Ripples of empowerment? : exploring the role of participatory development communication in the Biesje Poort Rock Art recording project.
This research focuses on a rock art recording process as a possible social development project from a Communication for Participatory Development perspective. The study is part of and builds on the wider National Heritage Council-funded Biesje Poort: KhoiSan rock art recording project. The wider project’s overall objective is “to alert and assist the local authority to the presence of a KhoiSan Heritage resource/s in their area of jurisdiction and assist in developing its educational and tourism potential” (NHC/Lange 2010, proposal). One of the project’s secondary objectives is to transfer skills in the recording and representation of the rock engravings and broader cultural landscape via GPS mapping to members of a present day KhoiSan community in the Northern Cape, as well as to young researchers from a variety of educational institutions in South Africa. My research explores and documents the role of participatory communication in the project including its promotion of skills transference, empowerment, and the level of participation amongst all participants. In doing so, the research investigates the dialogue, power relations and research negotiation between members of the multicultural and multidisciplinary research team. Data is gathered via participant observation and face-to-face interviews that is then analysed against participatory development communication principles as outlined in models such as Communication for Participatory Development (Kincaid & Figueroa, 2009), and strategies such as Participatory Action Research (PAR). Findings generated from this study reveal that in spite of all challenges encountered by participants the intended project objectives were met. This study further provides an insight into other possible research outcomes that could be achieved by implementing a participatory communication research with multicultural and multidisciplinary participants. Taking into account the possible influence that this research’s contextual dynamics could have exerted on the outcomes, recommendations have been made that further research be undertaken on a broader scale to provide more definitive evidence of using this approach. Further recommendations are made that dialogue, and skills acquisition or transference, be at the heart of every participatory communication.