The Fogo Process: How it WorkedThe Fogo Process is a process using media technology as a tool in participatory community development. It evolved out of a series of events that took place on Fogo Island (an island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada) in 1967. Two years earlier Donald Snowden, then Director of the Extension Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, read the Economic Council of Canadaís "Report on Poverty in Canada." Enraged because he felt the report dealt with poverty using purely urban values, Snowden got the idea to produce a series of films to present how the people of Newfoundland felt about poverty and other issues. He wanted to show that poverty did not have to mean economic deprivation. It could also mean isolation and the inability to access information and communication media, as well as the lack of organization. Teaming up with film maker, Colin Low, Snowden took Low to about four or five different areas in Newfoundland for potential filming. In the end, Fogo Island was chosen as the best potential place to initiate what was later to become known as the "Fogo Process."
In 1967 there were less than 5,000 people living on Fogo island. However, they lived in ten separate settlements with not much communication between each. The island represented the type of isolation and lack of information or organization that Snowden wanted to show as alternate indicators of poverty in the province. Fogo island was also going through an economic slump. Having been dependent on the fishing industry for 300 years, the inshore fishery had been dropping, forcing 60% of the men to go on welfare. This brought about the possibility of resettlement (the government had decided that outport communities not able to make a living through fishing any longer were to be relocated to areas of Newfoundland that were more economically viable). The islanders, however, did not want to move. But with minimal communication between members of communities, poor organization, lack of local government in most communities, lack of unions or producer cooperatives, and altogether lack of confidence, the picture seemed dismal.
Snowden believed the islanders could form a cooperative and become organized so that they could preserve their way of life. He took Colin Low to the island and introduced him to Fred Earle, a Memorial University extension worker. Together, Earle and Low went to a meeting of the Fogo Island Improvement Committee. They introduced the concept of filming on the island which was agreed upon by the committee. It was to be a project that used film to assist communities in coming to terms with some of their problems. It was intended to help the people realize that they had problems in common and to move towards building cooperation and development.
The community members interviewed clearly identified a number of island issues: the inability to organize, the need for communication, the resentment felt towards the idea of resettlement, and the anger that the government seemed to be making decisions about their future with no community consultation process. Low decided to show the films to the people of Fogo and thirty-five separate screenings were held with the total number of viewers reaching 3,000. This became an important part of the process. It was realized that people were not comfortable discussing issues with each other face-to-face. Instead, they were quite comfortable explaining their individual views on film and having those opinions played back to other community members. By viewing the films, the islanders started to realize that all the communities were experiencing the same problems; they became more aware of these problems and what needed to be done to solve them.
There was controversy back at the university about what the political consequences for the institution would be because of the blatant criticisms of the government that occurred in the films. After some discussion, it was decided that the Premier and his cabinet should view the films. This was phenomenal since it allowed fishermen to talk to cabinet ministers. It was also successful: the Minister of Fisheries, Aiden Maloney, asked to be able to respond to the commentaries. The government point-of-view was filmed through him and shown back to the communities. This brought about a two-way flow of knowledge between community members and decision makers. From this point things began to happen on their own. The films simply helped contribute to an island-wide sense of community and assisted people in looking for alternatives to resettlement.
It is not known for certain what would have happened on Fogo had the filming never been done. What is certain is that "the fishermen formed an island-wide producerís cooperative which handled and processed large catches, enabling them to keep the profits on their island. Unemployment of able-bodied men disappeared, and government directed their efforts into helping people to stay. Films did not do these things: people did them. There is little doubt, however, that film created an awareness and self confidence that was needed for people advocated development to occur" (Snowden, 1983). The Fogo project became an internationally acclaimed prototype using media to promote dialogue and social change and was later used by various communities around the world.
Source: Quarry, Wendy. The Fogo Process: An Experiment in Participatory Communication. University of Guelph thesis, 1994.
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