Like many in education and public health, we have learned a great deal from the pedagogy of Paulo Freire. Our work with people to develop their own educational materials has been based on Freire’s problem-posing pedagogy and his belief that adults should be full partners in their education.

Developing educational materials with members of the audience for whom these materials are intended is also an extension of the traditional approach to formative evaluation. Formative evaluation generally takes place at the planning stage when processes such as focus groups and intercept interviews are used to pilot test ideas, determine preferences, and conduct reviews. In the traditional approach to formative evaluation, materials are developed by experts and tested by members of the intended audience. The experts then modify the materials based on findings generated in pilot studies.

Participatory materials development processes involve the intended audience from the start. When participants are involved in the development of the materials, their voices, faces, and insights are reflected in the materials. Readers can identify with the people in the material because they look like themselves and grapple with familiar issues in familiar settings. The materials produced through a participatory process highlight the authors as critical thinkers who can inspire others. Educational materials written by learners can be powerful tools for sharing information and changing attitudes. The language used in these materials, because it is based on how people talk, usually scores within reasonable reading grade levels.

The various sub headings in this section provide information about our experience with the production of photonovels through participatory processes. Photonovels look like comic books but use photographs rather than drawings. They are popular entertainment media in many Latin American countries.

These materials in the subheadings include a brief overview of the development process, shortened from how-to-manuals we developed in the 1970s and early 1980s. In addition, we include examples of photonovels, a background article from Health Education Quarterly by Rima Rudd and John Comings, and additional references.

Participatory Materials Development: How-To Guides

Two guides were developed in the late 1970s. The first handbook, The Participatory Process: Producing Photo-Literature was developed after the authors worked with four groups of participants to develop photonovels.  Three of the groups were made up of adult students in English for Speakers of Other Languages classes supported by the New England Farm Workers Council and one was made up of people living in Troy, New York who came together to help the New York State Department of Health produce a community health education photonovel. The handbook provides advice on how to support a participatory process for the development of photonovels and on the technology of producing the final product.  Technology has changed dramatically over the last 25 years, and readers should consider how they might employ digital cameras, desktop publishing, and web-based distribution to both improve the quality of the product and lower the cost of production.  John Comings

The second handbook, Student Produced Health Education Material: A How-to Manual, was inspired by the previous one by Comings and Cain. This manual was developed as the authors were working with teachers and students in a rural county vocational school. The photonovel Decisions Decisions focused on students grappling with smoking. The overall project included the production of the photonovel, this how-to manual, a teachers guide, and an evaluation form.  Dissemination was county wide and the 9th grade students involved in the process presented ‘lessons’ to elementary school students in area schools. The 9th grade students were involved in all stages of the work.

Rudd and Roter used the process outlined in this guide to develop a photonovel with constructions workers, Workers Take Action: Fighting Asbestos in the Building Trades.  They have subsequently used and shared this guide with colleagues and students for the development of photonovels through a participatory process. Here too, we highlight the fact that technological advances now ease both the development and production processes. Costs, of course, need to be adjusted.

Rima Rudd