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Collaging for Health

This post was written by Mary Ann Petti, MPH, CHES.

Want to know more about your target audiences’ values, beliefs, and desires? Ask them to make a collage!

As Dr. Zaltman of the Harvard Business School once said, “a lot goes on in our minds that we’re not aware of. Most of what influences what we say and do occurs below the level of awareness. That’s why we need new techniques: to get hidden knowledge, to get at what people don’t know they know.”

At CommunicateHealth, we are interested in learning about what goes on in users’ minds. The technique that developed from Zaltman’s line of thinking is the metaphor elicitation technique, also referred to as image collaging. We’ve done image collaging for a variety of reasons — for client projects, at workshops, and internally as team building exercises. The result is always the same: an insightful and meaningful process.

During a collaging study, participants are given a topic and usually 100 to 150 images. They are then asked to create a collage that represents their values, beliefs, and desires related to the topic. The collaging process is distinctive because the result isn’t as much about the visual, as it is about the stories the participants share about what the visual represents. The process tends to be extremely empowering for the participants and usually offers “untapped” insights for the researchers.

So what does a collaging study look like?

Recently, we’ve been working on a project related to patient-provider relationships. We started with the patients. We gave them 100 images, and asked them to make a collage explaining what they value in a relationship with their doctor. The discussions were lively and insightful and people were able to communicate in a creative way without being “artists.”

For example, a participant might have chosen a picture like this:


And then communicated a personal story or piece of information that relates to the picture: “This is how I feel: free, full of energy and I want my doctors to understand that this is how I want to still feel with their help, even if I don’t look like this.”

As participants explain their images to the moderator, a valuable conversation is started — and this is where the stories happen. For this same project, we also spoke to healthcare providers, repeating the collaging process in order to understand how they want to communicate with their patients and what tools they need to be effective. The information we gained from this process will be vital for our clients, who want to improve conversations between doctors and their patients.


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