Photovoice: a participatory action research methodology

By September 9, 2020No Comments

Photovoice is a participatory action research methodology that has the potential for empowering participants. It has been used successfully for gender empowerment and holds potential as a methodology for research and evaluation within the social justice evaluation branch and the transformative paradigm.

Photovoice can be used in research and evaluations which aims to make the voices of any marginalized group heard. How the COVID-19 Crisis Shows We Need More Feminist Evaluation. The infographic below provides a summary of the important features of Photovoice and highlights the importance of implementing the method systematically if the desired results of empowerment and social change are to be achieved.

Origins of Photovoice

It’s founded in a history of photographic approaches to auto-ethnography and activism. Photovoice blends a grassroots approach to photography and social action. It builds on Paulo Freire’s methods of empowerment education.



It’s Participatory Action Research…

RESEARCH is aimed at answering QUESTIONS…

Photovoice inquiry is guided by over-arching FRAMING QUESTIONS that focuses the inquiry…

Key Characteristics of Photovoice

  • Active participation by those who would be “research subjects” in traditional research
  • Power relations between researchers and “research subjects” are totally different
  • Ideal for co-creation
  • Makes it possible for beneficiaries or programme implementers to tell their stories through their own experiences
  • Enables people to record and reflect on community strengths and concerns  
  • Honours and values the subjective experiences of people
  • Provides an opportunity for a “community” (e.g. a beneficiary group or work team) to reflect back to themselves
  • Facilitate analytical discussion of social conditions / programme benefits
  • Promote knowledge and critical dialogue about community issues and their impact on individuals

Reach and inform policy makers to bring about change.

Effective PAR requires that all four elements are present. It comes together like this: “Participation by stakeholders in a process aimed at the advancement of knowledge through a systematic research process that results in action for social change on the part of the stakeholders” (Chevalier & Buckles, 2013 in Liebenberg, 2018).

(Source: Liebenberg, 2018: 2)

Photovoice can be used for feminist evaluation – in fact, it was inspired by feminism. It can be empowering, but using Photovoice is not a guarantee for empowerment.

To make Photovoice meaningful, it is essential to follow a systematic process that does not end with the collection of rich narrative data, but which goes further than focusing on discourse. Photovoice goes into “the realm of perception, experience and spatial and embodied ways of knowing the world” (Gubrium & Harper, 2013, p. 71in Liebenberg, 2018 ).

Photovoice process

Source: Liebenberg, 2018: 4

What do you need to do Photovoicing?

Photovoice draws on mechanisms such as photography and collaborative discussion of meaning, that have the potential to face in-depth exploration of lived experience that is often taken for granted.


When doing Photovoice, provide an explanation to participants on HOW photovoice works:

  • What is Photovoice and how does it work?
  • Why are we using this methodology?
  • How will be using the story?
  • Who will be doing it?
  • How will it be done?

The relationship between Photovoice and Social Change

The SHOWED diagram illustrates the relationship between knowledge development and social change:


By Fia van Rensburg


Budig, K., Diez, J., Conde, P. et al. Photovoice and empowerment: evaluating the transformative potential of a participatory action research project. BMC Public Health 18, 432 (2018).

FLIPHLIPHTML5. (n.d.) Activity. Photovoices.

Hannes, K., Parylo, O. 2014. Ethical Considerations from Participants in a Photovoice Research Project. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. Volume 13 Issue 1, February 2014 page(s): 255-274.

Liebenberg, L. 2018. Thinking Critically About Photovoice: Achieving Empowerment and Social Change. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. Volume 17, Issue 1, February 2018.

Simmonds, S., Roux, C., ter Avest, I. 2017. Blurring the Boundaries between Photovoice and Narrative Inquiry: A Narrative-Photovoice Methodology for Gender-Based Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. Volume: 14 issue: 3, 2017, page(s): 33-49