Dana Harley on Tips for Utilizing Photovoice with Children and Adolescents: Navigating the Institutional Review Board

I am Dana Harley, an Assistant Professor at Northern Kentucky University.  I specialize in child and adolescent mental health and developmental issues, with a focus on participatory action research methods such as, “photovoice.”

Photovoice is a cutting edge research method aimed at uncovering issues, concerns, constructs, or real-life experiences of those who have historically been marginalized or oppressed.  Participants are given cameras and asked to photograph images that represent the particular issue of interest.  This method is very appropriate for use with children and adolescents; however, special precautions and considerations must be managed to successfully acquire Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval.  Special issues of concern include safety, confidentiality, and consenting.  I provide several tips that may assist you in addressing these unique challenges.

Hot Tips:

  • Safety First. Always consider safety first.  The IRB is concerned about children’s safety related to taking photographs.  I conducted a photovoice study with adolescents in a low-income, high crime, and violent neighborhood.  To address the issue of potential safety hazards, I discussed photovoice “safety” with the research participants.  I included information about avoiding taking pictures of illegal activities, crimes being committed, and other potentially dangerous scenarios.  You should compose a script that outlines exactly what you will say to participants when addressing such issues.
  • Confidentiality. Due to the visual nature of photographs, confidentiality is a concern of the IRB.  For example, I received numerous photographs from research participants that included images of people (teachers, parents, siblings etc.).  It is conceivable that such images could have been linked back to particular individuals participating in the study. Although this issue is almost unavoidable in some photovoice projects, it is important not to publish photographs of research participants themselves.  You MUST explicitly indicate to the IRB that you will not publish images of actual research participants.
  • Consenting. Once your research participants have their cameras in hand, it’s important that they obtain consent to photograph other individuals.  IRB’s are especially critical of this process, since minors are attempting to acquire consent from adults and potentially other minors.  Having research participants obtain verbal consent to photograph other individuals is the best way to manage this issue.   It is important to provide a script that outlines exactly what the research participants will say to obtain verbal consent.

Rad Resources:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


2 thoughts on “Dana Harley on Tips for Utilizing Photovoice with Children and Adolescents: Navigating the Institutional Review Board”

  1. Iam a Director of an organization which works with children children and youth living with disabilities and we would like to use photo voice as an activity

  2. Hi Dana,

    I’m a researcher and adjunct faculty at UMass Boston who is trying to put together a PhotoVoice project. My issue is that I need to raise awareness of my community partners about doing this type of research, which includes four schools. Have you used PowerPoint to present PhotoVoice? If so, what information did you present? Also, what experience do you have navigating the IRB?

    Your input is much appreciated!


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