This ESRC-funded project develops an innovative remote participatory visual method using smartphones in order to respond to the challenges involved in methodological co-production and participatory action research during emergencies, when the usual face-to-face approach becomes impossible. Bringing together the London-based film company Spectacle and migrant women and researchers in Colombia, we will co-develop and test a novel and pioneering remote participatory visual method for co-production researchers, applying participatory filming remotely to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women's new lived realities of urban life. The whole research process, from development to dissemination, will be conducted online.
During emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face research becomes impossible because of restrictions on travel and social contact. Many researchers have been stalled immediately prior to, or during, data collection, but the need to work with research participants remains. The same can occur in contexts of climate emergencies, disasters, conflict-affected areas, or in situations where there is not enough funding available for international travel. This is particularly challenging in transnational research, even though collaborative research conducted with marginalised communities becomes even more valuable and urgent in times of crisis. A remote participatory visual methodology provides a solution to continue or initiate participatory work, whilst ensuring that co-production and impact research still holds the potential to create social change and transformation of past, present, and evolving issues.
The ubiquity of smartphones provides an opportunity for for researchers to connect with participants transnationally and remotely, even in emergencies (Ariya Stock/Shutterstock.com)
As has been shown by an earlier pilot project supported by LSE KEI, one of the most promising ways of continuing to co-produce knowledge without face-to-face, in-person contact is through use of smartphones to collect and share audio, visual, and written data. The increased use of smartphones worldwide provides an opportunity for researchers to connect with participants transnationally and remotely, while allowing participants to continue to express their voices. A remote participatory visual methodology can thus offer deep insights during emergencies, co-produced with participants to include those whose voices are traditionally unheard, while working towards the equalisation of power relationships during the research process.
The project is led by Dr Sonja Marzi (LSE Methodology) and hosted by LSE Latin American and Caribbean Centre in partnership with LSE Department of Methodology. It also includes a UK-based team offering expertise in geography, sociology, international development, and participatory, visual, and digital co-production methodologies: the project's co-investigators are Professor Rachel Pain and Dr Jen Tarr (both Newcastle University), with Professor Cathy McIlwaine (KCL) and Professor Gareth Jones (LSE) acting as advisers. Completing the team are the community-focused production company Spectacle in the UK and the action researchers María Fernanda Carrillo Sánchez (Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México) and Lina María Zuluaga (independent) in Colombia. Together we will explore and test the methodological, ethical, and technical challenges and possibilities of the use of smartphones for remote participant recruitment and participatory visual data collection. In collaboration with migrant women in Colombia, we will engage in cycles of filming and evaluation in order to train researchers and participants in filming techniques and also to collect filmed material for a series of short films that will reveal how the pandemic has impacted women's negotiation of their gendered right to the city in Medellín and Bogotá.
Methodologically, the research will develop, pilot, and evaluate a novel remote participatory visual method that can shift the co-production landscape and make this kind of research more accessible in contexts that have been marginalised due to the difficulties of face-to-face access to participants. Aside from producing training materials for social science researchers, the project will contribute co-produced knowledge about women's gendered right to the city, bringing in the voices of vulnerable women who are frequently absent from commentaries of emergencies and disasters, especially in situations where face-to-face contact is impossible or undesirable.
• Journal articles in disciplinary and interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journals
• Presentations at conferences such as the annual Royal Geographical Society Conference in the UK and the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
• Online workshops to consider findings alongside non-academic stakeholders such as filmmakers and community and civil society researchers
• Training materials and an open source ebook
The project will also engage with wider audiences, including the communities in which our Colombian participants are based, in a variety of different ways:
• Three short videos and a longer documentary will be made available online
• Local workshops will take place at community centres in Bogotá and Medellín to allow the women themselves to present the videos and share their views on the content and on the film-making process itself
• A London gallery space will feature videos and textual information, including interviews with the women involved and information about the research process
• A project website will showcase the final videos, offer training materials, and provide information about the project, migrant women’s experiences, and the remote participatory methodology itself