Using photo-surveys to inform participatory urban planning processes: Lessons from practice

Ricardo da Silva Vieira, Paula Antunes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)


Photography based methods have been under-utilised as a participatory tool to inform urban planning and decision making processes on citizens' concerns, although they present several potential advantages in terms of facilitating communication on complex aspects to decision-makers. In this paper we explore the potentialities and limitations of Photo-Surveys (PS) for this purpose drawing upon the case of Thornbury, a small town in the Southwest of England. We organised a PS exercise where participants were asked to take photos on positive and negative aspects of their town. Participants were then interviewed to discuss their photos.PS allowed obtaining high amount of in-depth information with a lower number of participants than other methods, helping to build an improved understanding of some of the issues identified. Some of the PS criticisms found in the literature such as reliability and objectivity in the interpretation of results (photos) and depth of the information gathered could be demystified. One of the main findings was that aspects that could be deemed as of difficult visual representation (e.g., feelings, past events, abstract aspects) were present in the photos.Given the low number of participants, views gathered cannot be seen as representative, but they provide interesting insights about living in Thornbury and support reflection upon the use of the method. PS also worked as an entry point to some of Thornbury's social networks, allowing the authors to get acquainted with the community, thus paving the ground for further participatory work. However, there some issues regarding anonymity that will need to be dealt with.PS asks for little knowledge on the town and on the main issues affecting the population, and therefore, can be useful for developing surveys and questionnaires, as a tool for participatory rural appraisal or participatory active research. It can also be used for gathering views in the early stages of the evaluation of plans and projects, explore an issue more in deep including an array of stakeholder perspectives on the matter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-508
Number of pages12
JournalLand Use Policy
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


  • Citizen participation
  • Photo-survey
  • Visual method
  • Visual representation

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