Objective: (1) To introduce photovoice, a participatory action research methodology, for use by MCH program managers to enhance community health assessments and program planning efforts, (2) to enable community people to use the photovoice methodology as a tool to record, reflect, and communicate their family, maternal, and child health assets and concerns, and (3) to educate community leaders about family, maternal, and child health issues from a grassroots perspective.
Methods: Photovoice is based upon the theoretical literature on education for critical consciousness, feminist theory, and community-based approaches to documentary photography. Picture This Photovoice project took place in Contra Costa, an economically and ethnically diverse county in the San Francisco Bay area. Sixty county residents of ages 13-50 participated in 3 sessions during which they received training from the local health department in the techniques and process of photovoice. Residents were provided with disposable cameras and were encouraged to take photographs reflecting their views on family, maternal, and child health assets and concerns in their community, and then participated in group discussions about their photographs. Community events were held to enable participants to educate MCH staff and community leaders.
Results: The photovoice project provided MCH staff with information to supplement existing quantitative perinatal data and contributed to an understanding of key MCH issues that participating community residents would like to see addressed. Participants' concerns centered on the need for safe places for children's recreation and for improvement in the broader community environment within county neighborhoods. Participants' definitions of family, maternal, and child health assets and concerns differed from those that MCH professionals may typically view as MCH issues (low birth weight, maternal mortality, teen pregnancy prevention), which helped MCH program staff to expand priorities and include residents' foremost concerns.
Conclusions: MCH professionals can apply photovoice as an innovative participatory research methodology to engage community members in needs assessment, asset mapping, and program planning, and in reaching policy makers to advocate strategies promoting family, maternal, and child health as informed from a grassroots perspective.