360 video: seeing, hearing, feeling

360 video has gradually been adopted by NGO’s and change-makers, looking to use the technology to engage audiences across the globe. The possibilities for increased empathy make it an innovative avenue for those seeking to make change in the world. Here, we take a closer look at the technology’s appeal.

360 video: seeing, hearing, feeling.

A visitor to the World Economic Forum in 2015 could have been forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled into the world of science-fiction. In the Swiss town of Davos – where the world’s most influential investors, politicians and policy-makers meet annually – hundreds of suited men and women sat strapped to chunky visors – breaths held and bodies flinching in the empty air.

Transported from the conference, headsets filled their visual landscape with one quite removed from the one they were sat in. The sights and sounds of the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, home to over 80,000 Syrians fleeing war and violence, seamlessly surrounded them. Alpine snow had been replaced by midday sun. What they were watching was the poignant, Clouds of SidraUNICEF’s first foray into realms of virtual reality.

The film, which follows a 12-year-old girl as she goes about her daily life in the camp, was early evidence of the efficacy of 360 video. The film combines binaural audio recording to engulf the viewer in a range of immersive environments. After screening the project at a recent humanitarian development conference, participants were so moved by the experience that they donated £2.5bn to the fundraising campaign, far surpassing the £1.7bn total predicted.

Clouds over Sidra proved that 360 videos had the potential to a powerful driver for change.

VR lets you be part of the world that you’re trying to understand.

- Oculus, VR for Good.

Leaving lasting impressions.

While 360 video has revolutionized the possibilities for presenting life in a refugee camp or, for example, witnessing domestic abuse, it remains impossible to replicate the reality of living in crisis. Life in Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan may be bearable for a ten-minute period – but endure it day-after-day, month-after-month and the consequences such as depression, malnourishment and anxiety are profound. For those living in these realities, there isn’t the option of removing the headset and walking away.

For Mandy Rose, a researcher of interactivity at the University of the West England, virtual reality and 360video priorities knee-jerk reaction at the expense of reasoned debate, ‘You could argue that more important than creating feelings in the viewer is creating awareness of that structural problem in which refugees, for example, end up crossing the Mediterranean in risky journeys by sea’.

Although the format brings humanitarian issues into people’s direct emotional experience, NGOs would do well to move beyond merely using 360 video as a tool of empathy and instead utilise it as a storytelling device which has the capacity to investigate truth more deeply.

You can watch our own 360 project, produced for UNICEF Sierra Leone here.

More important than creating feelings in the viewer is creating awareness of that structural problem.

Mandy Rose, University West England.


Collaborating with UNICEF Sierra Leone, we travelled to the country’s capital, Freetown, to witness the devastation caused by the country’s 2017 mudslides. Using binaural audio recordings, (which replicates the way a human hears audio) and a GoPro Omni, we followed the story of a mother and her family caught up in the turmoil. The project brought to light to the work UNICEF undertook in rebuilding the lives and homes of those affected.

Binaural audio places microphones in custom-designed ear moulds on a rig which sits the two exactly the same distance as a human head. Because the two microphones are placed at a specific distance apart and because the sound coming into them is shaped by the ear moulds, the sound that is recorded mimics the way humans hear sound. By combining this technique with 360 video, a truly immersive environment is created.

We will be showing the film during the Bond Conference on 18thand 19thMarch 2019 in London. Come and find us and experience the power 360 video for your organisation.

Mudslide 360 is also on our project pages here.

If you are considering producing any of the content discussed in this article, feel free to get in touch for more insight and information.