Say it Differently?

The following video was produced by JESS3 for The Economist and highlights, in 6 minutes, the main points of a 150 page report called the “Women’s Economic Opportunity Index.” Two things struck me about the video, the first being the content and the second being the form. The discussion of what form to use when communicating development and economic data is a critical conversation to have.


JESS3 x Economist: Women’s Economic Opportunity from JESS3 on Vimeo.

In my last post I discussed the monologic vs dialogic modes of communication without specifying form. In development work a dialogic mode of communication lends to participatory development, where individuals affected by development programs are able to voice their opinions, through speech, action, written words, or other mediums. Often, monologic communication from the top-down is disseminated via the mass media.

Economic reports and evaluations are standard in the industry – dry, bulky, and non-engaging- but convey extremely important data that affects development projects. These non-routine development messages are often embedded in lean, non-engaging media of reports or white papers. In media richness communication theory, mediums of communication need to be matched to the types of messages. A simple, routine message can be delivered through a lean medium, such as a fax. However, a complex, non-routine message, should be delivered via a medium that has more cues available, such as face-to-face.

JESS3 aimed “to help bring an important data set to life through a powerful graphic animation.” While still in a format that divides, as it requires internet access, The Economist and JESS3 realized the necessity to alter the form of communication from a dry report into a video. Does this enable the data to enter a more participatory sphere? Embedded in a non-routine medium, does this rich message reach the desire audience? The founders of the company, Say it Visually, came to speak in my class with Prof. Jeanine Turner. Their company takes complicated messages/ideas and transforms them into an “explanation video”. Through a narrative, they shape a memorable short video that can more effectively explain a complex idea, much better than a report or white paper can – much like what JESS3 did.

Can video be a form used in the developing world? Obviously there are challenges of technology and infrastructure, but could a short animation delivered via cell phone enable economic development concepts to be conveyed more effectively? While the mode of communication is important, form can also be considered in breaking down monologic barriers.

Colleen Valentine

Colleen is a former CCT Graduate Student.