Using photovoice to engage participants in qualitative data collection

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By Ranjani Paradise

A camera
My Camera. Paul Reynolds, 2006, (Flickr).
Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Here at ICH, we do a lot of qualitative data collection as part of our research projects, program evaluations, and needs assessments. While we often use traditional methods such as interviews and focus groups, we also use photovoice as a creative and fun alternative to traditional qualitative data collection approaches.

What is photovoice?

Photovoice is a method that originally came from the world of participatory action research. It was first used by Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris in 1992 to empower women in a rural Chinese village[1] and is now used to explore myriad topics in a variety of fields. With photovoice, participants take photos to represent their perspectives about a particular issue, and the photos are used to stimulate discussion, reflection, and action.

What are some of the unique advantages of photovoice?

Photovoice is a great method for engaging participants and creating a safe space for open discussion. In our experience, photovoice can help you:

  • Empower participants and give them a unique mode of expression
  • Catalyze dialogue and reflection about personal and community issues
  • Understand issues from others’ points of view
  • Share participants’ stories in a compelling, visual way with leaders, policymakers, or others

How have we used photovoice at ICH?

At ICH, we have used photovoice as part of our evaluations of several programs, including:

  • GRO: A gardening program for immigrant and refugee families in the Boston area
  • Pathways to Family Success: A program for immigrant parents in Cambridge, MA to help them better understand the U.S. school system and support their children’s education
  • Young Men Matter Too!: A sexual health program for young men of color in Springfield and Holyoke, MA

As you can see, photovoice can be used to explore many different topics with many different populations!

Photo from the GRO photovoice project
Photo from the GRO photovoice project

“I took this picture because this man was walking in the street and smelled the basil. He said that every time he pass by he smells the nice smell of the basil and he needs this green. He likes this green.”
Photo credit: Amina Osman, Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center

Want to learn more?

For a great introduction to the photovoice method, check out Caroline Wang’s paper entitled “Photovoice: A Participatory Action Research Strategy Applied to Women’s Health” (Journal of Women’s Health 8(2), p. 185-192, 1999).
ICH will be presenting our second photovoice webinar in the spring of 2017, which will include a practical, step-by-step guide to conducting photovoice projects. Here’s what participants had to say about our first photovoice webinar, which we presented last spring:

“It was a very informative and well conducted webinar. Thank you so much!”

“The webinar was well organized and informative.”

“It was useful and well presented.”


We hope you’ll join us for the 2017 webinar – keep an eye on our website for more information in the coming months!!

[1] Wang, C., & Burris, M.A.. Chinese Village Women as Visual Anthropologists: A Participatory Approach to Reaching Policymakers. Social Science & Medicine, 42, p. 1391-1400, 1996.