A community-based needs assessment that employs youth photographs and voices ultimately is about uncovering how the world looks through their eyes: the things that help, and the things that upset or disappoint. What might help? In our projects, youth have told us about sports, music, friends, hang-outs spots, certain teachers and other adults, or religious places. What hurts? Drugs, liquor stores, urban blight, medical problems. These are only examples, of course, and reflect the particular types of questions we asked. Your questions may be slightly different, and with facilitation, young people will zero in on exactly what they want to say about their lives.
Activity 1: Who is in the Room?
Participants are asked to stand and identify themselves with various identities: age, area, gender, economic situation, type of neighborhood, family connections, community involvement, etc. The facilitator processes by asking about similarities and differences among us.
Activity 2: Graffiti Wall
To begin to think about these questions, each team, with its adult advisor, gets a marker and a newsprint with the same question on it, “What are the things that support you and drag you down where you live?” Each team will draw or write “graffiti” on their paper for three to five minutes. All members write at once, with no adults joining in. At the end of three to five minutes, each group will stop writing and exchange papers for the next three to five minutes. Repeat until all groups have had a chance to write graffiti on all the papers. Return papers to their original teams and allow the members time to read the graffiti and discuss similarities and differences in what people wrote as well. Ask each team to prioritize a list of 5-10 words that most effectively describe the supportive and unsupportive nature of their community.
Activity 3: How to Communicate Through Photos
Each team lists the name of 10 things in their community — people, places, businesses, cultural activities, schools, service providers, etc., — that elaborate on the words and drawings on their graffiti wall. For example, one of the teams in our group said the physical condition of downtown was depressing. After thinking about it, he decided he could illustrate this by taking a photo of a particular building that had been gutted by fire more than a year ago, but was still standing unrepaired.
Activity 4: Learning From Other PhotoVoice Projects
Look at sample pictures of other photovoice efforts (pictures with captions) in the packet. Ask students to describe what each picture with its caption is communicating. Have them answer the question, “What power do these photos have to make change?”
Activity 5: These Pictures Can Make a Difference
Photos taken in these projects are meant to be serious statements about issues that have a real impact on young people’s lives. Some photos, in fact, can be disturbing, but conveying unpleasant realities is necessary, particularly for vulnerable young people. Ask the entire group to brainstorm about the type of people who could benefit from seeing their photos and captions, once they are produced. The answers might be police, school boards, employers in town, teachers, parents, etc. Have the group discuss what the people or groups on their list could do with this new information.
Activity 6: Learning to Use the Camera
Go over the parts and processes of the cameras and ask students to go and take several pictures of each other to experiment. Have them return and ask questions. With written, detailed instructions, students will transfer their images from the memory card to the computer, add their names to the photographs, perform any necessary adjustments, and print them.
Activity 7: Taking the Photos and Writing the Captions
The group breaks for two weeks. During that time, each team takes its photos, with an adult team leader making sure each participant has at least a couple of days with the camera. Students will document in a journal all the pictures that they took and write a couple sentences describing their rationale for taking that picture and what it might say about the image it describes.
Activity 8: Choosing Pictures to Print and Display
With input from adult sponsors, youth will select the most powerful photos to include in the group’s final product. They will then write captions for those photos that explain why they took each photo and what they want to communicate through it. Experience shows that the editing process works best when it can take place over more than a single session. With feedback, young people sometimes rethink what they really want to say with a photo, and go back to try again.
Activity 9: Photos are Mounted and Displayed
The exhibit can be displayed for week-long periods in schools, art galleries, churches, town offices and other public spaces. Presentations can be given to select groups — planning boards, boards of directors of youth organizations, school personnel — using a projector, with individuals from the group taking turns reading captions and discussing the photo’s meaning.