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Community Assessment Using Photovoice

Purpose of Photovoice

Photovoice is a community-based participatory research mechanism used by VCU and the residents of Mosby, a public housing development located in Richmond, Va., to provide youth a voice to express their views about the people, events, and other factors that serve as builders of or barriers to good health in their community and to serve as a vehicle for them to make positive social change.

History of Mosby’s Photovoice Project

Since January 2009, the Mosby Resident Tenant Association and other Mosby community members have participated in a partnership with the VCU CoHD, Richmond City Council's 7th District, Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Richmond City Health District, Virginia Department of Health Office of Minority Health and Health Equity and other community partners. 

The community designated this partnership as “Mosby’s Community Health Connections” or the MCHC Partnership. The primary purpose of the MCHC Partnership is to identify the underlying conditions that impact the health of the Mosby community and to facilitate the development of resident-directed solutions. To initiate this process, the MCH Partnership planned and implemented a community-based visioning session and needs assessment survey. The results of both assessment tools indicated a need to engage youth as partners in the process of identifying the assets and challenges to health and wellness promotion in the Mosby community. 

The implementation of Photovoice was used as a way to provide Mosby youth an opportunity to document and address health disparities in their community through photo essays and oral histories.

Methodology

Eight 6th grade students from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School who lived in the Mosby public housing development were recruited for the project. Of the eight students, only three fully completed the eight-month project. 

The students were trained in Photovoice, a community-based participatory research mechanism that incorporates photography, writing and social action. Training included weekly workshops with topics ranging from health disparities, to the mechanics of photography, to making social change. These workshops provided the students with the knowledge and skills needed to document and articulate what they saw happening in their communities as it related to the impact of health in their individual lives, families and larger communities. 

Each participant was given a digital camera and asked to take photos of the people, events and other factors that serve as builders of or barriers to good health in the Mosby community. Photos were taken in the winter, spring and summer months. The photos were reviewed, discussed and chosen by the students with assistance from the project coordinator. The project resulted in three public exhibitions of the work.    

Results

The students presented their photos to the Mosby community, the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Health Policy Commission and a Healthy Richmond Forum. The public exhibitions gave voice to a group of youth that has traditionally lacked the power to affect social changes. As a result of the students’ photos and narratives, Cynthia Newbille, 7th District Council Representative, is taking steps to address some of the issues identified by the students such as little or no access to fresh fruits and vegetables, lack of recreational equipment for teens and blighted housing. 

The project also influenced behavioral change by raising awareness about the students’ ability to influence their own health and how their personal choices directly impact their health outcomes. The students indicated that as a result of participating in the project they are trying to make better food choices. They also said they have a better understanding of how trash and litter can cause stress and help promote a sense of despair.  

Additional funding is being sought to help the students develop solutions to some of the problems they identified such as planting a community garden to help improve access to fresh vegetables and to organize a clean-up day to address the problem with blight.