NA TIG Week: Saying It Visually! Participatory Photography for Needs Assessment and Asset Mapping by Madhawa “Mads” Palihapitiya

Hi! I’m Madhawa “Mads” Palihapitiya, Associate Director of the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration at UMass Boston. Since 2015, I’ve been using participatory photography for needs assessment and asset mapping with “at-risk” youth in Boston and its suburbs.

Hot Tip: PhotoVoice is a participatory research method used successfully as a participatory needs assessment approach to record and reflect on needs and assets; promote dialogue for sense-making  (SHOWeD), and to influence policy-makers, sponsors and funders.

Hot Tip: Asset/Capacity-building and needs assessment have been antagonistically juxtaposed until the creation of a hybrid framework.

I consider images as data.  I use DSLR cameras to build photography skills among youth, develop a digital narrative of the project and its impact, and use SHOWeD for sense-making. I typically conduct participatory photography after a particular “intervention” to assess program implementation and impact. I use participatory photography to assess needs and assets to help communities address those needs, and to build the capacity of existing assets. The most recent assessment was funded by the Association for Conflict Resolution and the JAMS Foundation and was titled: Youth Conflict Resolution Skill-Building: Creative Approaches to Positive Youth Development, which focused on leaving the youth with the skills necessary to positively manage conflict; to help them identify issues in their community; to see themselves and other community members as assets; and to advocate for their community, and impact public policy.

Of the 20 youth who participated in the conflict skill-building training, 16 enrolled in the participatory photography assessment, which were co-facilitated by me and Graduate Researchers Kristal Corona and Prince Moungembou. The youth were between the ages 14-19 (grades 8-12). Many of them had never handled a DSLR camera before.

The participatory photography assessment was critical, as the surveys had fallen well short of expectation. In the post-session surveys, the youth demonstrated only a very slight statistical increase in their ability to deal with conflict. On average, pre and post training surveys showed only a 0.4 increase in their comfort in dealing with conflict, and only a 0.1 increase in their ability to deal with conflict. The participatory photography assessment uncovered many more variables affecting targeted project outcomes. The process helped us map existing community assets and community needs.

Some of the photo-elicited community issues that were identified included community needs such as gentrification, racial issues, poverty, mental health and homelessness.

Figure 1: PhotoVoice Mapping Results

PhotoVoice Mapping Results

Figure 2: Asset and Needs Mapping

Asset and Needs Mapping


Below are some of the key assessment results:

  1. Youth built creative skills and gained a voice to narrate their experiences and self-competence by learning to operate a camera.
  2. Youth employed photographic techniques, and became knowledgeable about issues concerning safety, photography ethics, and consent before setting out to take pictures.
  3. Youth-led SHOWeD sessions helped youth use their own photos to identify community needs and assets.
  4. Presentation of needs and identification of assets through youth participation and empowerment reached a wider stakeholder group, including policy-makers, sponsors, funders and local communities for youth-focused policy and programming.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Needs Assessment (NA) TIG Week with our colleagues in the Needs Assessment Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NA TIG members. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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