Laura Sirabella (Ulster University)

(United Kingdom)
Topic: Challenges and opportunities of visual methods in research across cultures: exploring the validity of body maps and online photo-elicitation interviews
Language: English 


This presentation draws from the experience of two research projects carried out by an Italian researcher in Uganda. The first project was aimed at examining participation of young women supported by a local NGO in the promotion of sexual and reproductive health rights in suburban areas of Kampala. The second one was aimed at exploring the role of NGOs in translating the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of reproductive health in Uganda. The researcher utilised visual methods such as body maps during focus groups for the field work held in Uganda in 2019 and online photo-elicitation interviews for the online data collection held in 2021.
Visual methods are considered as an effective and acceptable method for qualitative research and are becoming more widely used in multiple disciplines. They are useful to engage people during research and they allow exploring some aspects that could remain uncovered with more traditional interview guides. The body map tool consists of asking participants to draw a body map and, in this case, the aim was to use body parts to explore different aspects of how young women participated in the realisation and promotion of sexual and reproductive health rights; for different body parts, aspects connected to that part were written down. Photo-elicitation is a technique which involves using one or more visual images in an interview and then asking participants to comment on the visual images used. The utilised format here was “participants driven semi-structured”, whereby the researcher provided participants with a set of questions and asked them to seek relevant photographs that aligned with the questions.
Both methods have advantages and disadvantages that have been examined in the literature. This paper wants to address the challenges, propose possible solutions and inspire opportunities to do social work research that involve diverse people and institutions.