Community and social researchers are regularly asked to help funders and organisations understand the depth and breadth of community change which has occurred as a result of their funding and actions. As community action has become more locally-driven, research methods have become more proactive in terms of helping communities and community members capture and understand their contribution in creating community changes.
As a social research company, a growing part of our work is helping communities to notice and record change in their own voices, using methods such as community dinners, Photovoice and impact stories. Working with communities in ways which are respectful and relational is a process which can’t be hurried.
Good things take time, and this is especially true of community work, and community research. Making time to stop and reflect on what has happened is often difficult for people who are constantly doing, doing, doing, yet it is crucial if we are to understand the quality of the intervention and how initiatives can check where they are heading and adapt if necessary.
Understanding change can be a tough journey at times but, if done gently and carefully, is a journey which is worth the effort.
The Manurewa Parenting Hub provides services that support parents as leaders of their family. The Hub operates across six schools in Manurewa, South Auckland, and offers services such as parenting support, learning support, practical sessions (e.g. cooking), budgeting, and fitness. The Hub also runs a highly successful teacher aide programme, which places parents in paid teacher aide positions in local schools.
We are currently working alongside the Hub helping parents to understand and notice change in and for themselves, and to articulate that change in their own voices. One of the key parts of the Hub project is helping a group of seven parents represent themselves through a ‘Photovoice’ project. In its genuine form (i.e. according to Wikipedia), Photovoice is ‘a collaborative participatory methodology in which often-marginalised or disadvantaged participants are supported to generate their own photographic work in order to share lived experiences and present the world as they see it.’ In other words, we’ve given each parent a camera and asked them to use photos to answer two questions: 1, tell us about you as a parent and 2, tell us about your role in and involvement with the Hub, with a particular emphasis on change that has occurred in both of these two areas. It’s a very loose brief, and one which we as researchers are not particularly sure that we could even answer ourselves, but the parents have embraced the concept.
We find Photovoice a particularly powerful method for helping community members capture and understand change. First, it transcends barriers such as language, culture, age and experience. Second, it amplifies the ordinary. Is a photo of a street sign ordinary? Of course it is. Yet, as you can see, the photo of the street sign (pictured) is far from ordinary. Third, it makes people stop and notice things, which is particularly important when we are capturing change. Last, it’s fun and inspiring and a rather nice change from surveying, interviewing and writing.
The Hub project is not the first time we have used Photovoice, and with each iteration we have been able to check, reflect and adapt our process so that it is most suitable for the communities with whom we are working.
The Photovoice process can itself be a form of community intervention, with its own set of impacts and outcomes. Capturing and naming experience, and understanding change, can be a tough journey at times but, if done gently and carefully, is a journey which is worth the effort.