Mapping Home: Positive Living, Positive Homes at CAHR 2016

CAHR 2016 imageThe Canadian Association of HIV Research held its 2016 annual conference from May 11-15 in Winnipeg this year, and for the first time, the Positive Living Positive Homes team was there. Darren Lauscher, peer consultant, and Heather Picotte, study manager, discussed using a visual method in which HIV+ participants map their living space and point out areas that either positively or negatively affect their health and wellbeing.

The purpose of the mapping exercise is to provide a “jumping off point” for interviewers to talk to participants about their housing and help participants think carefully about how their home and health interact. The aim is to enable participants to provide richer, more in-depth answers to the interview questions. We also found that mapping provides an alternate way for participants to express their thoughts and feelings about their housing situation.

The maps end up being colourful pieces: participants are asked to colour code items or areas in their living space according to how healthy or unhealthy they are. Things that negatively affect health and wellbeing are coloured red or orange, while green and blue show things that increase wellness. Purple is used to indicate items or areas that participants would like but don’t currently have.

sample map 2

Sample of a PLPH map (not from an actual participant)

Collecting data with this added mapping component has been an interesting process, and our presentation at CAHR reflected on aspects of mapping that have been successful as well as those that have been challenging. Here are some of those reflections:

  • Trust in the interviewer and feeling safe in the interview space are crucial to this exercise succeeding. Participants are often a bit taken aback when they are asked to draw, so interviewers emphasize that the objective is not to draw a perfect representation of the space, but rather to create a tool that facilitates discussion about the space.
  • Mapping provides a more visceral, embodied way of articulating feelings about living space. For instance, several maps are from participants who live in single-room occupancy buildings (SROs). Their apartments are all very small, but when analyzed with interview transcripts, we found that people who were more satisfied with their space drew more detailed, larger maps, while people who were less satisfied drew less detailed, smaller maps.
  • Relationships within the space can be represented powerfully on a map. One participant drew a room in bright red to show that it was occupied by a relative with whom they didn’t get along – an emotional depiction that might not have been captured by verbal questioning alone.
  • Maps and interview transcripts need to be analyzed in tandem, in order to get a complete understanding of the space and its occupant(s).
  • Maps provide details that can guide the questioning in follow-up interviews. Currently, we’re in between the initial and follow-up interviews for most participants. We are using the maps to help refine our questions for the follow-ups.
  • One thing that’s been tricky is length of the activity. Ideally, it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to complete, but we feel if given more time, some participants would be able to draw in more detail. We struggle with wanting to get good data with the maps, but not wanting to fatigue participants.
  • At this point, we don’t ask that participants map the outside of their home or their neighbourhood. However, many of them have expressed that their neighbours/neighbourhoods are important influences on their health and wellbeing. How can we best capture this visually without drawing very large, complicated maps?

If you’re interested in learning more about visual methods in qualitative research, or about how we use mapping in PLPH, please take a look at the PDF of our presentation where you’ll find some good sources, as well as our contact information. Or, explore the PLPH webpage on using visual methods, where you can download our mapping facilitation guide and try the activity for yourself either on paper or digitally.