By Andrea Arnold
The “PLURAL” photography exhibition will be available for Valley residents to check out over the Canada Day long weekend. The exhibit will show the results of an academic research collaboration on the topic of health care spending by the University of British Columbia and the University of Northern British Columbia. The project began in 2019 as a health economics research project seeking perspectives from northern residents on health service resource allocations.
“The research explored the perceptions of northern residents on health care services in the north of the province,” said team member Theresa Healy, Ph.D. Vice President, Public Health Association of British Columbia (PHABC) and Adjunct Professor, School of Environmental Planning & Gender Studies Co-PI. “The northern health authority is the size of France. A strong theme in the answers was that there were positives for health from living in the north that are not recognized. If health care resources invested in these strengths instead of judging the north as lacking and deficit there would be better outcomes. For example, imposing solutions generated in and for the larger and urban centres in the lower mainland did not improve health outcomes or streamline services and save money. Rather, such solutions (close rural hospitals and centralize services in “urban centres”) resulted in delaying and complicating access to necessary health care. While lower mainland residents may suffer under long waiting lists for necessary health care procedures, northern residents have no timely access because of climate/distance/shortages of staff. “
Some of the research was collected through a process called photovoice. Valemount resident John Grogan was recruited by Healy to also be a part of the group. He admitted that prior to this experience, he knew very little about Photovoice. Now, he can provide a simple explanation of the concept.
“Photovoice… where art and research intersect to plant a seed for social change,” he said.
“The exhibit presents the research data that was collected through photovoice – because it was a more creative and artistic process it was very powerful and it is a gift back to the community in sharing research data in a way that is so understandable,“ When initially contacted, Healy thought she was being used for her contacts, but then she was asked to also join the team.
The use of Photovoice allowed for a more interactive way to gather information from residents than a traditional survey.
Healy explained that the process spanned over several weeks. They advertised for participants across the province. Then the work of gathering information began.
“First, participants met in a workshop where the process was explained,” she said. “They were given a question to answer – what perspectives do northern residents have on the allocation of healthcare service resources, – using photographs to help explain their answers.” They were provided with the following prompts to help: What helps you be healthy? What are the challenges in your community to achieving a healthy life?
Participants then had some time to capture their images and construct write ups to go with the photos that explained how the image related to the questions.
The group met again to go through the collection of photos and writings before picking out the ones that would proceed through the process. This process gives more of a voice to the people as it is not a select group of researchers deciding what data gets used, but the people themselves.
“This method of collecting data is more rich than surveys,” said Healy.
In addition to the photovoice workshops, they also conducted interviews and focus groups.
“We made sure we conducted research with a range of people, service providers, elected politicians, indigenous people, marginalized folks, community members in all 3 research streams,” she said.
The results will be presented in a more formal report to Ministry members and other policy makers for funding needs understanding.
In addition to the exhibit that is traveling across Northern BC, the information has been printed into a 140-page book “Through a Northern Lens”. The book contains information about the research methods used, preliminary results, submitted photography taken by residents, as well as commissioned photography by Attilio Fiumarella. Fiumarella travelled across Northern BC documenting his experiences. As he reflected while going through his photos back home, he arrived at a strong central theme; resilience. He took some of the images and transferred them, using water and chemicals onto other mediums.
“Transferring the image from one place to another allowed me to work with the photographs’ materiality and shape, interpreting a new visual identity for those landscapes and populations,” said Fiumarella in the book.
“The book (300 copies first printing) is intended for what researchers refer to as Knowledge Translation (KT), which I prefer to call knowledge transfer; a means to share with others the knowledge gained by doing the research,” said Grogan. He said in this case, a copy of the book will be distributed to policy-makers, such as the Ministry of Health, Northern Health, and participants in the study, as well as to every Public Library in Northern British Columbia.
“This extraordinary effort to disseminate information back to the community is a fairly new and powerful demonstration of respect and validation on behalf of the researchers, and will certainly be observed by the funders.”
The book summarizes information gathered from group discussions with nine community members, three photovoice sessions, Indigenous contributions, New Hope Society members, and 31 decision makers representing 18 communities across Northern BC.
The “Plural” exhibit is set to visit both Valemount and McBride this weekend.
“People will see the research data – captured as visual images and stories – as captured by the Photovoice stream, and a string stand alone from the project as art,” said Healy.
In Valemount at 99 Gorse Street, Friday, July 1st – Saturday, July 2nd – ground floor classroom
In McBride at 942-3rd Avenue (Robson Valley Community Services) Sunday, July 3rd – Monday, July 4th. Times for all four days are 10:00am-2:00pm and 4:00pm-7:00pm.