potential seriousness of play, yet serious play is what creates much of the subversive potential.

Learning through play allows us to disrupt logical thinking: Tessa Lewin 2013

Learning through play allows us to disrupt logical thinking: Tessa Lewin 2013

Play allows us to disrupt logical thinking and engage on a different level as people. This disruption is what helps us to make important connections between concrete (like service provision) and abstract (like citizenship) ideas. Play that involves co-creating visual artefacts ideally contains elements of both individual and collective learning.  Play forces an immediacy: pleasure and play turns our understanding of ‘political’ on its head. Play allows us to question the dominant political frame.

However, there may be a disbelief in the fact that this kind of (playful) approach is ‘valid’. In a cultural context characterised by relatively rigid social hierarchies for example, in which play and creativity are not dominant modes of interaction, people are very wary of operating in this mode. People may have significant reservations about both their own capacity to operate creatively, and acceptability of doing so. In this situation participants have expressed the incredible freedom of ‘being allowed’ to engage in a creative mode of articulation. This points to the importance of cultural norms in terms of which modes of creativity are more easily taken up and used.

Learning through play in Bosnia and Herzegovina

A project in Bosnia and Herzegovina on citizen engagement through visual participatory processes, showed that for many being creative was something new. Watch ‘I am Allowed‘ to see their reflections on digital storytelling.

Bosnian society is strongly hierarchical, and being creative or playful has little social value. Some were fearful, others were sceptical, but as the processes were underway, participants discovered new parts of themselves. For some, this wasn’t just a chance to learn to be creative, but an opportunity to be free:

‘People realised they can actually be creative, that they don’t have to follow a certain rule down to the letter, they can be free, they can do this or that… I thought people are closed and are not imaginative. But no, they are. You just have to push the right buttons, and then they will open up’ (Zoran, participant and trainer)

I Am Allowed: Training Digital Storytellers from MDP Inicijative Doboj on Vimeo.

Reference: OWPSEE and IDS (2013) Citizen engagement through visual participatory processes: