Advancing Image-Elicitation Methods in the Social Sciences

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts and Social Sci (FASS)


'Image-elicitation' refers to a range of methods in which images are the focus of a semi-structured interview between the researcher and their research participant. The images - which can be drawings, maps or diagrams but are most often photographs - are created by the interviewee before the interview in relation to the topic being researched. They are then discussed during the interview. The images can also be used in publications and exhibitions as a way of showing the participant's worldview. Image-elicitation methods (IEMs) are thus often described as 'participatory' methods, because they allow the interviewee to have a particularly active role in creating the research findings.

Such methods are now very popular, and not only among social science researchers; a range of other organisations also use them. They are used, for example, by community arts practitioners to explore proposals for urban regeneration projects with the local communities likely to be affected (Bishop 2012); by tech companies to gauge public reaction to new technologies; and by health authorties to evaluate local public health strategies (Dennis et al 2009).

However, despite their widespread use, the method has not developed a wider, critical commentary in the same way that, say, semi-structured interviews on their own have, or participatory research more generally. Nor have these methods utilised digital technologies to any great degree (indeed, research projects relying on photo-elicitation interviews must be one of the last remaining markets for disposable cameras).

These three modules aim to advance image-elicitation methods by offering an in-depth discussion of three things:
1. the ethics of working with vulnerable groups;
2. the current popularity of participatory methods in a wide range of contexts;
3. and the future of IEMs in the context of digital visual culture.
Each of these issues will be discussed via an online module.

The online delivery of these discussions will allow an in-depth engagement with relevant literatures and debates; it will allow module students to share their own work; it will allow them to collaborate with others in discussing both their own work and exemplar projects from elsewhere; and it will provide an opportunity for students to explore the potential of digital technologies for further developing image-elicitation research methods.

Online delivery will also ensure the accessibility of these modules to the widest possibly constituency.

Planned Impact

This training will benefit researchers in both academic and non-academic organisations. By discussing specific aspects of IEMs in relation to other contexts and literatures, it will deepen researchers' understanding of the potentials and limits of IEMs.

More specifically, the learning outcomes of module 1 are:
- advanced understanding of the ethical issues implicit in IEM research with vulnerable groups, understood as a result of:
- the particular situation of specific research participants
- different forms of visual images
- the different roles visual images can play in relation to social identity and practice
- skills in online, synchronous and asynchronous, collaborative learning.

The learning outcomes of module 2 are:
- an advanced, analytical understanding of different forms of participation
- an appreciation of the diversity of contexts in which participatory research can occur, and how those contexts shape the form of participation
- skills in online, synchronous and asynchronous, collaborative learning.

The learning outcomes of module 3 are:
- an understanding of how social science methods reflect the wider context of social, economic, cultural and technological change
- a understanding of the broad parameters of digital visual culture
- an understanding of how IEMs may develop, given digital technologies for creating, sharing and modifying images
- an understanding of online collaborative experimentation and discussion
- skills in online, synchronous and asynchronous, collaborative learning.


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