Editor’s note: Annie Levy is based in New York City. She is a chief story officer who discovers and brings corporate/organizational stories and brands to life at www.AnnieLevy.com. Levy is also the communications and story fellow at Cantilever, a digital design and development agency.

When I was 10 years old, my father gave me a camera. This gift ultimately led to a career creating images of people that show them as people first – vs. a category or diagnosis. 

Photovoice is a qualitative tool that puts the power of the camera in the hands of the individuals researchers are trying to understand. It allows research subjects to give voice to their own experiences through the images they create. I have utilized and honed photovoice by combining my experience as a photographer and my work understanding peoples’ mind-sets and emotions for a host of different sectors. I began using this tool extensively with medical patents and expanded to different populations and domains. And after 15 years, I’m an expert at drawing people out around the photos they present. 

Have you ever asked an audience or group to tell a story about a subject? When put on the spot, half will declare that they are not storytellers. So, we as researchers ask questions. We start with our questions and not their context. We get answers, but the answers are born out of our stories and are not necessarily helpful in understanding other peoples’ experiences and needs. 

Robert Shiller, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics, developed the theory of narrative economics, with a focus on using stories as input and that these stories, unlike output stories, do not have to have a beginning, middle or end.

Susan Fader, a qualitative research guru, has developed the thesis that just as behavioral economics migrated from the world of financial economics and was modified and adapted by market research, so should market research...