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6 Rules of Field Photography

Kabul: privacy filter

Planing a research trip to Afghanistan later this year – a good time to re-assess participant privacy protocols.

The extent to which you have the moral and legal obligation to protect your study participant’s privacy? The ways in which this conflicts with the organisational pressures of how the data will be used within your organisation and if the subject matter allows, how it might be used in the public domain?

If the research team uses services like Dopplr, Facebook or Twitter then it’s relatively easy for a 3rd party to narrow down the focus of where a photo has been taken.

And even if you do everything ‘right’, you’re still not out of the woods – the subject, their peer group or other members of the community may end up documenting and publishing the scene – putting a participant in a particular time and place.

Six rules of thumb:

  • &#187 Ensure everyone on the team is aware of the boundaries of the research and how it will be used, and that they are clearly able to articulate this to the study participants – ‘informed consent’.
  • &#187 Provide participant with full access to the data collected on them, and encourage them to delete anything that they’re not happy with. The significant value added of this approach is that it affects what the research team collect in the first place.
  • &#187 Filter and sort images prior to sharing amongst the rest of the team, or better still create a ‘data manager’ role to centralise the field data collection and filtering process.
  • &#187 Take particular care to remove implicating EXIF and other meta data from the photos.
  • &#187 What will you leave behind? What is its impact? Any physical artifacts left by the team e.g. copy of the written data consent, may implicate the participants.
  • &#187 Don’t assume to know the implications that publishing a photo will have on the study participants.

And the gent in the photo? Willing ad-hoc participant in Kabul.

Kabul: portrait

What are your own rules?