Social Work is in a unique position to contribute to the growing use of visual methodologies to engage participants and communities in research. Photovoice is a novel research method used to capture narratives that can help administrators, policy makers, and social programs better meet the needs of specific communities. For youth in particular, photovoice can be used to define and document well-being and wellness. Much of the current literature addresses well-being and wellness from a western world viewpoint. The limited literature on wellness and well-being of Zambian youth has mainly been documented in the context of sexual behaviors that lead to HIV/AIDS. However, understanding how Zambian youth fair holistically calls for an exploration of more inclusive, global experiences of well-being and wellness. This can be achieved through the powerful research methods like photovoice.
This project developed due to a lack of visual methodologies in youth participatory community based research in Zambia. Informal interviews with students and faculty at the University of Zambia motivated conversations around exploring well-being and wellness with photovoice. Discussions centered around the appropriate language and the concept of well-being and wellness in an African context, and potential outcomes of engaging youth in a photovoice project. Stakeholders were provided references to literature on well-being, wellness and photovoice, and were consulted through email and conference calls to discuss relevance of materials to Zambia. The University of Michigan’s Photovoice manual and the 5-factor inventory scale of wellness were presented to stakeholders as research instruments.
Zambian stakeholders conceptualized terms and practices of well-being relevant to Zambian societal norms through bi-directional engagement with University of Michigan students. This process revealed that the term ‘wellness’ is not often used by Zambians, while ‘well-being’ is most familiar. This information contributed to understanding the relevance and utilization of the concept of well-being. Furthermore, stakeholders suggested that Zambian youth should define which dimensions of the 5-factor scale are most relevant to them before being introduced to this instrument. Financial well-being, which is not often present in Western models of youth well-being, was identified as a key factor among Zambia youth. This contributed to creating culturally appropriate research instruments. Students and faculty were receptive to photovoice as a novel research method to explore well-being. However, stakeholders asked that we be mindful of students’ access to cameras, phones, reliable internet, and transportation as we discussed the mechanics of photovoice. Thus, considering socioeconomics for participants was a crucial component to planning this project.
Conclusions and Implications:
This case study demonstrated the importance of engaging Zambian students and faculty to articulate a definition and appropriate language for describing well-being in a Zambian context. The implications of this project are likely to extend to the adoption of photovoice as a tool for empowering youth to be participant researchers in Zambia. Future research should prioritize the inclusion of input from stakeholders on the adaptation of photovoice to ensure contextual relevance and maximize impact towards improving community participation and well-being.