87 seconds to capture five years of change. Can it be done?

Emily Brown

Blog post by Emily Brown

Oxfam Great Britain, Gender and Governance Adviser
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It may not have had a red carpet premiere, but as Jacky Repila, Oxfam GB Programme Learning Officer, explains, the Raising Her Voice animation, launched this week is cause for celebration. Here, she gives us her guide to the making of an Oxfam first:

Ever had a message to convey that you knew was really important and yet also very complex to explain?

For five years Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice (RHV) program worked with 45 local partners, 141 community activist groups in 17 countries to support poor women to participate in, influence and lead the decisions that affect their lives.

And back in 2013 it was my job to share the learning from our exhilaratingly positive evaluation which showed that over one million marginalised women had benefitted as a result of the programme, leading to increased activism, more effective engagement with decision makers and greater accountability.

In the complex and shifting context that is real life, to shift the balance of power in relationships – be it between man and wife or government and citizens – requires enormous courage, creativity and stamina. In development jargon, we talk about ‘theories of change’ and the Raising Her Voice experience has made an enormous contribution to this thinking within Oxfam. Helping to develop a more holistic understanding of the root causes of the still deep inequalities between men and women – and how it is the structural as well as the many practical changes that still need to happen for women worldwide to live with true dignity.

Sharing Raising Her Voice's experience

So the pressure was really on to share Raising Her Voice’s experience showing not only why it’s a good thing for women to have an equal say in decision making, but that it really is possible. And that governance programmes such as Raising Her Voice really do increase women’s political participation and influence.

To communicate this convincingly has been elusive – too bogged down in detail, too context specific; insufficient attention to historical precedent; over simplified, dumbed down. So, how could we do it differently this time?

We needed to grab the attention of an information saturated audience, but then we had to leave an imprint on the retina of their consciousness (and maybe their conscience?) about the inequalities facing half the world’s population – women – that are so often seen as just a natural part of everyday life - and what they can do to change that.

Sharing world-changing ideas

And that’s when I discovered RSA Animates and Cognitive Media, the creative agency behind them. Their hand drawn animations were conceived as an innovative, accessible and unique way of illustrating and sharing world-changing ideas,I was blown away; this was exactly what we wanted, intellectually rigorous and entertaining.

Now for the reality check: how to commission a high calibre animation with a piggy bank budget? Here came my first breakthrough, and great life lesson, ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get!’ And how you ask is really important. So when I returned Cognitive’s online ‘project enquiry’ form, I had to make sure the Raising Her Voice story was one they wouldn’t walk away from. I was also upfront about the minuscule budget: many read Oxfam and think megabucks; in reality much of its creative work is done, well, creatively!

Sitting at my kitchen table that October morning, Cognitive’s reply just twenty minutes later was music to my ears – ‘We’ll work with you whatever your budget’.

It was exhilarating to work with a team with a proven track record of communicating complex ideas simply - and making them go viral. Plus, as somebody who can only draw stick people, it was a privilege to work with the talented Cognitive team, particularly the film’s main illustrator Ami Bogin.

It was time to write the animation’s voiceover script. How to tell the full Raising Her Voice story and its historical context in one side of A4?

Some lessons.  Dos and Don’ts ...

  • Do avoid jargon, but don’t oversimplify for fear of putting off so-called experts
  • Do energise activists, but don’t assume any prior knowledge or interest
  • Do speak to the heart and include ‘voice’, but don’t be afraid to use facts and figures, hard evidence
  • Do give examples to make it ‘real’, but don’t get bogged down in context
  • Do be brave about the obstacles to women’s political participation, but don’t point the finger

The script was whittled, the ‘voice’ was scouted and the recording was made.

Next came a leap of faith – handing over to Cognitive, to produce the draft storyboard. Somehow, I felt Cognitive needed a twenty page briefing document: cross referencing each line of the script to a wealth of RHV evidence - statistics, quotes, case studies and videos – and summarising the key messages and pitfalls to be avoided. The team said this was a first from a client, really valued it and so, another note to self to use in future projects.

Fast forward to January: Emily Brown (RHV Global Coordinator, feminist and RHV theory of change guru) and I (now a volunteer) trundled past flooded Oxford en route to Cognitive HQ in Folkestone, to discuss the draft story board.

The next learning point was when we watched the first draft animation - this was our first opportunity to experience the speed of delivery and pace. It was way too fast to capture all of the detail. One colleague even complained of feeling ‘mildly nauseous’!

Getting it right

This is where the moment of jeopardy comes into the story. Our original deadline had been to launch the animation in time for International Women’s Day and the clock was ticking. We made the judgment call to not compromise on quality and get the pacing right. So we headed back into the recording studio, made script amendments and reworked key frames. 

To drive a creative project beyond its planned lifespan requires true commitment and judgment, and we’re truly appreciative of Cognitive, and others, going the extra mile. We’re sorry we didn’t get this to you on International Women’s Day, but we hope it’s been worth the wait. We hope you enjoy watching the animation and that you’ll think they’re 87 seconds well spent. It’s not perfect, but we think it manages to celebrate Raising Her Voice’s achievements and give food for thought.

The big question is, what will you do next?

How will you Raise Your Voice?

Oxfam's Raising Her Voice program set out to support women's voices to be heard with greater confidence in political, public and private life.

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Blog: Raising Her Voice: making women's invisibility visible and watch the video.