Participatory visual methods can be powerful ways to learn from communities or specific groups and to engage those who may be left behind, including people who have trouble communicating. Including approaches such as PhotoVoice and Participatory Video, participatory visual methods provide a space for participants to share their life experiences, knowledge, expertise and barriers to accessing safely managed S&H.
These approaches can help us gain a deeper understanding into how people experience, interpret and respond to their realities. Participatory visual methods enable participants to show as well as tell, and can reveal the contextual, emotional and dynamic aspects easily missed by other methods. They are also useful for exploring topics which are difficult to discuss.
The group dynamic helps deepen understanding through interaction, whilst the move back and forth between visual and verbal modes of communication often generates key insights and undercovers ways forward. Importantly, participatory visual methods can equip participants with new skills, establish collaborative relationships and catalyse group action, building participants’ social influence and enabling them to have their voices heard by decision-makers.
The process can empower and support marginalised people to be involved in making decisions which affect them. Further learning is needed to ensure participatory visual methods are always carried out safely and ethically. There can be issues around the ownership of photos and videos, and informed consent from the people in them.
Whilst undertaking these methods, it is also important that our own biases in gathering and analysing data are acknowledged and accounted for. The time-intensive nature of these methods means undertaking at a large scale is unlikely.
However, despite these challenges, visual methods show great promise in providing a voice to the marginalised, developing our understanding of the complexity of lived realities, and acting as a powerful advocacy tool for change.