This blog post shares the exchange between a photovoice practitioner and Maria Paiewonsky, EdD, a long-time facilitator of remote or virtual photovoice projects, and a program manager at the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMASS Boston. See our YouTube channel for a recording of Maria’s PhotovoiceWorldwide community webinar on remote photovoice, for further inspiration and tips.

For researchers who are committed to using Photovoice techniques because of the participatory and collaborative nature of this work, the pandemic and the necessary precautions to shelter in place and interact with others sparingly makes it hard to envision how to implement a photovoice project.   However, with some additional considerations, it is possible to implement Photovoice methods. It just takes some additional planning, some considerations for technology and collaboration with partners.

Here are some questions and answers from a recent exchange about planning for a Photovoice project that might spark some ideas for individuals who are considering facilitating a Photovoice project remotely.

What about using digital storytelling applications like VoiceThread?
Voicethread can be a great tool to use because it allows invited participants to upload their own images onto a project VoiceThread and then comment on others’ contributions.  There can be a few glitches to get everyone logged on to Voicethread so it is helpful to do a trial run with a few colleagues. For instance, remember to invite participants to a ‘thread’ so that everyone has joined the same project VoiceThread.  Once the participants have joined the thread, it is a nice way to share and comment on each other’s  contributions. Activating a group VoiceThread, rather than just responding to one, does require a subscription. There are several different kinds including K-12, Higher Education and Business accounts.

Other free digital applications that can be used for participants to upload and share photos includes Googles Slides and Dropbox. The key to using any of these tools is providing clear directions about how to prepare photos for uploading by labeling the photo file, and directions about how to navigate to the platform- whichever one is selected. Screenshots of each step are very helpful to the user.  

Is there a recommended number of participants to invite to a Photovoice project when you are doing it remotely?
There is no specific limitation on the number of individuals you can invite to participate in a remote Photovoice project but if you are planning on multiple groups, consider small groups of even 3-5 participants per group. Consider the shear amount of data you could potentially have- multiple photos per participant, interview transcripts, captions for selected photos, and your own field notes.  It definitely adds up to a lot of data. One suggestion is to limit each group to 8-10 participants.

Is it possible to plan for both synchronous and asynchronous photovoice discussions to promote ongoing discussion even after live discussions?
Absolutely plan for asynchronous discussion about photos after live or web conference meetings. This not only allows individuals to participate if they missed an in-person or web meeting, but it is also gives participants multiple ways to discuss and further reflect on their photos. This can really add value to the discussions.

Are there any online forums for discussions about experiences with Photovoice (particularly virtual and asynchronous Photovoice)?
There are a number of Photovoice researchers who are interested in adopting remote research strategies to keep up their work. Two suggested resources are:

  1. PhotovoiceWorldwide: http://www.photovoiceworldwide.com
  2.  Innovative Social Research Methods: https://www.facebook.com/groups/333716010504710.

Regarding the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process for Photovoice projects that results in a collaborative result, will IRB reviewers accept a general description of the final product that leaves it open for definition, or do researchers have to suggest what the final project or activity will be?
Explaining in the IRB protocol that Photovoice research is founded on participatory action research principles is important. It will be important to highlight how participatory and iterative the photovoice process is and  highlight some examples of how others have presented the work in the public presentation phase. Suggest that whatever way the participants choose, you will follow the same principles of consent, etc.

What specific training considerations should I take into account if I am preparing a remote Photovoice project that involves training a facilitator to help implement the process?
Be clear in your overview of the project with facilitators what the intent of the work is and be clear that you want their support to facilitate a photovoice process that will promote the voice of participants with  direct experience to share their stories with photos and discussions.

Can you share any tips about preparing the consent forms?
Tip #1: In your consent form, be sure to include a statement acknowledging the potential risk of participation. This may include the participant’s unanticipated feelings about sharing their experiences or hearing  the reaction of others to their contributions.  State that at any time they are able to withdraw from the study but also that steps will be in place to mitigate discomfort (e.g., anonymity, or grouping findings by themes, etc)

Tip #2: Identify a way that you can build in a few project advisors who can review participant findings and determine if anything seems unduly risky for sharing.

Tip #3: Be clear how you as the facilitator will use the work.

Tip #4: Be clear in your IRB protocol that Photovoice and community-based research is collaborative. Clear roles and responsibilities of each member are stated ahead of time before and  that after consent is given, the coordinator will continue to facilitate a checks and balances to be sure that all individuals- facilitators and participants- are supported.