NVivo Blog

Using Photovoice With Community-Based Participatory Research

Written by Stacy Penna, Ed. D.
April 15, 2020

We interviewed Jim Cockell, who is part of a research team in the Faculty of Nursing at the University Alberta. The research team works with photovoice, a community-based participation research modality, in their participant action research projects that have participants document the challenges and opportunities of a preceptorship in rural care settings. 

Understanding Photovoice

Photovoice, a visual methodology used in qualitative research, is a way of combining words and photos together to express and document the desires, needs and problems of a community is a visual methodology.

In the interview, Jim adds that photovoice is a community-based participation research modality, which began in the mid-1990s. Two American researchers, Carolyn Wang and Maryann Burrus, developed it as a way of documenting the experiences of marginalized communities or people who didn't otherwise have a research voice. That was the beginning of the method and since then it has become a fairly mainstream research method amongst academics and NGOs.

>> Listen to the Podcast to Learn More About Photovoice

Jim’s research team comprises Principal Investigator, Dr Olive Yonge, Co-investigators - Dr Deirdre Jackman, Dr Florence Myrick, Dr Jill Konkin, and Research Assistants: Jim Cockell, Kyra Cusveller, Grace Miazga, and Samantha Semler. The team uses photovoice as one of their key methods in collecting participant data. The method was used in one of the team’s studies, 'We have to drive everywhere': Rural nurses and their precepted students." Rural and Remote Health, 19(3). Yonge, O., Jackman, D., Luhanga, F., Myrick, F., & Oosterbroek, T., & Foley, V. (2019).

The methods involving photovoice included the team’s recruitment of seven senior nursing students and five nurse preceptors. Seven rural acute and community care sites, between 42 km and 416 km from the students’ primary place of study, were covered by the study. The participants were asked to collect photographic and qualitative interview data from participants over 10 weeks.

The analysis involved having the students document their experiences in photographs; to share and discuss these images as a group; and to author brief narrative accounts exploring the underlying themes.

How Did Participants Analyze the Photos and Identify Themes?

Based on their work with photovoice, the research team found three key forms of output from their research, which assists them with the publishing, advocacy and learning benefits for the students in the nursing program.

Forms of Output When Using Photovoice With Research

Scholarly Findings
One form of output is their scholarly findings. They can present at conferences and publish in peer reviewed journals reaching other academics.

Creating Advocacy
The second form of output is around creating advocacy. Their student participants are creating quite compelling and beautiful stories. By posting these pieces online, the research helps advocate for rural placements at rural health care sites that have a shortage of nurses.

Photovoice creates visibility of the research to reach policymakers in a much more compelling way than through published scholarly articles. Photovoice can move the needle with policy makers, to reach students and educators, because these are the people who have a big impact on the world of rural health care.

Participant Learning Benefits
The third form of output includes the learning benefits for the participants themselves. Their participation in collecting the data for photovoice nicely complements the student activities they do in their health care rotations. Since preceptorship is all about experiential learning and engaging in the practice of health care, the data collection is a kind of experiential learning and really adds to the preceptorship process.

Compared to any of the other kinds of research work that the team has done, Jim says he can't think of any other method that yields as much output for the amount of input it takes to collect and analyze the data.


James Cockell, BA (Hons), MA is a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Nursing. Jim began his career as a professional orchestra musician with the Edmonton Symphony. In his academic work, he has co-authored two full-length monographs, comprising ethnographic and photovoice research, Through Their Own Eyes. His qualitative research experiences include fieldwork across Alberta involving health care ethnography, qualitative interviewing, photovoice, digital storytelling and focus groups. He has done extensive coding and thematic analysis using NVivo and traditional coding methods.To learn more about the research team’s work on photovoice visit https://www.ualberta.ca/nursing/research/research-units/rural-preceptorship/index.html.

Stacy Penna, Ed.D

Stacy, the NVivo Community Director, has combined her educational and research experience with her work in the software industry and is delighted to be supporting and building a wider research community. Stacy earned a doctorate in education using NVivo for both her literature review and qualitative research. She has worked at QSR International for 10 years and is committed to progressing qualitative research.



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