January 22, 2016

UChicago Researchers to Use Digital Storytelling to Explore Reproductive Health in India

A University research center recently received a $1 million, two-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the center’s new research project, Kissa Kahani. The project will focus on factors that influence reproductive health of young people in India.

Instead of employing traditional research methods like structural surveys, the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3) will approach its research topic through digital storytelling in workshop environments. Combining personal narratives, photographs, writings, and music, the short documentaries will present rich portraits of lives of Indian youths ages 15–24.

Kahani will not be the first Ci3 research project to use digital storytelling. The Transmedia Story Lab at Ci3 has completed a two-year project that collects digital stories of young black youth on the South Side of Chicago. The project aimed at reframing the narratives of what race and sexuality meant for black youths.

Digital storytelling particularly fits the current research project.

“One goal is to get a contextualized understanding of issues of gender and health…we can understand the larger context in the social and political environment that young people live in. The idea is that things that may seem unrelated to reproductive health, like whether you have a car, whether you have a form of transportation, whether your parents have to monitor you, or whether you stay in school, can actually be very related [to issues of reproductive health],” said Ci3 founder and project investigator Melissa Gilliam.

For Kahani, Ci3 will work with several local organizations in India. Ci3’s main partner is Operation ASHA, a non-profit organization founded in 2005 that brings tuberculosis (TB) treatment to disadvantaged areas. The CEO of Operation ASHA, Sandeep Ahuja (M.P.P. ’06), is an alumnus of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, and has been in touch with the University for years, according to Gilliam.

Two faculty members will travel to India for the research project. They are Gilliam, M.D., M.P.H., professor of obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics, and Alicia Menendez, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

The specific locations for the workshops have not been chosen, according to Valerie Reynolds, the communication director for Ci3. The center has, however, already sent the storytelling group, led by Project Administrator Shirley Yan, to India.

“[I’ve been in India] since mid-November of 2015, but we’ve been doing work since September. Difficulties include all the usual when doing an implementation project in India—various bureaucratic processes, trying to get incentives aligned. For the most part though, these difficulties have been very minimal because we have fantastic project partners,” Yan said.

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