The (super)powers of the visual. A summer course

Summer is coming – yes, even in the Netherlands! – and IHE Delft summer courses too (July 30 – August 3), including the one on “Visual methods for water communication”. A few places are still available, and you can register here before June 30. Why going visual? Here’s some answers.

How many brilliant MSc thesis, interesting research findings or relevant projects do go unnoticed simply because we take as end-of-the-job the thesis defense, publication in a scientific journal, or the submission of the final report to the donor? Without a sound communication strategy we might waste the energies we put in our research, or fail in fully exploiting its potential. But even if we include a communication plan in our project, how to ensure that the message does not get lost in the overwhelming flow of texts, sounds and images against which we struggle every day?

The summer course “Visual methods for water communication” aims at offering the basic knowledge and skills to start addressing these issues. This summer it is going to be the second edition. In this video by Roland Postma – one of our trainers – you can watch what happened last year, and listen to the students’ impressions. A word repeats in their comments: power. Students discovered the power of the visual, of storytelling, of eliciting emotions… to summarize “the course was a lot of work but also a lot of fun”!

I am proud that the course inspired one of the students, Cristina Pinto, from Ecuador, to make a documentary to present her research on the 1995 high water and evacuation in The Netherlands. You can read more about her work and watch “Once in a life-time. A story on living with water from the Dutch perspective” in another post of this blog .

This year the students will combine different visual tools and techniques to create their own video to communicate scientific data and stories about water. In order to do that we will run three workshops: video storytelling with Roland Postma, aerial images with drones with Paolo Paron, and data visualization with Joanne Craven. These techniques will be applied to tell stories about flood risk prevention and management in Dordrecht, where we will have a full day of shooting and interviews, tapping our colleagues Anna Wesselink and Berry Gersonius’ expertise on hydrosocial delta and urban flood resilience. The course will be opened by a Water Movie Night at the Rietveld Theater in Delft on Monday July 29, in collaboration with “Let’s talk about water” film festival. On friday August 3, during the closing event we will watch, comment, and award the videos made by the course participants!

Why are we doing this? And why should you join the course?

First, video can be an effective tool for science communication since it facilitates the link between technical information, stories and emotions, as discussed by Linda Lilienfeld, director of the film festival Let’s talk about water, in this podcast on Nile movies and video documentaries.

Second, video can be a learning tool: in the same podcast you can hear the historian and filmmaker Terje Tvedt disclosing how he himself learned new insights about the Nile while shooting his video documentary “The Nile quest”. This idea is echoed in the experience of our MSc students that, as assignment for the Water Governance module, had to prepare short videos on issues like Sao Paulo water crisis or gendered and professional cultures in the water sector. Reflecting on this experience, they realised that video making went beyond being a simple assessment tool, and proved to be an effective and pleasant learning opportunity.

Third, video can be a powerful research too. Here the association between video and power goes beyond the mere technical property of the video in terms of eliciting emotions and triggering education. As discussed by Maria Rusca – who will also lecture in the summer course –  in a recent article on “Visualizing urban inequalities: the ethics of videography and documentary filmmaking in water research“, the video can  complement more traditional research methods like interviews to better capture inequalities in access to water, it can contribute to reduce power differential between researchers and participants, and trigger social change by outreaching decision makers and wider audiences. Thus through the video we do not only represent society, nature and their interaction. We also have the power to challenge or reinforce the power relations that shapes that interaction, by foregrounding certain realities or by reproducing stereotypes. That’s why we should reflect also on the ethical and political implication of video and filmmaking, because as Spider Man says “With great power come great responsibilities”.

If you feel ready for the challenge and want to explore your superpowers, hurry up and join the summer course by applying here before the 30th of June!


Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Chair group of IHE Delft. He works on water, politics and development in Ethiopia; media, science and water conflicts in the Nile basin; visual research methods. Emanuele hosts the podcast "The sources of the Nile" https://nilewaterlab.org/podcast-the-sources-of-the-nile/

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