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Research methods for people-centred health systems: Photovoice

Future Health Systems

By Jeff Knezovich, FHS Policy Influence and Research Uptake Manager, Institute of Development Studies

In our previous blog post introducing how FHS approached the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, we highlighted the thematic focus of the symposium is 'people-centred health systems'.

FHS has been working for some years to put people first when it comes to health systems, whether it be through understanding how people actually use new technologies, such as in our project on health information seeking behaviour in Bangladesh, or working with communities in Afghanistan to rate and improve their health services through community scorecards.

But putting people at the centre of health systems also means finding different research approaches to studying health systems strengthening. We're profiling a few methods during the symposium. And today's focus is on photovoice.

A bit about photovoice

Photovoice is a visual research methodology through which people can represent, and enhance their community by photographing their daily lives and the lives of those around them. It is a qualitative and participatory research method that aims to capture what occurs when researchers are not necessarily present. 

Following a range of trainings – on how to use digital cameras, how to approach a picture subject, and getting people’s consent – study participants use the cameras provided to them to capture photographs and moments that are relevant to the research study. These photos are then discussed, often in a group, to highlight particular photos and to explain their particular relevance to the topic at hand. In many cases, these photographs then also serve as a key part of the communication strategy of the research project.

How FHS has employed photovoice

Although this is a relatively new approach for us, The Future Health Systems consortium has already used the photovoice technique in two of our focus countries: Uganda and India.

In Uganda, as part of the FHS young researcher grant, David Musoke worked with select youth in a community in rural Uganda to document issues related to maternal and childhood health in the community. Study participants used the cameras provided to them to capture aspects and situations in their community where youth can contribute to improving maternal health for a period of five months. Monthly meetings were held between the youth and research team to discuss the photos and to identify collectively emerging themes and areas for action. See the Uganda photovoice slideshow below, or download the booklet, to see some of the results.

In India, researchers worked with women's groups in the Indian Sundarbans of West Bengal to document the interplay between climate, health and resilience there. The focus remained mainly on maternal and newborn health. The participants mainly sought to capture images that explain how a changing climate affects their daily livelihoods, barriers that exist to accessing health services, and ways that locals are adapting to these challenges. The results are available for download in our FHS India photovoice booklet and for viewing in the slideshow below.

Giving photovoice a try at HSR2014

On Thursday, 2 October 2014, FHS invited participants at the Symposium to take pictures with Instagram and Twitter and to tag them with #HSG2014PV, #HSR2014PV or #HSR2014. These were collected via Evenstagram to form our own snapshot of the Symposium for the day.

You can review the photos below or online. Let us know which ones are your favourite and why!