Seeing and Hearing the Problem: Using Video in Qualitative Research

Categories: Qualitative, Tools and Resources

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The world told is a different world to the world shown.

– Günter Kress ,  2003

Within a nanosecond of the emergence of new communications technology, some intrepid researcher will try to find a way to use it as a part of their inquiries. As a case in point, the first anthropological film fragment was shot by Alfred Haddon in 1898 in the Torres Strait Islands—only three years after the development of the first portable moving picture camera (Banks, 2007; McNiven, 2017). One can only imagine the practical challenges involved with carting a cine-camera into a hot, humid, remote part of the world. And we can only imagine his motivation for doing so—perhaps to capture some visual facets of the people and culture that could not be fully conveyed with words.


This series of posts focuses on the how of research by exploring emergent methods and new approaches to data collection, analysis, and/or theory-building.

In contrast, today researchers can record audio as well as visuals by simply pulling mobile devices from their pockets and pressing a button. Even so, like Dr. Haddon, they must decide why the moving picture is appropriate given the study’s purpose. They must determine what they will include within the frame—and what is left unseen.

Let’s look at the choices made by authors of four recently published articles: “Who’s behind the lens? A reflexive analysis of roles in participatory video research” (Whiting, Symon, Roby, & Chamakiotis, 2016), “Researching reflexively with patients and families” (Collier & Wyer, 2016), “Breaking news: ‘I have an eating disorder.’ Video testimonials on YouTube” (Pereira, Quinn, & Morales, 2016), and “Analyzing complex relationships in organizational research by means of video elicitation interviews” (Zehe & Belz, 2016). These studies represent four types of video research methods as described by Whiting et al. (2016):

  • Participatory video research, which uses participant-generated videos, such as video diaries,
  • Videography, which entails filming people in the field as a way to document their activities,
  • Video content analysis, which involves analysis of material not recorded by the researcher, or
  • Video elicitation, which uses footage (either created for this purpose by the researcher, or extant video) to prompt discussion.

In “Who’s Behind the Lens? A Reflexive Analysis of Roles in Participatory Video Research,” Whiting et al. (2016) used participatory video research methods. This team of researchers examined the “three-way relationship between researcher, participant, and videocam” in order to understand the roles of researchers and participants, and the materiality of methods using video technology and video images (Whiting et al., 2016, p. 3). Their 45 participants were asked to keep a video diary for one week, with a focus on the ways they took and switched between different roles in their work and private lives (p. 9). Once the diary assignment was completed, researchers quickly debriefed the participants to solicit their initial reflections on the experience. After reviewing the video data, the researchers conducted interviews with participants to discuss emerging themes. Finally, a presentation was made to participants via a webinar to gather their views on the findings and their recommendations for further development of the analysis and study (p. 11).

video research

The article “Researching reflexively with patients and families” (Collier & Wyer, 2016) can be categorized as an example of using both videography and video elicitation in research. The researchers video recorded participants as part of a video-reflexive ethnography (VRE) methodology. The authors defined VRE methodology as a synthesis of approaches:

“video ethnography,” encompassing the negotiated videoing of everyday health care practices and/or participant accounts of health care; and “video reflexivity,” involving the reviewing of video footage with participants to make sense of visual data that they have gathered or feature in themselves. (p. 981)

Collier and Wyer (2016) carried out the study in three phases. First, they conducted field observations and interviews (which were video recorded). Next, they video recorded the environments and practices identified in Phase 1. Then in Phase 3 they held video-reflexive sessions with participants (both patients and clinicians) that included showing video footage to elicit responses in a collaborative discussion.

Instead of creating videos, as Collier and Wyer did, some researchers analyze existing video recordings. This method was demonstrated in “Breaking news: “I have an eating disorder.” Video testimonials on YouTube” (Pereira et al., 2016).  Pereira et al. (2016) studied how men and women utilized YouTube to document their struggles with eating disorders (p. 938). Since many people post testimonials of this kind, the researchers were able to locate a large number of videos with a simple search. After filtering out those created by mass media outlets (i.e. news, professional documentaries, non-for-profit informational videos, and other television programs), a team of four researchers analyzed the first 50 videos generated by the search  (Pereira et al., 2016). Using inter-rater reliability methods, a selection of videos was coded by at least two coders.

The fourth method, video elicitation, was used by Zehe and Belz (2016) in “Analyzing complex relationships in organizational research by means of video elicitation interviews.” Video elicitation is one form of a broader set of visual elicitation methods which involve the use of images such as drawings, graphics, or photographs  (generated by the researcher or participant) to prompt and stimulate discussion of the phenomenon (Salmons, 2015). Zehe and Belz (2016) found two movies that pertained to the organizational issues and contexts they wanted to discuss with participants, and after critical screening, selected one scene from each movie with potential for stimulating conversation on a specific topic. These video vignettes were presented on an iPad to the respondents during interviews. The researchers observed that by “asking open and unstructured questions on purpose, the researcher gives the respondents the possibility to react to any aspect of the presented stimulus without pushing them into one specific direction” (p. 17).

Video allows us to bring the problems we study to life, to see and hear, show and experience the affective, non-verbal, and contextual elements of the phenomenon. We might be able to capture some understanding that might be missed in a narrative description. These four types and exemplars offer a few potential directions researchers can take to integrate video into research. Given that we are no longer constrained by the technical and convenience issues faced by early researchers, surely new types will emerge. What have you tried—what do you hope to try—in your research? Use the comment area to share ideas or references.


Banks, M. (2007). Using visual data in qualitative research. London: Sage Publications.

Collier, A., & Wyer, M. (2016). Researching reflexively with patients and families. Qualitative Health Research, 26(7), 979-993. doi:doi:10.1177/1049732315618937

McNiven, L. (2017). Torres Strait Islanders.   Retrieved from

Pereira, L. M., Quinn, N., & Morales, E. (2016). Breaking news: “I have an eating disorder.” Video testimonials on YouTube. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 938-942. doi:

Salmons, J. (2015). Qualitative online interviews. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Whiting, R., Symon, G., Roby, H., & Chamakiotis, P. (2016). Who’s behind the lens? A reflexive analysis of roles in participatory video research. Organizational Research Methods. doi:10.1177/1094428116669818

Zehe, A. K., & Belz, F.-M. (2016). Analyzing complex relationships in organizational research by means of video elicitation interviews. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2016(1). doi:10.5465/AMBPP.2016.16115abstract

More examples of video methods in research:

Cooper, K. A., & Hughes, N. R. (2014). Thick narratives: Mining implicit, oblique, and deeper understandings in videotaped research data. Qualitative Inquiry. doi:10.1177/1077800414542690

Christianson, M. K. (2016). Mapping the terrain: The use of video-based research in top-tier organizational journals. Organizational Research Methods. doi:10.1177/1094428116663636

de Freitas, E. (2016). The moving image in education research: Reassembling the body in classroom video data. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29(4), 553-572. doi:10.1080/09518398.2015.1077402

Jocson, K. M. (2016). ‘Put Us on the Map’: Place-based media production and critical inquiry in CTE. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29(10), 1269-1286. doi:10.1080/09518398.2016.1192698

Llanwarne, N., Newbould, J., Burt, J., Campbell, J. L., & Roland, M. (2017). Wasting the doctor’s time? A video-elicitation interview study with patients in primary care. Social Science & Medicine, 176, 113-122. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.01.025

Orús, C., Barlés, M. J., Belanche, D., Casaló, L., Fraj, E., & Gurrea, R. (2016). The effects of learner-generated videos for YouTube on learning outcomes and satisfaction. Computers & Education, 95254-269. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2016.01.007

Salmons, J. (2015). Chapter 6. Visual research and the online qualitative interview Qualitative online interviews. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Zundel, M., MacIntosh, R., & Mackay, D. (2016). The utility of video diaries for organizational research. Organizational Research Methods. doi:10.1177/1094428116665463

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