Understanding participatory photo mapping & research with young people

Exploring an integrated method for health and place research with young people

A great first step in understanding the EDL is to dissect the methodologies behind our research. Perhaps most notably, many of our studies involving children and their environment often use participatory photo mapping (PPM), a method designed by Dr. Sam Dennis to increase social capacity for addressing health disparities. Finding the connections between place and health can be complex, and requires quantitive and qualitative information. PPM works to find that balance.

A growing body of research has demonstrated the extent to which specific aspects of the built environment are associated with specific health outcomes. Although the term ‘‘built environment’’ varies in its usage, we use it here to refer to all formal and informal outdoor and indoor spaces that are planned, designed, built, or managed by people, and that is made meaningful through everyday lived experience.

What is participatory photo mapping? 

PPM is an integrated box of tools, and has three main components:

  • participatory photography
  • photo-elicitation interviews
  • public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS)

PPM combines these strategies through the analysis of a comprehensive set of images, narratives, and other qualitative data produced by participating community residents. Using handheld GPS units, qualitative data is linked to specific locations, which turns experiential data into spatial data. Geographic information systems (GIS) is the final framework for mapping, tracking, and analyzing compiled data. Such a wide variety of data collection allows for the most robust understanding of a community, as well as its needs.

Highlighting lived experience

The participatory tradition of PPM—community participation—ensure that PPM incorporates the insights and desires of community residents in every stage of the process. Its success is built on evaluations of community-based participatory research (CBPR) practices recommending that people are involved in:

  • generating data about their own lives
  • interpreting data and highlighting multiple or conflicting interpretations
  • presenting results to decision-makers
  • developing and participating in specific actions
  • evaluating outcomes and improving future efforts.

Community involvement allows people to emphasize issues that they think are important in terms of public health, which may not be the same as what researchers or practitioners believe to be important. This research enables transdisciplinary, community-based health partnerships to produce shared practical knowledge.

“More trees, please!”

Who has a seat at the table when it comes to design? It’s not always been clear, or equitable. PPM provides space for new voices to be heard, especially younger community members. Shouldn’t the community’s youth get a say in the green spaces they’re making use of most?

PPM combines participatory photography, community mapping, and lived experience interviews to capture both the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of people’s experience of place and health.

If you’re looking to learn more about the application and utility of PPM, peruse Sam’s 2008 publication below. The resultant maps from a study in Madison, Wisconsin were used as persuasive presentation tools and provided guidance for community-based interventions. PPM has been a fantastic foundation for our research that followed the original paper’s publishing.

Participatory photo mapping (PPM): Exploring an integrated method for health and place research with young people

The EDL’s partnership with the Bruce Guadalupe Community School in Milwaukee, WI, is a great example of community work with young people by using PPM. Check out the details of our project HAPPY here.

Article by Nina Johnson

Read the full article at: https://edl.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/180/2022/07/PPM-HealthPlace-article-1.pdf