Sharing Our Future/Partager Notre Avenir is an experiment in rural, grassroots participatory communications. It is happening in 12 communities in Newfoundland, Canada.

The Place

Newfoundland has only been a Canadian province for 52 years. Before 1949 all Newfoundlanders entering Canada had to pass through the scrutiny of immigration and customs.

In 1949 Newfoundland was a British colony with a standard of living roughly comparable to a Mediterranean country, such as Greece or Portugal.

The history of the island of Newfoundland is about fishing. Portugese and Basques fished the Grand Banks six hundred years ago. During the colonial era, schooners transported loads of salt fish to Europe and the Caribbean. The French retained the fishing rights of western Newfoundland until 1904.

Traditionally people settled on the island in small, isolated fishing villages. Boats were the means of transportation and many communities were only connected by roads in the 1960s and 1970s.

The road across Newfoundland is more than 900 kilometres; it is the tenth largest island in the world. The population is less than 600 thousand.

One could argue that the history of Newfoundland is also a story of exploitation. The rich natural resources of the island continue to be taken away by Europeans, Americans and Canadians. The forests, slow to regenerate in this northern climate, are being clearcut for the "foreign-owned" pulp and paper industry. Environmentalists warn there is less than five years of wood remaining. The province still produces 80 per cent of the iron ore of Canada; Newfoundland is dotted with communities trying to survive the closure of ravaged mines.

The capital city, St. John's, is now benefiting from offshore oil development but

Rural Newfoundland is at risk because of the closure of the cod fishery - caused by corporations - more the most part externally owned - overfishing with inappropriate technology.

Many people are leaving rural Newfoundland - especially young people. The challenge is now to find ways to remain and develop new ways of life. The challenge is not only economic but political and social. Some people would argue that government policy is to favor "growth centres" over rural communities while the mainstream media fosters attitudes of inferiority among rural peoples.

The Evolution

The participatory grassroots communications methodology of Sharing Our Future/Partager Notre Avenir has been evolving in Newfoundland for almost forty years.

In 1967 Memorial University's Extension Service and the National Film Board collaborated on a film project designed to convey the collective voice (in analysis and dialogue) of the people of Fogo Island.

As an early attempt to humanize communications technology, principles were established, such as the need for a sensitive film crew and the "approval screening" - where participants in the films were given the opportunity to judge if the films actually represented what they wanted to say.

The films, largely unedited, were used in part to carry the "voice" of the people to decision makers.

Today, "the Fogo Process" is known globally in adult education and participatory communications circles, thanks in great part to the work of the Don Snowden Centre. (In 1995, MUN closed the centre and it has been resurrected by the University of Guelph in Ontario.)

In 1979 the Extension Service (and its media unit) began to experiment with a television transmitter in rural communities. The experiments evolved to become phone-in community forums on local issues and needs. Typically the projects began with discussions between field workers and community representatives, which resulted in the media unit bringing in a producer and technicians to pre-tape programming and produce live television in a community hall. There was delivery of information to the community and an opportunity for residents to dialogue and plan the future. Local people appeared on-camera, operated cameras and provided cultural input.

Between 1983 and 1989, there were 11 transmitter projects focusing on public discussion of particular issues facing rural communities. But by the end of the 80s, there was a shift from media technology to popular education - the people took control of the technology.

The reasons were financial - the media unit had been eliminated and extension could no longer afford professional technicians; technological - the proliferation of local cable systems meant the technology was already in the community and could be tapped, and philosophical - popular education methodology meant "we have no media experts but rather co-participants sharing in a communication/education experience. We don't teach but rather create learning situations and popular education resource materials."

We are all conditioned by our life-long experience as passive recipients of information from media and educational institutions. Therefore it requires a major effort to understand why it is futile to expect communication or education to effect a positive change unless the people themselves perceive the process as meeting community needs and being "from here."

By 1989 MUN extension workers perceived that a danger of using, for example, video in a community is the technology is often wielded by outsiders. Such experiments, however well intentioned the motive, can provide a focus which runs contrary to the needs of the community. Furthermore, they can be "one-shot deals" with no positive sustainable effects.

It is essential that people do their own media. This not only ensures ownership of the process, but in itself develops self-confidence, self-reliance and pride. Using the tools of technology, the communities take control of their own learning process. Then, from a position of self confidence and control, the community can meet with external agencies and facilitators to design programs which meet its needs and coincide with its aspirations.

In 1991 Memorial University closed the entire Extension Service including the rural field offices.

In 1993 the Community Education Network sponsored a community forum process in five rural (Francophone and Anglophone) communities on the Port au Port Peninsula in western Newfoundland. The purpose of the project was to inform the people of Port au Port about community education but, more importantly, involve them in the planning process.

A report on the project by Ryakuga Inc., "You Don't Even Have to Phone Long Distance", included comments made the week after the five community forums.

Cecilia Bennett, Piccadilly, said she realized what it is to be a Newfoundlander. "It made me feel as if I had been away from Port au Port for a long time and I just came back." (Local television is an effective way of mirroring the experience of the participants, as well as legitimizing their experience.) Annette Ryan, Port au Port, said it was important that not someone "from the city" but "our own people" were expressing themselves. "We realized we have similar problems," she said. Robert Cormier, Cap St-Georges, thought "the technical setup was excellent" and the "people were comfortable" with the medium. Mark Felix liked the involvement of young people. "Such a resource for the future," he said. (Youth often take control of the technology; this has many benefits for the community.) Michelle Jesso appreciated "the fact that it was an opportunity for the community to actually have a voice." (All the voices is an important concept globally in participatory communications.)

In 1995 the Community Education Network, the Ramea Economic Development Corporation, L'Association Régionale de la Côte Ouest, Human Resources Development Canada, the Rural Newfoundland and Labrador Cultural Survival Project and volunteer committees in Lourdes, Burgeo, Ramea and the francophone communities, joined together to begin a process called the Communiquer Pour Survivre/Communication for Survival initiative.

This process was based on the premise that constructive dialogue and communication are the key to the ability to work together to plan for a better future. The Communiquer Pour Survivre/Communication for Survival initiative was designed to be a collaboration between sponsors, community partners, participants and initiators. It promotes the sharing of experiences and plans within and between communities.

The communication initiative focused on small format video and community controlled television, as a tool for exploring and promoting the Newfoundland and Labrador way of life and mobilizing communities to solve their own problems.

However, the communities also used a wide variety of grassroots communication tools - such as newsletter; community radio; black and white photography; posters; brochures; videoletters; problem-oriented skits, and community television. Some activities included live phone-in public meetings on community cable television systems; students videotaping interviews, "streeters" and cultural events; community round tables; workshops on group development; students producing videodramas to send to other communities; forming black and white photography groups; volunteers producing posters and brochures to publicize local events and festivals; volunteers transforming a development corporation newsletter into a community newsletter; volunteers assisting a colleague to produce a regional newspaper, and regional steering committee meetings of volunteers to discuss common issues and strategies.

Training, combining formal programs with hands-on activities, involves much more than acquiring new technical skills in video and television production. Also highlighted were skills of communication required by individuals and groups committed to their communities; ways of working in teams planning common goals, and developing skills and strategies for getting community involvement in survival projects.

There are no technicians in this process - it is participatory. Resource people work mostly with youth and women in the communities - participants are students; itinerant farm workers; housewives; teachers; fishermen; unemployed fish plant workers; union officers, small business operators and so on.

Trying to ensure that as many people as possible participate in the community communication process is a priority of Communiquer Pour Survivre/Communication for Survival. All the voices was an essential component of grassroots communication. But it's not easy. Ordinary people are not used to being asked to speak publicly on issues and, when they do, nobody listens.

Similarly, how to involve the community-at-large and organizations within the community is, quite simply, a matter of life and death for the rural communities of western Newfoundland. As elsewhere, the volunteers who are leading the struggle are facing complete burnout as government support is being withdrawn across the board. But, not only that, these people realize that without the support and participation of the community-at-large, current efforts and successes cannot be experienced in depth or be sustainable.

Sharing Our Future/Partager Notre Avenir

Sharing Our Future/Partager Notre Avenir was initiated in 1999 as an Office of Learning Technologies (OLT) Community learning Network - a federal agency. The project is maintained by OLT funding for salaries while other costs are contributed inkind by 25 partners.

Sharing Our Future/Partager Notre Avenir utilizes relatively inexpensive microtechnology - grassroots communications tools already in the community in most cases and readily affordable in others. The purpose of the tools is to share learning and promote networking within the community, between communities locally and within the Atlantic region, as well as establishing communication with expatriate Newfoundlanders.

The tools are small format video and community television; community radio; computer communications using e-mail; web sites; web discussion boards; video conferencing, and webcasts - television and radio.

The project is implemented by local facilitators working with teams of youth (or any interested community members). Each community project is controlled by a local committee.

The design promotes peer learning at the local, regional and national levels. It utilizes technological skill development to further the ability of ordinary people to reflect, analyze and plan for the future of their communities.

The partners have been using local grassroots communications (principally community television forums) both to inform and discuss for more than a decade. We are trying increase the geographic parameters of the discussion using internet tools such as discussion boards and webcasts.

We are using and developing a popular education/experiential approach to learning participatory communication skills in television, radio and computer communications. This is enhanced by the personal development which occurs when ordinary people take control of communications technology and find a voice. Integral to the initiative is the sharing of information on sustainable rural communities as well as developing the survival skills of people who are forced to leave.

As exemplified in the history of the Community Education Network, sou'west Newfoundland has a long history of communities and groups working together for development. This initiative builds on prior experiences, such as the 1993 Port au Port forums, Communication for Survival, Communities in Schools and Long Range Regional Economic Development Board's public consultation.

The community development model of local sharing, discussing and learning through community television forums has proven successful in sou'west Newfoundland. We are now seeking to use emerging internet technology to increase the geographic scope of the model.


  1. Local control: This principle is based on respect for local ways of doing things. For local people to take ownership of a long term community communication process, they must control the technology. We encourage community participation in a grassroots, participatory communication process. The community communication facilitators are local people hired because they are involved in their communities - not because they necessarily have any technical background. The facilitators report to local committees who in turn liaison with the Sharing Our Future steering committee.
  2. Inclusiveness: The basic principle of participatory communications is All the Voices - which we interpret as the right to be heard and the responsibility to speak out. Sharing Our Future supports the concept of participatory democracy. Our process is designed to be intergenerational and inclusive of the whole community.
  3. Youth as a vehicle: One of the biggest problems of our communities is the out-migration of youth to growth centres and far off urban areas. If there is to be a future for these communities, youth must be involved. Typically youth are the community communication volunteers. Youth are not afraid of technology so they become catalyst for the communication process This promotes the pride and self-esteem of both youth and their parents. It also enhances the reputation of youth who are often not respected by older generations.
  4. Collaboration: There are about 25 partners in the Sharing Our Future project. Many of the partners make inkind contributions, such as providing equipment, space, and office resources. The partnership enhances sustainability and is based on the principle of local control.

Sharing Our Future welcomes new partners; to date the coalition includes the Community Education Network; the Long Range Regional Economic Development Board; the Community Access Program; Sir Wilfred Grenfell College; College of the North Atlantic; Ramea Broadcasting; Port au Port Economic Development Association; Bay St. George South Development Association; Association Regionale du Cote Ouest; Cormack Trail School Board; Ramea Economic Development Association; Stephenville Lions; Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador; Burgeo Broadcasting; Communities In Schools Newfoundland; Ryakuga Grassroots Communications: the Avalon Gateway Regional Economic Development Inc. ; Fatima High School (St. Bride’s); Burnt Islands Recreation; St. James School (Lark Harbour); NewTel; the Technology Education Centre; the Marine and Mountain Zone Corporation, and the Humber Economic Development Board.

5. Cultural celebration: In participatory communication jargon, this can be referred to as "positive mirroring" and promoting "pride of place". People are unlikely to analyze their issues and collaboratively plan for the future if they feel inferior. Celebrating local culture helps people develop a positive self identity and promotes self esteem.

Layers of communication

  1. The basis of the Sharing Our Future process is the public discussion of local issues and cultural celebration. The traditional community television public forum, as it has been evolving for 20 years, uses telephone call-ins (or call-outs) with moderated panel discussions. Typically community television is very local and only reaches one remote community. Several communities, Burgeo and Ramea, own their own cable systems. Burgeo has hired community program directors for more than 15 years. The program director works with youth volunteers to produce a mixture of programming, including a weekly news show.
  2. The Sharing Our Future community communication facilitators are required to produce one community forum or one cultural celebration each month. Topics for the forums, not surprisingly, often focus on community economic development and/or youth. Traditionally the topics are quite broad, and might include the scarcity of water or the threatened closure of the local hospital.

  3. We are using internet technology to network the community communication facilitators who work in about 12 communities separated from each other.
  4. We are trying to overcome the sense of isolation often felt by practitioners of community development who are not part of a network.

    Another need is simply how to coordinate and manage a far flung communication project with limited funding. All the facilitators have their own email accounts - usually free internet services such as Yahoo or Hotmail. The coordinator sends requests to the facilitators by email and they ask for support or offer suggestions. We have also set up web discussion boards and the facilitators are required to post once a week. (The "best" discussion boards combine a social and professional focus.) The facilitators also post their monthly reports to the board. One facilitator downloads and edits these reports to send to the community newspaper as a monthly column.

    Sharing Our Future has an extensive website maintained by the coordinator - Ryakuga. But we have been training the facilitators to take control of their own website which is typically hosted by a free service, such as Geocities. Our goal is to develop do-it-yourself website creation on the Ryakuga servers.

    We are distributing information, such as learning guides and promotional posters, as Adobe PDF files on websites. The facilitators can download and print what they need.

    Ryakuga is also producing forms - such as facilitator or community assessments and maps of community communication skills, needs and resources which can be downloaded off the internet.

    The facilitators are located in offices provided by various partners, including rural development associations, schools, town halls and a regional economic development office. The partners also provide the facilitators with internet access (with restrictions due to dialup costs).

    Not all networking requires the internet. We have two conference/training sessions each year for the facilitators and the committees. The meetings are usually held in rural communities. Also the facilitators are encouraged to share programming with other communities.

  5. Sharing Our Future also encourages networking among community development - economic, social, education, health and economic - professionals in the region. This networking is actually part of the mandate of the Community Education Network - which is the sponsoring partner of Sharing Our Future. One of Ryakuga's most popular web discussion boards - more than 1,000 posts - is used by the local coordinators of Communities In Schools Newfoundland.
  6. Another partner, the Long Range Regional Economic Development Board, hosts a list serve for community economic development professionals. Many of the community communications facilitators work closely with the economic development field officers. A central focus of discussion among the Sharing Our Future committee members and the facilitators is the relationship of community economic development and participatory community communications. It was the main topic at the October 2001 facilitators' conference which also included a community roundtable. The economic development board's field officers also attended this event.

    During the current stage of Sharing Our Future, we are making a conscious effort to replicate out side the region. This mean we have a formal process for replication - acquiring local partners who then form a local committee and hire a facilitator. We are replicating in three communities which are at different stages in the process.

    We haven't had great success in forming alliances outside the province. There would seem to be potential but it has to be a facilitated process which would require resources in itself.

  7. Reaching Out to Expatriates:

One of the most interesting aspects of civil society using the internet is how dispersed communities and families are using the medium to strengthen or regain contact. It is said more Newfoundlanders live outside the province than remain at home. We advertise in the national magazine for Newfoundlanders. One of our facilitators maintains Email for Expatriates which is essentially local news and photos which he sends around the world to people who subscribe. He also answers questions.

Providing a link to expatriates was once of the reasons we developed internet radio - for us this means webcasting the audio of community forums and cultural events; this "streaming audio" is also archived on a website.

Mixed Media

The objective of our long term grassroots, participatory communication process is the survival of rural communities and enhancement of the rural way of life.

We believe that supporting a process of public dialogue of community issues; dissemination of local, relevant information, and cultural celebration works toward this objective.

In such a process, a community communication developer simply uses what medium is available and what works. The media are viewed as tools and not the end in itself.

We are not talking actually of broadcasting but rather narrowcasting or pointcasting to a participatory audience which shares many values, including a common way of life.

This is not to suggest there aren't differences, such as conflicting opinions on an issue. This process is often used as an attempt to resolve issues. It is essentially a two way dialogue rather than a medium of delivery of information and entertainment.

Demystification of media is essential in any grassroots, participatory communication process. We use small consumer Hi-8 or DV camcorders in our portable television studio; big cameras threaten people - both the camera operators and the people being interviewed. Similarly, our communication workshops suggest "friendly" ways of conducting interviews.

Professional media is automated and requires as few people as possible. Our methodology is participatory and tries to provide as many jobs as possible. One "tool" in the portable television studio is a board with a large, knife switch attached. The "switcher" watches the monitors to see which camera is live and flips the switch which turns on a light on the appropriate camera. Anybody can do this job.

We have also tried to promote local ownership by substituting local equipment for our own in special community events (in which we participate). This has meant we have actually had to buy equipment - such as modulators - so we can use the local tools instead of our own.

Community television events have been produced using only a consumer camcorder. When you want to play a tape, you simply put a tape in the camcorder and press play.

In Newfoundland participatory communications began with black and white film in the 60s; experiments with black and white video were begun about the same time; in the early 80s university professionals were facilitating public forums in rural communities using a mobile television transmitter, and by the late 80s local community satellite/cable systems were place and we began a popular education process of helping local people organize and produce their own local television.

Ryakuga has facilitated similar community forum/cultural celebrations in the Caribbean using community radio. This medium hasn't been as well used in Newfoundland because of a long and formal licensing process. However, the government has changed policy recently and low power ("training wheel") licences are now available for community groups; Ryakuga also has permission to facilitate special event FM broadcasts using a mobile low power transmitter.

Community radio is becoming more of a viable choice for us because many people are changing to personal satellite dishes instead of cable - also some of our smaller communities haven't been able to convince the cable companies (foreign owned monopolies) to provide access to the cable system. (There's usually a charge for the intitial hookup of the building and a monthly fee - often obtained from television bingo profits.)

So now a ideal Ryakuga-facilitated community communications special event might look like this. Youth volunteers in a local hall use the portable television studio to record the community forum/cultural celebration. The event is broadcast live through the local cable television system and the mobile FM transmitter. People are able to call-in their opinions through the telephone system. The youth also capture stills of the event and FTP them to a website through a dialup modem. On the website, there is also a discussion board so that people anywhere, including expatriates, can voice their opinion. The audio of the event is also webcast through a dialup modem; people anywhere with an internet connection and a multimedia computer can listen to the "streaming" audio. Each special event is different and will include different combinations of tools and media.

It's important to point out that some local communities have developed their own media without external support or community communication facilitation. These communities have developed their own mixed media with "community channel" programs at specific times during the week. The rest of the time, the channel carries recorded music (or a radio station) while local news and public service announcements scroll on the screen.


  1. Best Practices -
  2. Caribbean FM Radio Project -
  3. Evolution of Participatory Communication -
  4. Office of Learning Technologies -
  5. Online tutorials -
  6. Ryakuga QuickTime Radio -
  7. Ryakuga Real Video -
  8. Ryakuga Resource Library -
  9. Ryakuga Interactive Web Discussion Boards -
  10. Sharing Our Future -
  11. Youth, the Environment & the Economy -