Creating Large-Scale Conversations for Change Networks

Posted by Steve Waddell in Communications on June 9, 2010

To realize large-scale change requires really good large-scale conversations. With tens and even hundreds of millions of people. I remember the 1980s’ innovative format of satellite-fed televised town hall meetings with citizens of the US and the Soviet Union talking directly to one another for the first time. They made a huge impression and broke down stereotypes. Although social media and the internet allow much richer exchanges, by-and-large they have been pretty unimaginative. But Patrice Barrat of Article Z and the Bridge Initiative in Paris, is pushing the boundaries with a new just-launched production!

Patrice integrates social media, mobile phones, video, television, email, web-conferencing, and other technologies to create conversations about critical issues. He starts with a citizen with a compelling question and brings them to Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEOs, Executive Directors and other leaders to ask their question.

For example, he did a production with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS and a South African AIDS-infected child. She asked the question “Why must I die?” Busi – a south African activist – carried her question to G8 participants Gordon Brown (UK Finance Minister), Paul Wolfowitz (World Bank President) and Kofi Annan (UN Secretary General). The exchanges went on the web, which spurred others to add their own videos and written commentary; after a conversation of several months, a film was produced integrating the contributions.

Patrice is a journalist animateur whose work reflects three principles:

  1. Place film-makers/journalists at the service of citizens of the planet to help them ask questions that affect their lives…journalists bring the powers-that-be to the citizens to answer citizens’ questions.
  2. Have the stories unfold publicly by placing video episodes on the web, before making the film for TV.
  3. Remember that investigations don’t tell the ultimate truth about an issue…all issues are interactive amongst stakeholders. It’s an evolving truth; the story is always an evolving process.

After working for years as an award-winning journalist, Patrice began in 1999 to experiment with his approach, which is named He is maintaining the cutting edge with the second phase of a research project that brings together Article Z, telecom Sofrecom-Orange, business school HEC, and the Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation (IRI) of Beaubourg.

Just Launched

That second phase just launched last week. With a team of a couple of dozen people he is piloting a monthly series of conversations for the French-German television network Arte. The pilot is about the financial crisis in Greece. He begins with a 28-year old Greek university graduate, Maria, who earns €700 a month, and her question. "Why should I suffer from the economic chaos?” And for others: “What if that happened to us?" Maria will pose her question to such people as the Prime Minister of Greece, the President of the European Central Bank and the head of the International Labour Organization. Every day there will be a new web-site video and commentary, to spur responses from others on-line. And at the end of the month there will be a 52-minute TV production.

Patrice’s favorite production was a series with a Brazilian named Geraldo who was out of work and asked Lula before he was President “Who benefits from profits?” Two years later when Lula was President a second series was done with Geraldo. But this time there was difficulty in getting a meeting with Lula until Patrice met him at an airport and showed him Geraldo’s picture. “He turned to the camera and said ‘Geraldo you want to know about globalization and profits?’ Lula started explaining how capital flows across borders and that people can’t cross borders…Geraldo was very proud that Lula still talked to him even indirectly. They met directly later.”

A third series with Geraldo asking “Who can I trust” did not end so happily as Lula was embroiled in a corruption scandal. But it took Geraldo’s question to the head of Transparency International, Romania, Burkina Faso and the UK.

Many leaders would dismiss Patrice’s request for an interview as a traditional journalist, but are much more interested in meeting with a citizen. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out happily for the leader. The citizen who met Kofi Annan commented that she was not impressed. Patrice explains that “Some people at the UN said (to Patrice) ‘We thought you were a friend.’ But that’s what the character had to say.”

What’s changed over the years? One thing is that Patrice’s approach is recognized as legitimate and doable. There’s a form of competition even, with YouTube and other on-line video exchanges. And Patrice has moved from a more journalistic style “to a style where you feel the character is really meeting someone. It’s a series of discoveries and encounters. It’s not made for an audience just to understand an issue, but to understand the questioning of the characters with their eyes and their evolution (in relation to the issue).”

Of course a big bi-product is strengthened community around the issue with greater participation and understanding about how to influence it.

Want to try creating your own MadMundo conversation with Patrice? He estimates the cost between €120,000 – €160,000.

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