Performing Living Knowledge: Developing a replicable model for arts-based empowerment of marginalised urban communities in Uganda and Malawi

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of English


This project builds on the arts and social science activities pioneered by the Uganda strand of the AHRC funded INTERSECTION project, under the Care for the Future programme. The project worked over 20 months with 60+ volunteer members of a working class community in Walukuba, Jinja, in eastern Uganda. It built an intergenerational, inter-ethnic, inter-religious, cross-gender community group of widely divergent educational attainment; that engaged in a sustained process of embodied arts-based action research and dialogic debate emerging from locally identified environmental concerns. The project led to both horizontal - community to community, and vertical - community to stake holders and policy makers - interventions and knowledge exchange events combining performance and debate. Marked gains in community cohesion, confidence, advocacy and activism were achieved (McQuaid & Plastow 2017; film 'We Are Walukuba' The group registered as a Community Based Organisation 'We Are Walukuba' in November 2015 in recognition of the transformative value participants ascribed to the project.

This proposal builds on the unforeseen achievements, beyond original research aims, of the group and our Frierean-inspired methodology (Friere, 1970) that invoked a virtuous circle of action (arts-based embodied exploration of of issues identified as concerning the community) and reflection (group discussion of critical reflections generated by activities undertaken), and appetite expressed by the community to continue to work together and build their skills to become more effective community advocates. In consultation with We Are Walukuba - henceforth WAW - it was agreed that what the group needed in order become self-sustaining in the longer term, and to complete the transformation into a group of self-confident independent advocates for their community, was targeted training by experts in a range of arts and organisational skills. The skills needed were discussed in a series of community meetings with WAW, Plastow and McQuaid in August 2016. It was agreed these would be delivered in 1-2 week blocks where workers could take time out of work and mothers could be provided with child care. Each group of 6-12 trainees would undertake to in turn pass on the skills acquired to the wider group. The impact of this first stage of the project will be evidenced by a series of community organised performative and knowledge exchange events utilising the skills acquired.

The second stage of the work is focused on scaling up the project; demonstrating how it provides a replicable model for arts-based, dialogic community empowerment, by reproducing its essential stages, learnt from the Uganda experience, over a four month period in an analogous working class community (Mtogolo village) in Zomba, Malawi. Building on the particular knowledges and contacts of our Malawian Researcher, Zindaba Chisiza, we will collaborate with a local HE partner- the Department of Performing Arts, University of Malawi, and a local arts-based NGO, YONECO. We will enable all three parties, working as equals, to mutually learn, both a new methodology for community engagement, and to share the knowledges and perspectives of all concerned about the community-selected broad topic under investigation.

The final 3 months of the project will be given over to:
* co-production of a co-authored community book sharing the experiences of the project in both sites
* co-production of a manual in the form of a multi-media website, explaining the methodology of the project
* supporting Chancellor College in reviewing and reforming its arts for development curriculum in the light of the project
* supporting the NGO in reviewing and reforming its arts for development training and approach
* dissemination events in Uganda, Malawi and the UK
* evaluation of the impact of the work in both Malawi and Uganda and on all involved in the project.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit.
1. The primary beneficiaries will be the community groups and project partners We Are Walukuba in Uganda and Mtogolo Village in Malawi. In the first case we have worked closely with WAW for 20 months with the INTERSECTION project and designed this project in close collaboration with them in meetings held in Uganda in August 2016. Mtogolo village is an area of the town of Zomba, Malawi. They have discussed involvement with project researcher, Chisiza, and project supporter YONECO, and agreed on project objectives and timing.
2. The wider communities of Walukuba and Mtogolo. We already have good relations and have extensively engaged the wider Walukuba community (17,000 people) through a series of performances, public debates, film showings and community waste collection actions, and have the wide support of local councillors and community leaders. In Mtogolo (12,000) people our partners have close connections and community leaders are supporters of the work.
3. Stakeholders in Jinja and Zomba. These include council members, church leaders, educationalists and local NGOs and CBOs. In Jinja we already have close links, and many have attended previous performance and knowledge exchange events. In Zomba we have good links via Chisiza, Chancellor College and YONECO.
4. Faculty of Arts staff at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, who are project partners.
5. Youth Net and Counselling, YONECO, who are project supporters.
6. NGOs, INGOs and donors of community-arts based development programmes and community-based participatory research, in Malawi, Uganda and internationally: e.g. BOND (UK network for NGOs in international development), The Communication Initiative Network, ActionAid, Oxfam, UNESCO.
7. Academics concerned with community arts and community-based participatory research: e.g academics working in human development, applied arts, human geography, applied anthropology.

How impact will be achieved.
Training: Members of both community groups will be offered high level, intensive training in key skills identified by them as essential to effective arts-based advocacy: support skills (community-based research, community management, planning, advocacy) and arts skills (theatre, film, photography, dance and music).
Performative events: In each community members will work with the project team to create performance and knowledge exchange events on the agreed themes using skills learnt. There will be an event for horizontal - community to community, and vertical - community to stakeholder - engagement in each context. It is expected that these performances will then be owned by the groups and used beyond the project framework.
Sustained communities: The project and training will be focused on giving communities the skills, confidence and cohesion they need to be long term self-sustaining arts-based community advocates.
Jinja and Zomba stakeholders will be invited to witness performative events, and fully participate in knowledge exchange events, building better understanding of community needs, and assisting them in effective delivery of community services.
Arts faculty at Chancellor College and YONECO staff will learn new particpatory approaches to community empowerment and will be assisted in developing new curricula and training packages reflecting cutting edge learning to replace what all concerned agree are outdated and too long unrevised training programmes.
NGOs, INGOs and academics will:-
a) have free access to the mutli-media online manual of techniques and methodologies, the community created book of the project experience, and the short films on project impact which we will promote through forums such as the Communication Initiative Network and BOND
b) be invited to attend and engage with performance and knowledge exchange events
c) be accessed via relevant conferences and journal publications
d) be offered presentations at relevant dissemination events and conferences.


10 25 50
Title Basoga dance and drumming programme 
Description As part of the training for We Are Walukuba (WAW) an expert in local (Basoga) dance and drumming forms gave a two week workshop on these forms which had been 'lost' by an urbanised community. Elements of these are now popularly shown preceding performances to warm up audiences. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact WAW was delighted to receive this training and see it as an element of reclaiming cultural voice. 
Title Forum theatre play made up of three linked scenes looking at aspects of domestic violence and abuse of women in Jinja society in Uganda 
Description This work was created by We Are Walukuba, a community arts based organisation in the slum of Walukuba in the town of Jinja in eastern Uganda. It was created as part of a training exercise with Sanjoy and Sima Ganguly of the Indian Theatre of the Oppressed movement, Jana Sanskriti. Scenes from the play have now had 8 community performances, 7 in open-air free shows in various parts of Walukuba and one taken to the village of Budondo, some 80 kilometres away where there is as community group also using Forum Theatre for advocacy. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The production is part of a strategy promoting awareness of key community issues as decided by We Are Walukuba. Each show is interactive and invites interventions promoting awareness of relevant issues. 
Title Short documentary film about 'boda boda' taxi drivers. 
Description This short documentary was made as part of film training by WAW members. it shows the life of a motor scooter 'boda boda' taxi driver in Walukuba. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This film was made to facilitate training in film making/ 
Title Short documentary film about briquette making 
Description As part of the film training WAW members made a short film about their income generation scheme, making fuel bars (briquettes) with waste organic material. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This film was to facilitate film training for WAW. 
Title Short film on domestic violence 
Description As part of film training the Domasi community produced a short film on domestic violence. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This film has been shown in Domasi and at Chancellor College. 
Title Short play about deforestation, 'The Singing Forest'. 
Description This play was devised by me with the Domasi community as part of arts-based training in using indigenous stories as the basis for play-making. It takes the story of a beautiful princess who rejects many suitors and adapts it to discuss many strategies for dealing with problem of deforestation. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This play has been shown in Domasi and at Chancellor College to promote debate about urgent problems of deforestation. 
Title three Forum plays in Malawi 
Description These plays were made as part of training in theatre skills, focusing on forum theatre in work led by Ali Campbell with Zindaba Chisiza. The Domasi community chose the topics for the plays which were i) domestic violence, ii) issues of stigma relating to disability iii) discussion of issues around gender and education. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This plays have been shown twice in Domasi and once at Chancellor College, University of Malawi. In each case the play invites interventions from the audience to discuss attitudes to disability, gender and education. 
Description This project was concerned with the fact that millions of pounds have been spent by a host of NGOs/INGOs and state bodies as part of aid and development budgets on very short term arts training projects. Very often these are only one or two weeks and claim to empower communities to make meaningful arts interventions in relation to local issues, often promoting behaviour change. Our project sought to test whether a relatively intensive period of arts engagement with community groups in Africa over four months could enable those groups to self-sustain and make meaningful arts interventions in the future. Our finding, after working with a village community in Malawi and an urban slum community in Uganda, was that even four months is insufficient to empower marginalised, poor communities, to confidently research, develop and create art works discussing local issues without further support. Training was offered in dance, drumming, various means of play making and documentary and fiction film production. while strong outputs were made with trainers and performed to public acclaim, neither community felt ready to make subsequent work without on-going support. This is not surprising given low levels of education, self-confidence, access to resources/influence, and lack of previous artistic training. we are continuing to support our two target communities who remain very keen to develop skills and make relevant art works. We are using this research to continue to consider and define what arts training makes the most impact in what circumstances. We also committed to making an open access website for use by community arts organisations with practical guidance on ideas for making work - especially plays. This work is actively taking place as I write and the website should be open by summer 2018. Going forward the new projects listed in this submission are actively exploring further angles of what makes particular approaches to community art work impactful and valued by communities. we also intend to continue to enrich the website with new material as it becomes available.
Exploitation Route Our findings could be of great use to NGOs/INGOs and state bodies engaged in short term arts training programmes. We will be writing articles in relevant journals discussing our findings and urging such organisations to urgently evaluate any short term arts projects they run, with a view to either significantly extending them, linking them to other on-going initiatives or else curtailing activities that may look good on paper but have no real impact. we will also be sharing our own techniques via our website so that community organisations can avoid re-inventing the wheel when developing community arts projects.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Throughout this follow-on funding programme we have substantially upscaled and embedded the impact delivered as part of INTERSECTION's work in Uganda, and successfully shortened and replicated this approach in a new geographical site in Malawi. In both contexts, skills training has translated directly into local capacity to deliver high-quality arts-based outputs which have been widely disseminated in the wider communities of Walukuba and Domasi. Public engagement activities developed out of community-based research and expressed through dialogic performance have provided new opportunities for these two community organisations to engage with policymakers, local authorities and their communities on key local development issues including domestic violence in Uganda and deforestation in Malawi. The primary beneficiaries of this project were the community groups and project partners 'We are Walukuba' (WAW) in Jinja, Uganda and Domasi Village in Malawi. WAW have been working with the project team since February 2015, whereas Domasi were a new community group identified by the research team in collaboration with the NGO YONECO. Beginning in Uganda, WAW - a community arts for development organisation - received professional-level training in drumming and dance (for which they received a set of traditional drums), community-based research, advocacy, planning and management, forum theatre, and participatory film and editing (for which they received necessary equipment) to develop their capabilities to effect sustainable social change and develop and share knowledge among their communities. These training workshops were intensive yet accessible and offered to a wide spectrum of members to ensure that skills knowledge was shared equitably between members. In Malawi, Domasi received professional-level training in community-based research and advocacy, forum theatre, and participatory film and editing (for which they received necessary equipment). Group members did not benefit only from receiving skills they can employ in their development and advocacy activities, but also through receiving a source of income-generating activities, which has already begun to sustain both the wider group's development activities and themselves beyond the project timeline. As a result of project activities both community groups have demonstrably increased capacity to design, carry out and evaluate effective arts-based public engagement activities (see outputs section). These aims to voice and raise legitimate community concerns to local stakeholders, or to challenge destructive or discriminatory socio-cultural practices in their communities, for example deforestation, poor educational outcomes for girls, child marriage and domestic violence. In both contexts the arts-based outputs have succeeded in engaging stakeholders to understand community priorities and concerns, and providing previously unavailable spaces for communities and stakeholders to engage directly. In Uganda, our sustained collaboration between academics, professional arts makers and the community group, generated a huge increase in quality of arts output, which has had a marked impact on the community organisation's ability to engage both stakeholders and local communities. Audiences have reacted strongly to performance-based interventions and evaluation activities have charted changes in attitudes and practices amongst those engaging with WAW's artistic outputs. We have therefore observed an increased sphere of influence from WAW's work. In Malawi, the benefits extended to increased community cohesion. Traditionally men and women, and old and young generations, are separated, and even within the target organisation divisions between gender and generation were observed by all members. Through employing our model of community empowerment, and using arts and skills training, we observed increased cohesion across social divisions, which increasingly extended beyond the project activities into the wider community surrounding the organisation's members. Women and young people, who occupy marginalised positions in the local social hierarchy reported increased confidence and ability to advocate for themselves and to share their ideas and opinions with traditional leaders. In Malawi we have strengthened the capacity of our local partner, YONECO, a youth-based organisation, to employ this model as a means for arts-based dialogic community empowerment. YONECO work extensively in (and beyond) Zomba district, and have already begun using our methodology in their ongoing work to more effectively design and deliver their arts-based development activities to engage more deeply and productively with their target beneficiaries. Our Co-I in Malawi - Dr. Chisiza who lectures at Chancellor College in applied theatre - has gained practical experience and insight into our methodology, which is being translated into new curricula and activities for undergraduate and postgraduate students. We are in the process of extending our community of practice beyond the geographic case-studies through the construction of a website which will act as an open-access online multi-media manual, bringing together film, photography and written how-to guides to conducting community arts for empowerment. This toolkit has been designed to be accessible to small community-based organisations in diverse contexts. The website design work is being led by We are Walukuba members and content has been co-produced by community group members and the project team.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description AHRC GCRF Global Public Health
Amount £199,967 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
End 11/2019
Description British Academy Knowledge Frontiers
Amount £49,999 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 01/2019
Description HEFCE Allocation for Global Challenge Research
Amount £76,391 (GBP)
Funding ID 95557031 
Organisation Higher Education Funding Council for England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 07/2018
Title Holistic arts based research tools 
Description This research tool combines anthropological ethnographic interviews alongside community research, and simultaneously uses a range of arts-based methodologies; theatre, poetry, art, song, dance and film to explore in a multi-faceted community attitudes to a given concern, or to arrive at a concern of particular interest to a community. This qualitative methodology allows for a rich diversity in exploring aspects of a problem, drawing out its complexities and inter-relationships with other relevant factors. It also allows for a simultaneous concern with both the individual and the wider social unit. It offers no neat solutions but access to both superficial and more deeply hidden factors affected attitudes and behaviours in relation to any given topic of interest. 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This tool is allowing our research team and the communities to we work with to engage with social issues from a wide range of perspectives. Notably we find this approach leads to an increase in empathy - notable in recent work on gendered identities and domestic violence. It also engages both intellect and emotion, and this can make a powerful impact on audiences; as in Jinja where the town council is now being notably supportive of our work helping vulnerable young women to the extent of offering land for a shelter and a council safeguarding post to be created. 
Description Centre for Elimination of Domestic Violence (CEDOVIP) Uganda 
Organisation Center for Domestic Violence Prevention
PI Contribution We engaged with CEDOVIP in relation to our work on domestic violence with WAW. We exchanged information on our arts practice.
Collaborator Contribution CEDOVIP gave training to WAW members on domestic violence, rights and protections.
Impact This training enabled several women to seek help in asserting their rights against abusive husbands and partners and assisted in our research for our drama.
Start Year 2016
Description Gravel & Sugar Productions 
Organisation Gravel & Sugar Productions Ltd
PI Contribution Our team facilitated Gravel & Sugar in linking with other participatory film makers to build expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Gravel & Sugar trained teams of 6 novice community film makers in both Malawi and Uganda with week long training programmes.
Impact The films made have been listed elsewhere.
Start Year 2015
Description Jana Sanskriti training in Theatre of the Oppressed 
Organisation Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed
Country India 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We enabled Jana Sanskriti to experience the lives of working class arts communities in Africa.
Collaborator Contribution Jana Sanskriti shared the experience of working class communities in India and carried out training in Forum Theatre.
Impact The partnership resulted in a play about domestic violence, part of which was also made into a film.
Start Year 2017
Description Jinja Municipal Council 
Organisation Jinja Municipal Council
PI Contribution We have worked with the Department of Environment, the Department of Community Development, the education Department and the Town Clerk's office making them aware of our findings about social concerns in Walukuba and inviting them to relevant events.
Collaborator Contribution The Council has organised performances for members, supported facilitating our work and discussed giving us land and an officer to support our work with abused and vulnerable young women.
Impact Outputs include council attendance at WAW performances, support for waste, education and health initiatives, and offers of on-going support.
Start Year 2015
Description Makerere University 
Organisation Makerere University
Country Uganda 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution we shared with colleagues at Makerere information on our project and methodology for empowering a slum community.
Collaborator Contribution Staff from Makerere taught WAW members Basoga dance and drumming.
Impact WAW members have gained local dance and drumming skills. Makerere students and staff have had access to learning about our approach to making community arts.
Start Year 2017
Description Slum Women's Initiative for Development (SWID) 
Organisation Slum Women's Initiative for Development
PI Contribution We have had extensive discussions with this local NGO about our approach to community empowerment.
Collaborator Contribution SWID have spoken to WAW members about practical steps to women's agency, particularly in relation to housing, and have helped a number of women members with advice on social and abuse issues.
Impact Outcomes have been at a personal level with individual women supported in particular problems by advice from SWID.
Start Year 2015
Description Showing of films and plays produced in Malawi and Uganda and discussions resulting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Our performances all have engagement elements where audiences can either discuss what they have seen, or in the forum piece directly intervene in the action. Our performances in walukuba had reached some 400 people, in Budondo around 100, in Domasi 100 and 100 at Chancellor College.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017