Explaining the back story of a participatory media project is a challenge. There are often multiple players, outcomes, and aspirations to account for. We tend to condense complex layers of experience into a simple linear story, which can obscure the disagreements, mistakes, unpredictable turns, and ongoing relationships that inform the project (and its “storying”). In discussing this dilemma, we (i.e. Liz Miller and Dorit Naaman) started to imagine a method and set of questions as the basis of a framework with which to narrate the robust story of a project’s lifetime, including the layering of methods, people, resources, and more.


We proposed a “Mapping Participation” workshop at iDoc 2018 in Bristol. Participants were given a flip chart, stickers, and markers to explain or map a past project in the company of others. To our surprise, more people signed up than we could accommodate. The popularity of the workshop confirmed our suspicion that this kind of reflexive work at the early stages of project planning was lacking.

With the support of designer Natasha Whyte-Gray we produced preliminary tools and piloted these with graduate students who were doing practice-led research (research-creation) at Concordia University and Queen’s University. The students who participated in the workshops discovered gaps in their outlines, refined their ideas, and in some cases, re-imagined their projects altogether. The reflection exercises are designed for students or producers who have completed practice-led initiatives and need to synthesize what they have accomplished.

There are two companion tools: a website and a PDF handout. The website leads creators through prompts and questions, and provides examples and resources. The PDF is a simplified version containing the questions only. We have organized the experience into two main categories: 1) “your people” (project lead, participants, authorship, decisions, and audience), and 2) “your process” (impact, method, output, and outreach). 


We encourage you to share your stories and reflections as part of this dynamic and growing story archive. 


We host ongoing live sessions to discuss projects. If you would like to workshop your project please reach us through the contact form.


Elizabeth (Liz) Miller is a Professor in Communication Studies at Concordia University and a documentary maker with an expertise in environmental media. She uses collaboration and interactivity as a way to connect personal stories to larger timely social issues such as climate change and environmental racism. Her film and media projects such as The Shore Line, Hands-on: Women, Climate, Change, and SwampScapes, have won awards and been screened in climate forums, in classrooms, and at international festivals such as Hot Docs, Atlanta and RIDM. She is the co-author of Going Public: The Art of Participatory Practice (2017). The book is accompanied by a website profiling the work of twenty-nine socially engaged practitioners exploring the political, aesthetic, and performative dimensions of their work.

Dorit Naaman is a documentarist and film theorist from Jerusalem, and a professor of Film, Media and Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, Canada.  In 2016 she released an innovative interactive documentary, Jerusalem, We Are Here, which digitally reinscribed Palestinians into the neighborhoods from which they were expelled during the 1948 war. She is a co-lead on the collaborative project The Belle Park Project , which is situated in Kingston, Ontario, and harnesses creative practice to make visible, legible and audible colonial and environmental violence, but also resistance, resilience and re-naturalization, in a complex urban park/former landfill. Dorit has previously researched film and media from the Middle East, specifically focused on nationalism, gender and militarism.