“Photovoice is a visual research method that puts cameras into participants’ hands to (…) [empower] them to document, reflect upon and communicate issues of concern (…) [and] stimulate social change.”
(Budig et al., 2018)
Photovoice is one of many participatory action research methods (PAR) which seek to redistribute power from the researcher to the participants during the research process. Photovoice participants document their experiences by taking photos. These photos are then further discussed in group discussion sessions to explore these experiences in greater depth and eventually formulate actions for social change.
What is the purpose of photovoice?
- to reflect on a community’s strengths and concerns
- to promote critical dialogue about these experiences
- to empower communities to create their own knowledge throughout the research process
- to raise public awareness of community concerns and reach decision-makers to achieve meaningful social change (Wang & Burris, 1997; Community Tool Box, 2022)
Who gets involved in a photovoice project?
The participants in a Photovoice project are also co-researchers who are in control of their own knowledge and how it is used. The researcher takes on multiple roles facilitating discussion, collecting and analysing data, supporting with resources, organising meetings, and helping with and promoting social actions (Jones et al., 2022).
What is the power of photos?
Using photos allows participants to creatively explore aspects of their lived experience beyond verbal or written dialogue. Photos can highlight vivid details about the participants’ daily life which can produce strong emotions in the viewer. This can be particularly impactful when attempting to influence decision-makers as it is hard to deny the existence of problems when seeing them first-hand (Community Tool Box, 2022). Examples of such work is varied and can include:
- evaluating co-produced mental health services
- promoting women’s leadership and political participation in climate change activism
- exploring young people’s experiences of UK adoption and related support
- language barriers and approaches to language learning among refugees and asylum seekers
How is a photovoice project organised?
Photovoice can be organised into the following phases:
Phase 1– Introduction to Photovoice and research ethics
Phase 2– Take photos
Phase 3– Discuss photos
Phase 4– Process photos
Phase 5– Community exhibitions and/or other social actions
While each phase is important, the Discussion Phase (Phase 3) is particularly insightful. It allows everyone involved to better understand the problem and to develop social actions that could meaningfully address it. Such group discussions can be facilitated using the SHOWED method which involves asking the co-researchers:
- What do you See here?
- What is really Happening here?
- How does this relate to Our lives?
- Why does this concern, situation or strength exist?
- How can we become Empowered through our new understanding?
- And, what can we Do?
At the end of the project, participants should feel empowered to share their experiences, advocate for their demands, and work with decisionmakers to bring about meaningful social change to improve their lives.
(Author: Raza Hussain)