"Bring a Picture, Song, or Poem": Expression Sessions as a Participatory Methodology

Keywords: adolescents, focus groups, participatory visual methods, qualitative, thematic analysis, expression sessions, South Africa


Participatory research approaches in which participants are placed at the center of the research have been successfully used to facilitate research engagement and open expression. In this article we describe our experiences of using a novel, hybrid participatory methodology called expression sessions (ES) with adolescents. We specifically explain how the ES method was conceptualized and operationalized and offer reflections on the usefulness of this approach. Our study was implemented through 24 focus group discussions with 144 adolescent participants aged 12-17 years old. We found the ES method valuable to encourage active participation, facilitate open and meaningful expressions, and enhance collaborative reflection. Through the ES approach participants had the freedom to choose their most proficient ways of expression, which facilitated reflection and discussion of issues in new meaningful ways. In this article thus we present an alternative, participatory methodology that can easily be adopted by qualitative researchers and with diverse samples.


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Author Biographies

Candice Groenewald, Human Sciences Research Council

Candice GROENEWALD is chief research specialist at Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, an honorary research associate in the Psychology Department at Rhodes University and lecturer as part of the South African Research Ethics Training Initiative (SARETI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Zaynab Essack, Human Sciences Research Council

Zaynab ESSACK is chief research specialist at Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, an honorary research fellow at the School of Law and Honorary Research Associate at CAPRISA, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She is also the co-principal investigator of the South African Research Ethics Training Initiative (SARETI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


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How to Cite
Groenewald, C. ., & Essack, Z. (2023). "Bring a Picture, Song, or Poem": Expression Sessions as a Participatory Methodology. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 24(1). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-24.1.3927