CoE Articles

Participatory Visual Methods can contribute to Food Security research

Published November 26, 2018, by Grace Nkomo and Mologadi Makwela


One of the benefits of this form of research is that the research participants can have a sense of ownership and input into the research

“Participatory Visual Research Methods (PVMs) can help researchers gain deeper and more grounded perspective of the experiences of people who are affected by the topic of their research.”

So said Gill Black from the Sustainable Livelihood Foundation (SLF), during a PVM workshop hosted by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE) on 13 November 2018, in partnership with Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn).

The workshop was aimed at facilitating a conversation about the potential for PVMs to be used in research about food insecurity and related issues. “Our hope is that food security researchers will gain a broad understanding of PVMs in order to then consider if these methods might be useful in their own research,” said Dr Camilla Adelle, of GovInn and CoE.

One of the benefits of this form of research is that the research participants can have a sense of ownership and input into the research, as they can be involved from conceptualization to data analysis.

Employing PVMs might help include the missing voices of the food insecure in food security research

Dr Camilla Adelle

PVM’s can include such methods as digital storytelling, photovoice, photography, body mapping and theatre to support creative forms of participation and communication. Participatory approaches enable researchers to conduct research with more open and considered input from their research participants. Visual materials that are created by research participants provide platforms for people who are not accustomed to ‘presenting’ to experts or having their voices heard in academic spaces.

Several PVM practitioners shared the particular methods that they have used and their experiences with this form of research. Using digital storytelling, Pam Sykes showed some of the videos that had been produced about food security and health-related issues, and the powerful response that these videos evoked. For Sykes, PVMs are important tools for advocacy and intervention. “PVMs unsettles who is the expert in the room and makes us take a step back from knowing. They can make us aware that we have blind spots in our research,” she said.

Sharing an example of PVM use in UKZN, Astrid Treffry-Goatley spoke about using PVMs to work with girls dealing with sexual violence. The aim of the project was to learn from the ground up about sexual violence and develop girl-led, meaningful and focused solutions. Approached this way, the project created “visibility” for often silenced voices.

Despite the value highlighted in using PVMs to find solutions to complex social issues, as with other research methods, ethical considerations remain important in undertaking PVMs to ensure due processes are followed and participants are protected. Other ethical considerations include decisions on how to manage the content produced by PVMs, the multiple layers of consent that are often necessary before the information is disseminated and who “owns” the research all need to be thought through.

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