“When I came to England i thought I’d lost hope as a person. I felt weak and alone and I thought I couldn’t make it. Now I feel stronger.”
Hawdin, 16
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Running a Project
Setting Up

How to Set Up Your Project: Planning and Management

Defining your project purpose

Selecting your project team

Selecting participants for your project

Working with a partner organisation



Other workshop resources

Planning your workshops

Using images publicly

Summary of key points

Defining your project purpose

Before you start it’s essential to be clear why and for what purpose you’re using photography. You need to ask: what’s the aim of the project and how is photography going to facilitate this? Photography is an extremely flexible tool, but it’s hard to design appropriate workshops unless you’ve got clear objectives.


You’re a teacher working in a school. New refugee pupils arrive mid-term. They’re overwhelmed by the size of the school and by the daily school routines. They’re quite isolated in their classes and within the school more generally.

• To support the new students to settle into the school
• To build the confidence of new arrivals in using school facilities
• To encourage empathy and understanding for the new arrivals amongst current pupils

You could design a project where the current pupils use photography to create maps of the school and a ‘welcome booklet’ for the new arrivals . There could be a portraiture session where new arrivals and current pupils take portraits of each other. These photos could then be displayed on the walls of the classroom with names underneath.

The above example involves identifying clear needs, and a corresponding set of objectives; and designing a methodology which will help meet your objectives.

Consult with the young people participating about the project purpose and design. They may identify priorities and issues which you haven’t considered. Their engagement in the project design can be central to ensuring the project meets their needs.
However, young people may find it hard to articulate their needs or even to understand the concept of project consultation if it’s unfamiliar to them, especially at the beginning of a project. In this case, especially if the project is led by a non-refugee project leader, it’s essential that the aims and objectives are explained clearly, that the process remains sensitive to needs, and open to participant ideas and input during later stages.

Selecting a project team

A good project team is essential. In most situations, running a photography project will require you to hire in external expertise in the form of photographer facilitators. These are people with skills in both the media and in participatory workshop practice. A skilled facilitator is someone used to working inclusively and informally, who understands group dynamics and the needs of vulnerable young people. Typically a facilitator enables and empowers participants and builds relationships, and is not the educational focal point. However, when working with young refugees who’re not used to participation, a facilitator will often mix facilitation with more traditional teaching practices. This helps build trust and confidence amongst the group.

As a general rule PhotoVoice facilitators always work in pairs or small teams with an experienced lead facilitator. There are often young people who will need individual support and a team of facilitators can divide themselves as needed between the group and individuals requiring additional support. An important part of PhotoVoice’s work with young refugees takes place at a one-to-one level, where the young people are supported, in a safe environment, to talk about their images and to think about what they want to photograph. Many young refugees, particularly separated youth, have limited opportunities to simply hang out with adults and this one-on-one attention is valuable for them.

In photography workshops with large groups of young people all the project team need to have clearly defined roles. Having a clear set of systems makes the team efficient, helps provide a safe space for young people, and underpins successful workshops. When there are lots of young people running around taking pictures, posing for pictures, running out of batteries, downloading images, peering at each other’s pictures, swapping prints etc chaos can ensue! Make sure that you have at least one facilitator with good technical skills including archiving, uploading, editing and viewing. It’s important that specific members of the team are given responsibility for archiving and equipment to ensure negatives/files/cameras are not lost.

There needs to be a formal introduction to the project where facilitators can meet each other; be informed about the project and the participants; familiarise themselves with the setting and objectives; and receive training in project systems.

If you’re running your own project without bringing in facilitators remember that this can be a learning experience for staff as well as for participants. Allow time to debrief and share thoughts and feelings amongst the team.

If you’re commissioning artists or photographers to facilitate the sessions, be clear about the resources and time they’ll need to deliver the project. Agree on the terms in a contract for ease of reference.

If you’re using translators, include them as much as you can in planning and support them to become ‘co-facilitators’ as they’ll need to be comfortable and know what’s going on.

Selecting participants for your project

Unless you’re working with a pre-defined group, for example a school class, or a youth group, you’ll need to decide who is included in the group. You’ll need to decide whether to work exclusively (ie just with refugees) or inclusively. Some projects, especially with new arrivals in need of a safe space, work exclusively with refugees or even with a particular community of refugees. These projects can build confidence and security for young refugees, which help provide the foundations for building subsequent relationships between communities.

But many young refugees don’t want to be marked out or included on the basis of their refugee status, and want, more than anything else, to make friends in the local community and be treated like everyone else.

For a project manager, deciding on group composition can be complex, and will depend on the context, the needs of the individuals, how long they’ve been in the UK, broader integration policies, and the project objectives. In addition to these complex considerations, there’ll be more practical criteria for selection such as availability, interest, age and gender.

Working with a partner organisation

It’s very important that any photography project for young refugees is firmly located within the generalised provision of professional support. There may be many issues relating to a young person’s health, mental well-being, living situation, asylum case, protection etc that arise during the project that are beyond the scope and training of the project staff to deal with. Many photography projects involve some level of partnership, for example, between a host organisation such as a refugee community organisation or a school, and an arts organisation. You might want to draw up a simple agreement which identifies the roles and responsibilities of each party. This helps establish a system for referring issues which arise to the appropriate support organisation. PhotoVoice has worked very successfully in partnership with Dost since 2002 and this partnership has been key to project success.

Working with staff such as youth workers or case-workers who already have a strong existing relationship with the participant can be an excellent way to support participants through a project. On the other hand, it can be liberating for participants to engage with a project as individuals, on their own terms. Either way, it’s important to work with and understand the wider support network of young refugees.


Logistical issues are generally project specific. Here are some considerations:

Have you got an appropriate venue for workshops? Is it the right size? Is it familiar to the young people? Will they feel comfortable there? Is it far for them to get to?

Workshop times
Ensure that workshops fit in with the young peoples’ timetables. Their availability will depend on whether or not they’re in education or working. Generally the summer holidays are a good time when the young people have lots of free time to fill. Christmas is often a hard time for separated young refugees. It’s also a good idea to be aware of any relevant religious or cultural events that may impact on a project. In general young refugees, particularly teenagers, have incredibly unpredictable timetables. Apart from being typical teenagers with the tendency to forget arrangements, they also often have meetings with solicitors, doctors or social workers at very short notice.

Workshop duration
Young people have varying levels of concentration and the duration of workshops should be planned to ensure they remain engaged. PhotoVoice has run workshops lasting from a single hour to a whole day. As a general rule more can be achieved in longer workshops but they need to be structured with appropriate breaks and flexibility.

Getting to the workshops
How will the participants get to the venue? Do they need to be accompanied? Will it cost them money to get there? Will it be an issue for young girls, in particular, to get there?

Group composition
Will it be mixed gender? Will it be mixed culture?

Group size
There’s no ideal group size, but it’s important to have enough resources. PhotoVoice has found that groups of more than 15 young people can be difficult to manage, even with a strong team of facilitators. It’s important to break the larger group up, from time to time, to work in smaller groups of three to four, in pairs or individually.


Types of cameras
The type of camera used will be determined by cost and existing resources. Few organisations are lucky enough to have ready access to equipment so it usually has to be purchased as part of the project. Most participatory projects rely on simple point-and-shoot, film or digital cameras. These cameras are more than adequate in nearly all circumstances: they’re easy to learn to use so technical issues don’t impede self-expression. Digital cameras have gone up in quality and come down in cost dramatically in recent years. It’s important to get cameras with at least 6 megapixels if the images are going to be printed for public display. You’ll need to have access to computers and digital storage facilities such as an external hard drive if you’re going to use digital cameras. Cameras can be shared but this can lead to frustration and complications in keeping track of who took which images. If resources permit, it’s ideal to work with one camera per participant. For longer-term projects, using manual and SLR cameras can be immensely rewarding, allowing the photographers more control over their photographs; leading to greater skills and knowledge; and higher quality images.

Cameras can get lost, stolen and damaged so it’s important to factor the costs of a few spare cameras into project budgets.

Issues of trust
In resource-poor settings a digital camera is a valuable item. You’ll need to decide from the outset whether the participants are allowed to take the cameras home, and at what point. PhotoVoice always lets participants take cameras home – not immediately, but after two or three sessions ¬– to help build trust. We regard this as part of the contract made – by taking a camera and agreeing to be responsible and look after it, the participant is underlining their commitment to the project. Allowing participants to take cameras away from the workshops also opens up a far larger subject field as they can explore in their own time and space.

Memory cards
Memory cards currently come in sizes from 128MB to 4GB. How many images fit on the card will also depend on the camera settings. As a guideline a 1GB card will allow about 300 images to be taken if the camera is set to fine quality, large file size. You’ll need to decide if you want participants to take that many images and whether there’s adequate time and capacity to manage the editing and archiving.

Labelling cameras
The easiest way to manage cameras is for each participant to have an identical camera (so there’s no comparison between different qualities) labelled by name. This simplifies image-management and downloading, and also generates a sense of responsibility for the equipment.

Rechargeable batteries last longer and are much cheaper in the long run though it requires an initial outlay for the batteries and one or two rechargers. Have two sets of rechargeable batteries for each camera so that when they’re depleted you don’t have to wait to recharge them. Alternatively purchase cameras with rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries and make sure they’re charged before each session.

If you’re using digital cameras you’ll need access to at least one computer for uploading images. Aim for a maximum ratio of six participants per computer – and preferably less. Uploading and editing creates queues and waiting time for participants which can be frustrating for everyone.

It’s always desirable to be able to work with prints as well as looking at images on the computer. Prints can be laid out on a table or on the floor and new ideas and ways of looking at them are revealed by moving them around. As editing is better done in steps rather than as a one-off activity, it can be a good idea to do an initial edit on the computer, print the selection and do a second, tighter edit from prints.

If there’s no printer on-site, then check out local photo labs for rates and printing times in advance. You might be able to negotiate a special rate. Alternatively, online printers can be good value and high quality.

If you’re working in a group with digital cameras, a projector is a valuable workshop resource. It can be used to enlarge images, view edits and sequences of images, and is a good tool for bringing the whole group together to look at each other’s work and give feedback.

Other workshop resources

In addition to technical equipment and stationery, key resources for workshops include a good stock of images for use in discussion and exercises. You can cut these out from newspapers and magazines, and use personal photographs and postcards. You can laminate cut-out images or just stick them onto card. Keep a stock of magazines for participants to look at and see how images are used, to cut out images they like and use for collages. If the budget allows, a collection of photography books are also useful to introduce a wide range of professional, non-commercial photographic imagery such as art photography and photo-journalism. Ensure you get a diverse range of images (it’s easy to fall into the trap of choosing images that you like personally); be sensitive to culture, gender and race. If you use foreign news images be aware that they’re often of war and poverty. Try and balance them with more ‘commonplace’ images of other countries. It can lead to a rewarding discussion on how images are culturally read, as participants share insights and thoughts on the images.

Planning your workshop

The success of a good workshop will, to a large extent, depend on thorough forward-planning. Only with a clear set of project systems and procedures can facilitators provide a setting which allows participants to feel secure, the most important foundation for all workshops. It’s important to be responsive to the group you’re working with, and flexible as unexpected things nearly always happen. This also goes for the overall project schedule which might need adjusting to participant needs. As a rule of thumb, thorough planning is best but you don’t have to stick to it rigidly. Some key considerations in planning and preparation are:
• make sure there are clear and well-established workshop systems which cover facilitator briefings, and uploading and archiving procedures.
• ensure all the facilitators are aware of their own, and others’ roles in the workshop.
• prepare workshop plans and timetables for the whole project.
• prepare a warm-ups which are relevant to each workshop.
• plan activities which allow the group to share and bond.
• allow enough time for everything, bearing in mind that uploading can be time-consuming and is a common bottleneck of activity. Plan for the dead-time created by uploading and editing images.
• allow some time working as individuals or pairs, some in small groups and some as the whole group.
• make sure enough time is left for viewing and editing images, which is as important as taking the images.
• think about whether any activities or themes are likely to be a trigger for personal issues to arise. Is this consistent with the workshop objectives?
• prepare and discuss strategies for meeting the needs of the less participative and confident of the group

Using images publicly

At the outset, or as the project develops, it needs to be decided whether the images being produced by the young people will be viewed publicly. This might be friends and family, or a broader public audience. The great power of images lies in their ability to communicate and tell stories to an audience. Exhibitions, books or websites of images taken by young refugees can be used with great effect to raise public awareness and understanding about the experiences of refugees in this country.

Exhibition openings or image screenings can be a focal point in a project; when all involved can come together to celebrate what’s been achieved. It’s an opportunity for the young people to take great pride in their work, as they see other people take their work seriously and take note of what they have to say.

Decisions around the public use of images will depend on the project aims and objectives, whether there’s a clear strategic role for public communications and how the young people feel about showing their work beyond the group. At some point a conscious and inclusive decision regarding the public use of images needs to be made. There can be protection and support implications which need to be actively considered.

It’s not always appropriate for images to be used publicly. Much of the value of photography can be in the therapeutic process of making albums, diaries and histories. This may be a highly personal process that participants don’t want to share publicly. At times the prospect of a public event can put harmful pressure on a project – maybe because the young people are unsure about what to expect or because there’s the pressure to create images that will conform to audience’s expectations. Project managers need to be sensitive to such pressures and not expect refugees to become vehicles for raising issues. Sometimes, projects are a space to escape problems, not necessarily a place to deal with them.

Young people will often have little idea of the impact of showing their work publicly. It’s essential that they’re appropriately prepared and supported, and are able to opt out at any point.

Key points in this section

• Be clear about your project purpose and plan objectives
• Involve participants in project purpose and design
• Ensure the project team has adequate experience, skills, training, capacity and resources to deliver the project
• Build clear project roles, systems and procedures and train all staff in them
• Think through participant selection carefully, taking into account the immediate and longer term needs of participants
• Make sure that the broader support needs of the young refugees are taken care of, preferably through a partnership with an appropriate support organisation
• Think through all the logistics including equipment and resources in advance
• Consider the implications of using images created through the project publicly
• Plan all aspects of workshops thoroughly – both the content and the delivery – but be prepared to be flexible

Copyright 2008 PhotoVoice
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E: info@photovoice.org
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