BIG STORIES, SMALL TOWNS: a participatory and web-based documentary and exegesis

Author: Martin Potter

Potter, Martin, 2014 BIG STORIES, SMALL TOWNS: a participatory and web-based documentary and exegesis, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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The central area of research for this thesis concerns the most effective techniques for practitioners developing and delivering facilitated participatory media projects for the internet within an institutional setting. Through the development and delivery of a web-based, participatory documentary Big Stories, Small Towns, this study explored the complexity of relationships that underlie media participation within public screen institutions such as national broadcasters and screen culture agencies. This involves key principles of trust, power, motivation, access and agency to assist practitioners in managing participatory processes in media practice. This study was comprised of two parts - a creative component (The project) and a written exegesis. Fifty per cent of the submission for my PhD is comprised of the writing, direction, production and facilitation of Big Stories, Small Towns, which is a web-based participatory documentary, produced in partnership with two public screen institutions, Screen Australia and the Media Resource Centre. The project's main public presentation can be viewed online at An archived version of the first site can be viewed at My accompanying exegesis examines a tradition of documentary production underpinned by participatory practices. The exegesis examines methodologies informed by theories of critical practice to discuss the Big Stories project in the context of the wider literature drawn from media studies, communication for development, visual anthropology and cultural studies. The study explores participatory media activity and identifies examples that have influenced the Big Stories project. The outcomes of the study are substantial and diverse original contributions to research and practice including an original contribution to both web documentary and participatory media practice, re-imagining community-based documentary and oral history practice in a digital, collaborative environment, actively exploring mechanisms for addressing a multi-level digital divide for regional communities, delivering an original project drawing on partnerships with government, non-government and the private sector to create an innovative output, identified by peers as a form of best practice for web documentary, and bringing communication for development ideals to Australian public screen institutions and creating a large archive of this material.

Keywords: participatory media,web documentary,online documentary,big stories,small towns,digital archive,online archive,digital storytelling

Subject: Screen Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2014
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Mike Walsh