Case #2287.0

Through a New Lens: Physicians for Human Rights’ Photovoice Research with Kenyan Survivors of Sexual Violence

Publication Date: June 12, 2024
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In 2022, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a US- and Kenya-based non-governmental organization, was eager to evaluate the impact of a multi-year project to improve mental health services for survivors of sexual violence in Kenya. In doing so, they intended to build on an existing partnership with the Survivors of Sexual Violence in Kenya Network (SSVKenya), a Nairobi-based advocacy coalition. In consultation with survivor-partners, PHR selected a method called photovoice, a lesser-known qualitative research methodology in which participants use photography to document an issue of concern in their community, then analyze the images as data in a group setting and generate solutions to address the problem. This study design centered the survivors’ perspectives without asking them to recount their personal stories, presenting a lower risk of retraumatization than commonly used methods such as interviews or surveys. The case and video supplements describe the team’s experience using photovoice, which required PHR researchers to cede significant control over the study. Their survivors became full research partners, prompting PHR to make significant adjustments to the research protocol. The photovoice study culminated in a report and comprehensive set of recommendations, coauthored by all of the survivor-partners involved in the study, and a photo exhibition attended by local officials and policymakers in Nairobi. The case and two video supplements feature interviews with two PHR researchers and an SSVKenya survivor-partner, and also include examples of the photos and voice memos collected during the study.

Learning Objectives:
This case discussion asks students to grapple with the ethical and logistical challenges of a collaborative inquiry process. Specifically, students will:

  • Compare photovoice to other qualitative methods (focus groups, interviews, etc.) and gauge when such research methods might be appropriate to use;
  • Assess the tradeoffs associated with participatory action research (PAR) methods such as photovoice, including:
    • Exploring when, how, and why researchers can effectively cede control;
    • Evaluating the ethical merits of conducting research in co-equal collaboration with community members, highlighting the principles outlined in the Belmont Report;
    • Consider the challenges and opportunities of using non-traditional qualitative data to advance action by policymakers.

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
Bethany Romano
Video Producer:
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Faculty Leads:
Dara Kay Cohen, Liz McKenna
Pages (incl. exhibits):