Expanding the methodological repertoire of participatory research into homelessness: the utility of the mobile phone diary

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Participatory research methodologies have expanded the opportunities for critical, emancipatory and democratic health and social work research. However, their practical application in research with vulnerable participants has historically been challenging due to ethical, practical and theoretical concerns. Individuals who are homeless are typically seen as ‘hard-to-reach’, transient, ‘hidden’ and even chaotic participant populations. Unsurprisingly, examples of the use of innovative participatory research techniques with those groups have been relatively scarce. This paper aimed to address this gap by discussing the application of one such technique – the mobile phone diary in research with multiply disadvantaged homeless adults. Diary methods are situated within the qualitative research on health, illness and social marginality, and the enhanced capabilities of the mobile phone diary are highlighted. The author illustrates the application of the mobile phone diary in his participatory research on the everyday life narratives of adults with serious mental illness (SMI) who were homeless. The process of designing the mobile phone diary is detailed. Following this, participant testimonies of their use of the mobile phone diary are presented. They demonstrate the participatory and inclusive nature, as well as the cathartic and empowering potential, of this technique. The methodological contributions and challenges and the theoretical generativity of the mobile phone diary method are discussed. The mobile phone diary is a feasible approach for eliciting evocative, contextualised and nuanced accounts of the lived experience of homelessness, social isolation, coping and recovery.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalQualitative Social Work
Early online date26 Mar 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Mar 2020


  • mobile phone diary
  • visual methods
  • participatory research
  • homelessness
  • serious mental illness

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