Visual Methods in Evaluation: Engaging Participants in Data Collection

Melissa Cater, PhD, Louisiana State University AgCenter

How often do we say “A picture is worth a thousand words”? It’s the touching photograph, the heart-felt video, or the poignant drawing that communicates the impact of our program the best. While we often incorporate visuals into our impact reports, there is another evaluation use for these artifacts. Photographs, videos and art may be employed as a bridge to assist program participants in verbalizing their thoughts, as a symbol of the meanings participants make of the content, or as data illustrating change over time.

Visual methods are extremely useful in participatory evaluations because clientele, or even stakeholders, become as immersed in the evaluation process as the program staff or evaluator. Here are a few ideas for engaging participants in the process:

  • Guide group members in pinpointing the reasons for the evaluation. These reasons could include showcasing program successes, identifying needed program improvements, or assessing needs for future iterations of the program.
  • Assist the group is creating an overall evaluation question which can be answered through pictures taken by the group, artistic media created, or videos produces.
  • Ask program participants to select the best method for answering the evaluation question(s): photography, videography, or art.
  • Support peer-to-peer training in the use of equipment.

The following table lists some ways that visual methods may be used in evaluation. While the topics are very broad, the evaluation ideas isolate specific potential program outcomes, improvements, or needs.

Programs that have the chance to build visual methods into the evaluation plan from the onset are the ideal. However, developing and mature programs have many opportunities to use these methods both to look retrospectively at program outcomes and program improvements and prospectively at participant needs.


What ideas do you have for using participatory visual methods in evaluation? Please share your thoughts in the comment box.


This article, Visual Methods in Evaluation: An Introduction, was originally published Friday, February 15, 2013, on the Evaluation Community of Practice blog, a part of eXtension.   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.