Photovoice Project Guidance

Photovoice is a qualitative method of data collection where participants take photographs of some aspect(s) of their lives, environment, or community. The photographs are used as a basis for group discussions and to elicit information about the photographers’ attitudes and beliefs. The degree of risk to subjects in such research depends, in part, on what is photographed. For example, this process may pose the risk of self- incrimination to subjects who photograph themselves taking part in certain activities.

From the perspective of the IRB, the “human subjects” in the research are the research participants who are taking the photographs and then presenting their interpretations in group or other data gathering sessions. If the photographers are minors, then written parental consent for their participation in the research is required, along with assent of the child participant.

Although individuals whose photos are taken are not the subjects of the research, there may be legal requirements for obtaining permission for using their photographs. If the photographers take photos of other people, then written permission to take the photo and use it in the Photovoice project should be obtained, and the following considerations apply:

  1. If the photographed person is under 18 years of age, then written permission to take the photo must be obtained from the child’s parent or guardian.
  2. The information provided to persons being photographed when requesting their permission should include how the photo will or could be used, and whether they will have the opportunity to view the photo before making a final decision about its use.
  3. If the photographs will be published or publicly displayed (such as at a professional meeting or community gathering), the written permission must include information specifically granting permission to publish and/or publicly display the pictures.
  4. Researchers must have a method to link the pictures with the signed permission forms.

Photovoice proposals should include detailed information concerning the training that participants will receive about the following:

  • the types of photographs that they should and should not be taking;
  • the procedures to follow when photographing other people, including obtaining signed permission;
  • the instructions participants will be given concerning ethical considerations and respect for the privacy of others; and
  • the instructions participants will receive concerning maintaining their own personal safety.

In addition to the research protocol and consent documents, the investigator should provide the IRB with copies of the training materials provided to subjects, as well as the photo releases to be signed by those who are photographed.

(This guidance adapted from the University of South Carolina IRB)