The use of photovoice to document and characterize the food security of users of community food programs in Iqaluit, Nunavut

2011 June 21

Lardeau, M., Healey, G., Ford, J. (2011). Rural and Remote Health 11 (online), 2011: 1680. View Article.

Introduction: Food insecurity is a chronic problem affecting Inuit communities. The most comprehensive assessment of Inuit food security to-date, the Inuit Health Survey, reported that 70% of Inuit pre-school children lived in ‘food insecure’ households. Food banks and soup kitchens are relatively new in the Arctic but the number of users is increasing. Little is known about the experience and determinants of food insecurity among food program users who are often among the most marginalized (socially and economically) in communities. The use of participatory research methods when working in the north of Canada can promote meaningful knowledge exchange with community members and this approach was used in the present ‘Photovoice’ research. Photovoice uses photography to develop a baseline understanding of an issue, in this case the experience and determinants of food insecurity among users of community food programs in Iqaluit, Nunavut. The target population includes those who face significant social and economic marginalization, an often neglected group in Arctic food systems research.

Methods: Eight regular users of food programs were recruited and engaged in a Photovoice  research project to document factors determining their daily food consumption. The research method was introduced in workshops and discussion included the ethical concerns related to photography and how to take pictures. Participants were supplied with digital cameras, and asked to answer the following question using photography: ‘What aspects of your everyday life affect what you eat and how much you have to eat?’. In the final workshop, photographs were discussed among the group and participants identified key themes in the photographs, offering an understanding of food insecurity from their perspectives. The group then discussed what should be done with the knowledge gained.

Results: Factors improving food security were the customary systems for sharing ‘country food’, and the presence of social support networks in the community, such as the Food Bank, the Soup Kitchen and the Tukisigiarvik Center. Factors identified as negatively affecting food security were the high cost of food in the Arctic, and substance abuse. The participants decided by consensus whether and how the knowledge from this project would be disseminated. They decided that a museum exhibit of the photographs in the summer of 2010 and promotion of the results among policy-makers in Nunavut were of high priority.

Conclusion: The use of participatory research approaches such as Photovoice offers promise for exploring food security issues among similarly disadvantaged and vulnerable populations elsewhere in the Arctic. This approach was found to be a useful method for gathering and sharing research data because the data was generated and analysed by the participants. The clear and concise messages developed by the participants can be used to inform policy. This research method can assist in making a valuable contribution to health research, both in the Arctic and worldwide, because it promotes an understanding of the experiences of individuals from their own perspective.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Rachel Kohut permalink
    September 30, 2011

    I find this approach an incredible way to engage the communities. In gathering the information in such a visual manner, I would imagine that it generated interesting discussion and analysis from the participants…

    Is there any way to see the pictures that were taken online?

    Was this disseminated eventually to policy makers, as was intended? If so, what was the response?

    What are your thoughts about this approach being used as an learning tool in the school system?

  2. Marie-Pierre permalink
    October 20, 2011

    Thank you Rachel for your interest in our work! Photovoice was a very interesting way to generate discussions about challenges around the access to food in Iqaluit, Nunavut. It’s a method that’s been used in many different projects, working with various groups from street children, to homeless individuals and community organizations. It often offers powerful images that can be used to take the information to another level, most often policy makers. In our case, we organized an exhibit with the photos at the local museum. This attracted considerable attention, and our local research collaborator was invited to partcipate in the Nunavut anti-poverty working group which is in charge of formulating recommendations for the anti-poverty strategy which should be announced in the Fall 2011. We also published the results, and you can find all the pictures, along with our methodology at:

    Finally, I would definitely recommend Photovoice in the school setting, because it teaches about many things: being involved in the community, ethics about taking pictures, understanding the particular topic that is being researched, reaching a consensus in a group, deciding as a group what to do with the pictures, etc.
    Best of luck and please contact me if you need any extra information!

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