Abstract Visual research methods continue to be explored as a viable tool within community development, particularly amongst advocates for participatory approaches. It is widely agreed that visual research methods can assist participants in externalizing abstract concepts and create spaces for reflective dialogue. However, these methods are frequently used across the sector with little theorizing or critical reflection. Moreover, visual research methods and participatory processes are often conflated. There is also an assumption that visual research methods, particularly when used in development contexts, can disrupt power structures. This research draws on a case study from Papua New Guinea (PNG) to modestly challenge this assumption and, in doing so, argues for more critical and reflexive practice across community development. The article critically analyses a workshop held in rural PNG in 2013 that employed a visual multimethod approach. The workshop took place over four days with the aim of creating a local community development plan. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that while the visual research methods used in PNG demonstrated evidence of shifting some power structures, this was not necessarily because of the method or methods themselves, and was actually more closely linked to the locale in which we facilitated the method(s). Introduction Visual research is a broad field that encompasses both utilizing visual materials (such as photographs, objects or other materials) as part of a mediated process and, as products developed as part of a process. Visual research methods in both of these forms continue to be explored as a viable tool within community development, particularly amongst advocates for participatory approaches (Cooper and Goodsmith, 2010; Rambaldi, 2013). It is widely agreed that visual research methods, particularly when used as part of a process, can assist participants in externalizing abstract concepts and create spaces for reflective dialogue (Banks, 1995; Knowles and Sweetman, 2004; Pink, 2006; Gauntlett, 2007; Rose, 2007; Buckingham, 2009; Clark, 2011; Pauwels, 2012; Hinthorne and Simpson Reeves, 2015; Simpson Reeves, 2015). Indeed, it has been widely acknowledged that visual research methods can prompt reflexivity in both participants and researchers, and lead to more reflective dialogue (Pink, 2003, 2006; Rose, 2007; Buckingham, 2009; Yates, 2011; Hinthorne and Simpson Reeves, 2015). However, these methods are frequently used across the sector with little theorising or critical reflection. Moreover, visual research methods and participatory processes are often conflated (Low, Brushwood Rose, Salvio and Palacios, 2012; Simpson Reeves, 2015). There is also an assumption that visual research methods, especially when used in community development contexts, can disrupt power structures (Hurdley, 2007; Kalibo and Medley, 2007; Khamis, Plush and Zelaya, 2009; Clark, 2011; Mitchell, 2011). The power structures of the researcher-researched relationship dynamic have been discussed extensively elsewhere (Chambers, 1983; Stone and Priestly, 1996; Brien, Clayton, Varga-atkins and Qualter, 2008), as have suggestions for how to disrupt existing or hierarchical power structures between participants (Figueroa, Kincaid, Rani and Lewis, 2002; Gauntlett, 2007; Anderson, 2009). Other scholars argue that visual research methods are only effective in certain contexts, or that visual research methods are ‘no more immune than any other sort of method from the complex power relations inherent in research’ (Rose, 2014, p. 29). Rather than proving – or disproving – these claims, this article modestly hopes to contribute to this discussion, and provide a space for further reflection on the way in which we employ visual research methods in community development practice. In April 2013, we were invited by a community leader to a small village in rural Papua New Guinea (PNG) to facilitate the creation of a sustainable local community development plan. Over four consecutive days, we facilitated a workshop in partnership with Dr Lilly Sar, who has kinship relationships with the village and has been working with this community for the past decade.1 The workshop thus complimented her ongoing community development work in the area. One of the authors had visited the community six months previously (November 2012), and had facilitated a workshop where participants built three-dimensional (3D) models using Lego bricks (Hinthorne and Simpson Reeves, 2015); this was, however, the lead author’s first visit to the community and, indeed, PNG. The November workshop had prompted the community leader and Dr Sar to invite us to facilitate the community development plan process. The primary aim of the workshop was for community members to develop their own realistic and actionable community development plan, building on their existing strengths and resources. However, we were fortunate to also be able to take this opportunity as researchers to closely examine how visual research methods can encourage participants to explore ideas and promote participant – and researcher – reflexivity. This study was part of a larger research project that sought to analyse how participatory communication techniques could be meaningfully incorporated into visual research methods and practices in a community development context (Hinthorne and Schneider, 2012; Hinthorne and Simpson Reeves, 2015). The chance to incorporate our research objectives into the facilitation of the community development plan workshop was, therefore, opportunistic, rather than responsive to a request from participants to shift power dynamics during the creation of the community development plan. What we observed, however, was that after an initial period of disruption caused by the use of visual research methods, community members quickly reverted to traditional structures despite the continued use of these methods. It is this finding which we primarily explore in this article. Of course, it would be remiss for any discussion about challenges to hierarchies to avoid discussing power. Power is embedded in all interactions, and cannot be avoided. It may be exercised as authority, influence, or as part of existing social norms (Figueroa, Kincaid, Rani and Lewis, 2002; Gauntlett, 2010). We were aware, from our experiences working in contextually similar communities, that it was likely for existing power structures to affect our intention to ensure that all viewpoints – especially from minority or ‘hidden’ groups – were considered in the community’s development plan. Advocates of visual research methods often claim that, by encouraging active listening and horizontal communication, these methods can circumvent existing or entrenched power structures. Indeed, we hoped that by anchoring community dialogue in visual material, rather than relying on verbal language, we could acknowledge and address existing power relations – both between participants and with the researcher(s). During doctoral research in Madagascar, Hinthorne (2012, p. 349) found that ‘traditional’ qualitative methods, such as semi-structured interviews and focus groups, proved incompatible with the context in which she was working. Using cartoons to address complex and sensitive issues, Hinthorne found that the incorporation of visual materials and prompts helped to establish rapport with the participants, and opened up a space for dialogue that could not – and indeed did not – happen through the use of more traditional methods. Similarly, Khamis, Plush and Zelaya (2009, p. 125) used participatory video in Nepal to ‘bring the voices of poor communities to the global climate-change debate’, and empower local populations to engage with political elites. Thus, we – as other community development practitioners have done – had hoped that the use of these visual research methods would encourage non-elites within the village to contribute to the community development plan, regardless of literacy or education level. The decision to incorporate these visual research methods in this way was an active facilitation choice to ensure that all voices (or as many as possible) were incorporated in the community development plan, and not necessarily a research-driven decision. Nonetheless, we wished to explore the literature’s claims that visual methods could disrupt existing power dynamics between the researcher(s) and the participants, and how this might affect outcomes. Indeed, what we ended up exploring was how visual methods could appear to disrupt power dynamics between the research participants themselves. Research methodology The following section discusses the methods used to analyse the effects of the visual research methods for this article. This should not be confused with the visual research methods used as part of the workshop, although these methods are, by necessity, explained in this section. The vast majority of the data used in this article was obtained through participant-observation. Discussions throughout the workshop were conducted in a mix of local languages, Tok Pisin (Pidgin English, the national language of PNG) and English. It is also important to note neither author speaks Tok Pisin, although one of the facilitators, Dr Sar, was fluent in both Tok Pisin and English. Some of the participants could also speak English, and Dr Sar partially understood some of the local languages. As such, a formal translator was not contracted, and reliance on participant-led and researcher-led real-time interpretation was used throughout the workshop. It is well documented that there are significant limitations to research facilitated through a translator (Temple and Young, 2004; Squires, 2009), and this was consistent with our experiences. Nonetheless, these challenges were an impetus for us to utilize visual research methods in an attempt to circumvent this language barrier. All the sessions were documented using unobtrusive video recording, some audio recording and still images, in addition to our handwritten field notes. The participants were aware that they were being observed, all participation was voluntary, and consent was negotiated on an ongoing basis. The data obtained includes 26 h of video footage, 1543 still images, 54 pages of field notes and almost 16 h of audio recordings (which include debriefing meetings between researchers, semi-structured interviews, segments from the workshop and other discussions that occurred during the fieldwork). Two video cameras were set up in two corners of the room on Days 1 and 2 of the workshop and a single video camera was used on Day 4, which visually recorded the movements of the participants during the sessions. These cameras were set up unobtrusively in the corners to ensure minimal distraction for the participants. The setup of the video cameras, including that they were positioned some distance from the participants, meant that the audio recorded by the video camera was not of high enough quality to be useful. Background noises, wind in particular, interfered with the sound quality but – fortunately – did not affect visual quality. We supplemented the video footage with still images, which were taken almost continuously throughout the workshop. These images were helpful for reviewing the events from multiple angles and to highlight activities that were obscured or missed on the video footage. We wrote the observational field notes using a Livescribe Smartpen, a digital pen that syncs audio files with handwritten notes and digitizes them as a combined PDF document. Similarly, not all of the Smartpen audio recordings were useful as external factors (such as dogs barking, wind and other noises) reduced the quality, in addition to requiring subsequent translation from Tok Pisin to English. We took observational field notes throughout the workshop and during the research team debriefing meetings. To mitigate researcher bias and ensure internal validity, we triangulated these findings with photographic, audio and video evidence which was taken alongside our observational field notes. Video recordings have become particularly a popular tool for documenting participatory methods, especially for illustrating case studies, as video footage can establish context and settings quickly and accurately (Frost and Jones, 1998); however, exploration of the potential and use of visual research methods as a tool for documenting research is another paper for another time. The participant-observation data were supplemented by three short, semi-structured interviews a community leader from the Bargam community. These interviews were conducted on 21 , 24 and 26 April 2013, and were recorded using the Livescribe Smartpen described above. Two subsequent discussions were conducted via email on 23 July 2013 and 16 September 2013 with Dr Sar. Both the semi-structured interviews and email discussions were designed to gain the interviewees’ perspectives on the workshop and the visual research methods used, and to clarify how the visual materials developed throughout the workshop have been used by the community during the subsequent six months. The video footage was first watched at 8× speed using VLC Media Player. This was the quickest speed that could be used before the video footage ‘jumped’ or skipped sections. This process was inspired by Lyon (2013), who demonstrated that time-lapse photography can be used to identify patterns of movement and interaction which cannot be clearly perceived in real time. This process helped us to identify general patterns of movement and interaction. Areas of particular interest – that is, scenes that seemed to indicate either an adherence to or disruption from expected power dynamics – were identified and then watched in real time. For instance, we watched for prolonged periods of speaking by particular community members, or when a non-elite community member (e.g. farmer) appeared to be leading the discussion. These sections were then compared to our observational field notes and related audio recordings in order to triangulate findings and establish validity. As expected, many of the participant conversations during the workshop were conducted either in Tok Pisin or in local languages; without detailed translations, the visual evidence of observed interactions in the video footage proved more useful than the related audio recordings for the purposes of this particular research. The audio recordings were particularly beneficial, however, for reviewing decisions made by the research team during debriefing meetings. Ethics for the project was approved by The University of Queensland’s Human Research Ethics Committee, and requests for consent where conducted verbally in Tok Pisin to account for differing language and literacy levels. Visual research methods in practice For the fieldwork, we adopted a visual multimethod approach, incorporating seven different visual research methods: participatory mapping, 3D model building, participatory photography, site visits, album making and matrix ranking. These methods were implemented using a participatory ethos, which meant that we were actively encouraging dialogue and local ownership of the process (Tufte and Mefalopulos, 2009). While each of the visual research methods has been described briefly and separately below, they were planned and implemented as part of an interdependent sequence. The order of the sessions was largely due to logic – the album making could not have preceded the photography as photographs were placed into the albums; similarly, the mapping needed to come before 3D model building in order to place the models on the maps. That is not to say that this was the only possible sequence – site visits could have occurred prior to the 3D model building, for example; however, this would likely have led to a different result. Further empirical research is needed to identify how the order in which methods are used or combined affects the research outcome. Three of the visual methods employed – participatory mapping, 3D model building and matrix ranking – had been used previously with this community. Dr Sar had used participatory mapping with the community to determine resource allocation and sociocultural boundaries on numerous occasions. Many of the participants had also been involved in previous activities involving 3D model building, although not as formally as in this workshop (Hinthorne and Simpson Reeves, 2015). Dr Sar had also conducted many informal site visits with the community members over the previous decade, and indicated the participants were familiar with matrix ranking. The workshop was held over four days (Table 1). Days 1 and 2 were conducted with the same programme, although there were minor differences with each group, primarily around the timing of breaks and length of time taken for each session. Days 3 and 4 combined the groups, although one session on Day 4 (album making) required groups to work separately albeit in close proximity to each other. Table 1. Workshop timetable Day Location Group Sessions/Methods Day 1 Malolo plantation lodge Group A Participatory 2D mapping 3D model building Participatory photography Day 2 Malolo plantation lodge Group B Participatory 2D mapping 3D model building Participatory photography Day 3 Bargam community Groups A and B Site visits Participatory photography Day 4 Bargam community Group A Album making Group B Album making Groups A and B Group discussion with matrix ranking Day Location Group Sessions/Methods Day 1 Malolo plantation lodge Group A Participatory 2D mapping 3D model building Participatory photography Day 2 Malolo plantation lodge Group B Participatory 2D mapping 3D model building Participatory photography Day 3 Bargam community Groups A and B Site visits Participatory photography Day 4 Bargam community Group A Album making Group B Album making Groups A and B Group discussion with matrix ranking Table 1. Workshop timetable Day Location Group Sessions/Methods Day 1 Malolo plantation lodge Group A Participatory 2D mapping 3D model building Participatory photography Day 2 Malolo plantation lodge Group B Participatory 2D mapping 3D model building Participatory photography Day 3 Bargam community Groups A and B Site visits Participatory photography Day 4 Bargam community Group A Album making Group B Album making Groups A and B Group discussion with matrix ranking Day Location Group Sessions/Methods Day 1 Malolo plantation lodge Group A Participatory 2D mapping 3D model building Participatory photography Day 2 Malolo plantation lodge Group B Participatory 2D mapping 3D model building Participatory photography Day 3 Bargam community Groups A and B Site visits Participatory photography Day 4 Bargam community Group A Album making Group B Album making Groups A and B Group discussion with matrix ranking The twelve participants who took part in the workshop all came from Bargam community, one of six administrative districts in Madang province, PNG. Madang Province is located along the north-east cost of the New Guinea island, and includes both coastal areas and mountainous regions. Bargam community is made up of several small villages primarily linked through traditional kinship and familial relationships, and through existing social networks. Agriculture plays an important role in the community, as food crops are used not only for personal consumption, but also for maintaining status and providing disposable income. Along the coastline, there is also a fishing trade. As will become clear below, for some of the activities, the twelve workshop participants were split into two groups of six. Each group contained a mix of participants from both the coastal region and the highlands (Table 2). Participants were small-scale fishermen and farmers; about half of participants also held leadership positions in the community. Participants were nominated to join the workshop by village leaders, male, and aged between approximately 18 and 65. Table 2. Participant characteristics Group Role in community Village Area Group A Community leader Aronis Highlands Businessman Waimasa Highlands Farmer Hub Highlands Magistrate Megiar Coast Farmer Megiar Coast Farmer Mulon Highlands Group B Fisherman Megiara Coast Farmer/religious leader Waliak Highlands Farmer Beren Highlands Farmer Waken Highlands Community leader Danai Highlands Farmer Beren Highlands Group Role in community Village Area Group A Community leader Aronis Highlands Businessman Waimasa Highlands Farmer Hub Highlands Magistrate Megiar Coast Farmer Megiar Coast Farmer Mulon Highlands Group B Fisherman Megiara Coast Farmer/religious leader Waliak Highlands Farmer Beren Highlands Farmer Waken Highlands Community leader Danai Highlands Farmer Beren Highlands aDid not attend all sessions. Table 2. Participant characteristics Group Role in community Village Area Group A Community leader Aronis Highlands Businessman Waimasa Highlands Farmer Hub Highlands Magistrate Megiar Coast Farmer Megiar Coast Farmer Mulon Highlands Group B Fisherman Megiara Coast Farmer/religious leader Waliak Highlands Farmer Beren Highlands Farmer Waken Highlands Community leader Danai Highlands Farmer Beren Highlands Group Role in community Village Area Group A Community leader Aronis Highlands Businessman Waimasa Highlands Farmer Hub Highlands Magistrate Megiar Coast Farmer Megiar Coast Farmer Mulon Highlands Group B Fisherman Megiara Coast Farmer/religious leader Waliak Highlands Farmer Beren Highlands Farmer Waken Highlands Community leader Danai Highlands Farmer Beren Highlands aDid not attend all sessions. Participatory mapping is a popular technique used in community development as it encourages participants to think critically about their physical, social or cultural environment (IFAD 2010). All of the participants were familiar with participatory mapping, as Dr Sar had facilitated similar exercises in the community since 2006. Through a process of consultation and negotiation, participants marked their own villages, infrastructure and resources with Lego bricks on a long strip of butchers’ paper, approximately 90 cm by 150 cm. Once a consensus had been reached about the location of resources, the participants carefully replaced the Lego bricks with more permanent icons drawn using marker pens. We used the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology for the 3D purpose-built model sessions. Neither author is affiliated with the Lego Group, however one of the authors has completed training in LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. The methodology generally follows a four step process, where the facilitator initially issues a ‘challenge’, participants respond to by building an individual model, each participant explains their model to the group, and then participants reflect (for more information on this method, see Gauntlett, 2007; Kristiansen and Rasmussen, 2014). Challenges for this workshop included building a model of yourself as a member of the community, of something you want to achieve in the community, additional community development challenges or initiatives, and what was needed to make these aspirations become a reality. During the first challenge, participants built models of themselves but also of their families, homes and work. Community development models included electricity poles and wires, a fishing co-operative, a saw mill and a bank. After the second challenge, the participants placed the models on the map developed during the participatory mapping session. These models were photographed and disassembled at the conclusion of each group’s 3D model building session. The third day of the workshop involved visiting the locations that had been identified on the map and through the models as key sites for development initiatives, or as representative of participants’ ambitions. By encouraging the participants to view these sites as a group, we hoped to create an atmosphere of ownership over the community development initiatives they were planning. In addition, visiting physical locations has been shown to help link the abstract concepts from the previous sessions with participants’ lived realities (Liebermann and Coulson, 2004). The participants decided which sites they wished to visit, however, poor weather conditions, particularly unseasonal rain and logistical concerns around transport availability meant that we were unable to view all of the sites identified during the previous sessions. Moreover, sites that had not been identified during previous discussions or activities, such as a local school, were also visited during this session as places of significance with respect to community development. While all participants who attended the site visit session took at least one photograph, it was used primarily by three of the participants. Participants determined the angle or framing of each image. The purpose of the photography was not only to help us understand the participants’ perspectives, but also as part of a desire to leave something behind that was useful and meaningful to the participants. The session was inspired by Mitchell and Allnutt (2008), and other researchers have used photographic documentation processes as part of a workshop or discussion (Liebermann and Coulson, 2004). For the album making session, the participants were once again separated into their two groups, but in this instance both groups worked simultaneously in the same space. Each group was given one A4-sized, self-adhesive album with five double-sided pages and access to the photographs which had been taken over the previous three days. Each group also received blank cards in a mix of colours and some pens. Both groups chose to use these materials to write captions to describe their chosen photographs. We did not set a time limit for this session, however, we expected it to take approximately 2 h. A self-chosen representative of each group then explained their album to the other group. They did this by pointing and describing each page to the other group, using a mix of English and Tok Pisin. The final visual method we employed during the workshop was matrix ranking, a tool designed to understand the perceptions and needs of different stakeholders by ranking or scoring different issues or concerns either before or after a brief discussion (Tufte and Mefalopulos, 2009, for a good review on the benefits and shortfalls of ranking activities, see Campbell, 2002). An initial discussion was centred around how, if at all, the past four days had influenced future plans or changed thinking. This discussion was held in an open space in a village, while preparation for a communal lunch was being undertaken, and it quickly devolved into a series of short speeches by local leaders, particularly individuals who had not been involved in the workshop. We then asked participants to rank the different visual research methods (i.e. participatory mapping, 3D model building, participatory photography, site visits and album making) in relation to their usefulness, employability, and desire to repeat or do again in the future. A community leader ranked each method against the three criteria equally, and this process was subsequently followed by participants. As a result, all methods received equal ranking across all the criteria; ‘ranking’ itself did not occur. In many ways, this session ‘failed’ in that it did not give us the information which we had desired; that is, how effective the participants thought the visual research methods had been in helping them to create a realistic and achievable community development plan. However, it did strongly demonstrate local power dynamics, and reinforced what we had slowly come to realize throughout the workshop – visual research methods in and of themselves do not disrupt power structures. Reflections on practice Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that while the visual research methods used in PNG demonstrated limited evidence of shifting some power structures, this was not necessarily because of the method or methods themselves. Indeed, the argument could be made that interest in challenging hierarchal structures was a construct imposed by the research team rather than the community itself. Firstly, all participants were invited by a community leader based on their ability or willingness to enact change. Exactly how this decision was made was unclear; when asked for details, responses were vague and we were told they were all key members of the community who were interested in participating in the research. It is our understanding that these individuals had not previously collaborated in this way. Availability and other commitments also played a role in which sessions participants attended; for instance, one participant was unable to attend the site visits on Day 3 due to a work commitment. While participation is always political and there are instances of ‘elite capture’ across PNG – and indeed much of the world – it is unclear if that was the case here (White, 1996; Alatas, Banerjee, Hanna, Olken, Purnamasari and Wai-Poi, 2013; Mansuri and Rao, 2013). While elites are not a homogenous group, they typically include those with higher levels of education, wealth and/or political capital (Musgrave and Wong, 2016). Participants were from a range of villages, and included not only community leaders and businessmen (typically the ‘elite’) but also farmers and fishermen. We had also requested small numbers, given the visual research methods we wished to employ work best in small groups, and thus participation was already limited. As such, we are reluctant to suggest that participants were chosen based on whether or not they would simply agree with the decisions of the elites present, regardless of personal views. Indeed, in many of the sessions, the elite would step back and actively listen to the other participants. Our observations of the relationships between the participants are, unfortunately, somewhat superficial – less than a week in the community is not enough time to obtain in-depth knowledge of interpersonal relationships outside of the workshop context. Nonetheless, the community leader who invited us to run the workshop had mentioned that he was interested in obtaining perspectives from across the community and not only established leaders; although we note that it is not clear whether or not all participants had previously felt comfortable expressing their opinions in a group setting. In addition, while we had requested an even split by gender (i.e. six males and six females), all participants were male. Again, while we are hesitant to imply that the participants could not therefore represent the positions and opinions of the whole community, other research indicates that this would be the case (Buvnic, 1989; Moser, 1989; Fierlberg, 1995; Melkote and Steeves, 2001; Somolu, 2007; Karpowitz, Mendelberg and Shaker, 2012). Involving women in the workshop may, therefore, have resulted in a different outcome, or provided different insights. Therefore, without wanting to minimize the work of those who did participate, no claims can be made that the process obtained perspectives from the whole community, and thus did not include all ‘voices’, as we had initially hoped. The final session – focus group and matrix ranking – demonstrated a strong disconnect between research and community practice. While our main purpose as researchers was to test the viability of visual research methods in a development context, the purpose for the participants was quite different. We were aware of the need to ensure that community development research is beneficial to both parties, and thus envisioned a way to test the visual research methods while facilitating the creation of a community development plan; the creation of a community development plan was something the community had strongly indicated they wanted us to facilitate, and the reason we were invited to the village. All the sessions, with the exception of the final session, were focused toward this plan. The matrix ranking, however, was largely for the benefit of the research team rather than the participants. This may have affected its effectiveness. At the time, we assumed that the session was not successful as the participants did not understand the activity. The focus group discussion, which lasted 45 min, seemed driven by speeches from community leaders, including those who had not participated in the workshop, rather than obtaining the perspectives of all participants. The matrix ranking exercise also appeared to be dominated by community leader decisions. However, reviewing the video footage revealed a (potentially) different dynamic. Rather than ranking the items, participants appeared to use the table as a checklist for each item. If it was seen as accurate (e.g. participants found the 3D model building session useful), then a brick was placed in that box. Thus, the activity became a checklist rather than a ranking exercise. Of course, we are making estimated guesses based on behaviour patterns and what we had observed on the previous days, as we do not speak the local languages and the audio content from the videos is not of sufficient quality for translation. There is much that could be expanded here about the cultural mismatch of methods, but again that is another paper for another time. Of significant interest is that, after the matrix ranking was completed, the participants continued the discussion without the facilitators for another 90 min or so, and exchanged phone numbers before breaking for a meal. We later discovered that they had used that time to plan a monthly meeting to continue the discussion, and to progress the targets and ideas put into the community development plan. This indicates that a focus group discussion was an appropriate method for concluding the workshop, but perhaps needed to be facilitated in a different way, and without the matrix ranking activity. The role of the facilitator also played a key part in whether or not the methods challenged intrinsic hierarchies. The methods utilized on Days 1 and 2 forced participants to contribute equally to the discussion. By deliberate choice, the facilitators ensured that each participant held a pen during the participatory mapping, and actively encouraged each participant to mark resources on the map that they, individually, felt were important. There was still discussion amongst the participants, and occasionally with the facilitator, during this session; however, each participant was involved in the process. Equally, the Lego Serious Play methodology requires all participants to speak. Each participant was required to build a model and explain it to the group. The facilitator then encouraged questions from other participants, and ensured that each individual spoke during the session. During the album making, however, there was – deliberately – significantly less facilitation from the researchers, and participants drew back to what appeared to be traditional power dynamics. For example, two participants in Group B animatedly discussed the choice of photographs, where to place them, and so forth. These two participants were joined after about 15 min by another two participants, but the dynamic remained the same. However, when a community leader joined them after about an hour, the dynamic visibly shifted; the community leader was consulted before each photograph was added, and made the final decisions as to placement. There were senior members of the community involved at all stages, so it is unlikely that by having these elites nearby affected the dynamics between the sessions. Thus, it could be argued that the way in which certain visual research methods were employed (particularly the participatory mapping and 3D model building) simply masked the power dynamics rather than shifting them. Alternatively, it could demonstrate the role of facilitation in shifting, albeit temporarily, power dynamics – the dynamic was more horizontal when the facilitators retained control (i.e. more ‘hands-on’ facilitation) than when we withdrew (i.e. minimal facilitation). Finally, the location in which the sessions were conducted had a significant impact on the effectiveness of the methods. Participatory development advocates that workshops (such as the one described in this article) physically take place within the local community, as it is assumed that this can assist the participants to feel more comfortable and, consequently, more willing to participate (Yoon, 1996; Bessette, 2004; Kincaid and Figueroa, 2009). By being more ‘comfortable’, it is often assumed that participants will speak more freely. This case study has revealed, however, that this is not necessarily the case. The first two sessions (the participatory mapping and 3D model building sessions on Days 1 and 2) were held at a hotel that was approximately 1 h from the participants’ villages, situated along the main road to the nearest city. It was a location that was familiar to the participants, but at enough of a distance to be removed from the pressures of their everyday lives. As we ‘controlled’ the setting (i.e. with the placement of tables and chairs, where and when activities took place, and so forth), we could thus affect social dynamics as needed; or, at least, we had the illusion of affecting social dynamics. Holding the final sessions, particularly the album making and group discussion sessions, physically within the local community meant that there were a number of distractions that had not been evident in earlier sessions. Other members of the community were clamouring for participants’ attention, there were food preparation tasks to take care of, and domestic animals howling in the background. Thus, despite the (hopefully) engaging nature of the methods used on the final day, it was not enough to retain the attention of the participants amongst the distractions. Location therefore became a central aspect when determining the effectiveness of these visual research methods and their ability to challenge hierarchies. Conclusion By examining how various visual research methods were employed during this particular fieldwork in PNG, we have attempted to challenge the idea that visual research methods automatically disrupt power dynamics. Participatory development approaches claim to ensure horizontal dialogue, which can disrupt pre-existing power dynamics and ensure the voices of the most vulnerable are heard. Proponents of visual research methods often make similar claims. Yet, as this case study has demonstrated, visual research methods do not necessarily disrupt power structures in and of themselves. In this case study, the characteristics of the participants, the role and skill of the facilitators or researchers, and the location in which the research is conducted all have significant impact on whether or not the methods employed are effective, more so than the inherent characteristics of the methods themselves. This case study suggests that the use of visual research methods is not a ‘silver bullet’ or panacea for shifting power dynamics, and may indeed contribute little to long-lasting change. This is not to suggest that visual research methods are not important per se; rather, visual research methods can provide a tool through which participatory and community-led agendas can be realized long-term and in alignment with other tools and frameworks. Only through active reflection and critical examination of the methods we employ can we hope to produce accurate and meaningful research, recognize our own biases and inherent Laura Simpson Reeves is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) at The University of Queensland. Her research explores cultural perceptions of poverty and inequality, and focuses on using visual methods to encourage open dialogue and critical thought. She has worked as a senior research officer at ISSR and a research assistant with The University of Queensland's Centre for Communication for Social Change, and as a research communication adviser for Indonesia's premier think tank on poverty-related issues, SMERU. Outside of research, her professional background spans print media, publishing and developing materials for development and humanitarian professionals and practitioners. Lauren Leigh Hinthorne is a director of research and evaluation for the Great Schools Partnership in Maine. Before joining the Partnership, she held research and organizational learning roles at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US State Department, and The University of Queensland's Center for Communication and Social Change. Lauren is particularly interested in community-led problem solving, change leadership and participatory visual methodology. She holds a PhD in political science from the University of York (UK), and has completed Georgetown University's certificate program in organizational consulting and change leadership. Lauren has lived and worked in more than a dozen countries, including Australia, Kosovo, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea. Acknowledgements We would like to thank Dr Lilly Sar and the Bargam community for giving their time to participate in this research. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2016 RC33 International Conference on Social Science Methodology and the 2017 International Visual Research Methods Conference, and we would like to thank conference participants who provided valuable feedback. We would also like to thank Dr Sue Creagh for her insightful comments on an earlier version. Funding Centre for Communication and Social Change at The University of Queensland. Footnotes 1 Dr Sar currently works with Centre for Social and Creative Media at PNG’s University of Goroka. 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Community Development Journal – Oxford University Press
Published: Jul 1, 2019
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