Update on Project Activities
Our week mainly consisted of beginning our final report and conducting data analysis. Justin led some of the more formal statistical analysis, and Katie worked on the literature review while we all had a chance to look through the data. We finished up a first draft of the report and sent it over to the community partners early today morning, and we are awaiting their comments over the weekend. With so much data collected, we were having trouble choosing what to highlight, but we tried covering the important baseline goals, as one of the starting reasons for our project was to show Menlo Park that it is not an exception to the trends of unaffordability and deficient housing supply in the Bay Area.
What We Observed and Learned
One of the greatest learning experiences is the difficulty of civic engagement. Initially, we aimed to conduct 100 surveys but we were only able to capture 81. In total, we conducted around ten 2-3 hour canvass shifts with shifts ranging from 2-3 people from the group canvassing. While our primary audience for the survey were service workers in the downtown area of Menlo Park, we were often unable to survey folks we wanted to represent in our findings. Many of these workers did not have time and space to fill out the surveys. We had several initial thoughts: there might be people who don’t speak English, know how to use iPad technology, or feel disincentivized by our survey. To address these issues we created both English and Spanish surveys, created paper versions of the survey, and announced to folks we were canvassing so that if they left their email, they would automatically be entered for a raffle for a $25 gift card of their choice. However, we think there are still a lot of different ways we could have creatively promote civic engagement and designed with their needs in mind.
This has made us think a lot about how to design civic engagement; in class, we learned about the case study in San Francisco’s Chinatown and how unique techniques and approaches were taken in order to design with the audience in mind, like by using the toy cars to illustrate how traffic flow would change with the sidewalk adjustments. If we were to do this again, we would want to reevaluate how we approach canvassing and use creative techniques in order to engage the audience that we were unable to capture in this round of canvassing. Some of these techniques include having a digital component for reaching people and collecting data. We potentially could have collected more responses if we had city support for collecting data and gauge the need for affordable housing and public transportation options.
We would also allot more time to data analysis. With break and the extra week of canvassing, our data analysis time and ability to translate that into a report got shortened. Trying to get project components moving a little faster at the beginning to allow for more time on the deliverables would have been be ideal, but we are still feeling good about our work for the constraints.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
We each discuss a personal example of an “aha” moment in our project.
Yesenia: While canvassing in Safeway, I learned how difficult it is to reach some of the people we wish to hear from the most. As the class readings and lectures revealed, minorities are among those who are heavily impacted by inaccessible housing and transportation policies. They constitute a large part of the workforce in Menlo Park, and while roughly 45% of the people we surveyed were hispanic or black, I would have appreciated greater opportunities to speak with more workers who were of this background. Menlo Park is also mainly white and Asian in terms of demographics, so the workers coming from underrepresented racial backgrounds are not only comprising much of the workforce, but are also part of the huge flux of employees commuting long distances to get to work. At Safeway, the manager on shift was very reluctant to let us talk to the workers, as he paid them by the minute. In the future, it would be great to have more time to talk to the workers and gather more testimonials, even from non-english speaking ones, because their voices are historically silenced or ignored.
Shikha: When we started off our project, I thought quantitative data was the goal. However, in having conversations through our canvassing experience, I realized how much more valuable the personal stories and testimonies were. People discussed watching their community change beyond recognition, from having to commute two hours on public transportation to wasting a quarter tank of gas in traffic - these individualized reactions went far beyond our initial survey. Our very first survey respondent highlighted just how unforgiving Silicon Valley can be. A manager at McDonald’s, the respondent worked in technology until he lost his role without much warning with the onset of new technology companies. He now lives in a house with 11 people while travelling on 3 buses to get to work. His story felt unfair in many ways, and it instantly made me empathize with our respondents and realize how formative transportation/housing issues are for life satisfaction as well as the role of big technology companies in causing these inequities. I am still so grateful that our respondents trusted us with their stories.
Justin: Perhaps my greatest takeaway was talking to an employee at Trader Joe’s. He was describing how hard it is to live in such an expensive area, despite the fact that he had lived there his entire life. He said that this was no place to raise a family, which is a strong indicator of unsustainability if an area is not suitable for the next generation. The stocker at the store was an especially friendly and outspoken person, and I really sympathized with him in his situation. He said he was fortunate enough to live with his parents who had a house in East Palo Alto for a long time, but not all are so fortunate.
Homeownership has been a major element of the American Dream since the 1950s, and it is clear that people place a huge amount of value and pride in their homes. Thus, when people cannot own homes, it is not just a problem of shelter, but also identity, as people miss out on a core element of our societal identity. Though property owners may not have a negative duty to provide housing, it is important to allow a city to be open to all types of people. Long-term residents may not have a right per se to live in an area, but they do have a strong claim, and society should respect an individual’s roots and promote continuity of communities, as a place of living is more than just the shelter it provides.
Michelle: My biggest learning moment was while canvassing at Safeway. I approached a woman stocking the beauty aisle and describe our project. At first, she was reluctant to talk because she was wary of her manager’s watch. But she continued stocking the shelves and sneaking in conversation about her struggles with housing: how she had to sell her car to afford to live in her mobile home in East Palo Alto, how her kids are the first thing she thinks of when she makes these decisions. It showed me how important these issues are to these workers, and how willing people are to talk about things that matter to them. I’m so glad we’re able to give these people a voice through our report.
Sarah: My biggest learning moment happened during canvassing early on in the quarter. I had entered a hair salon on Santa Cruz avenue and was greeted by the cleaning staff, one of whom was working on cleaning up a pile of dust and hair that had accumulated by the door. Instead of the usual look of wariness that I expected to find after a couple interviews, she seemed excited to talk to me, and had many opinions and stories. One story has stuck with me. She described a day in her life-- namely her commute to and from work. She spoke of the struggles she faces in affording to ride public transportation as well as the time it takes for her commute because of the distances she has to cover to get to work every day. In order to get to work on time, she has to wake up at 5:30am to start a long slew of public transportation connections, leaving behind her husband ,children, and dog. To me, it was one of the more shocking things to hear; though I had seen the numbers and statistics, I had never connected a face and a family to them. In that interaction, I learned empathy at a much greater level, and I learned that behind each point of data, there is a life and a story and that these are all important ones to hear. I never expected to have such a profound experience and takeaway like that, but increasingly I see the value that community-based learning and work holds, and how it can completely change someone’s perspective in just a conversation. Going into the future, I will remind myself to seek empathy in my endeavors, and work to always try to find positive human connection behind the work that I do.
Katie: One big takeaway that I have from this project is that transportation and housing issues are inherently linked and when we think about redesigning spaces in the Bay Area, we have to think about the ways and modes these two are connected. When I was canvassing in Safeway, I talked to the night manager. He told me that he originally lived in Redwood City, but could no longer afford to live there anymore so now he is located in further into the East Bay where housing is cheaper, but his commute is much longer. This was the case for many workers that we talked to and exemplifies how low-income members of the Bay Area are disproportionately impacted by environmental justice issues on top of being pushed out due to gentrification. Another moment was when I was talking to a worker at a restaurant and he told me that he wanted to take public transportation, but there were many barriers in place that prevented him. For example, he lived in a different county than he worked in and the bus lines do not connect from county to county, so he would have to get off and pay the fair again in order to reach his destination. Our fragmented public transport system makes it difficult for people who rely on it to get to the places they work and live. Through this project, I was able to engage with communities members on topics that we had learned about in class. My biggest takeaway is how to incorporate empathy into civic engagement and how to think about survey design with the most vulnerable and marginalized mind.
Update on Project Activities
On Tuesday, Shikha, Yesenia, and Justin met to collect more surveys and bring us closer to the Menlo Together goal of 100 surveys. We canvassed for 1.5 hours, targeting both stores we had already canvassed before, during different work days/hours, and new stores that we had not seen. Justin thought that we should especially focus on Trader Joe’s, as it has many workers in a centralized spot, but the manager said we could not interview workers inside of the store. Yesenia and Justin visited other stores along Escondido road. In total, we collected 7 surveys. Meanwhile on campus, the team met during class on Wednesday in the d.school to start working on final deliverables and sorting through the collected data.
What We Observed and Learned
Shikha, Yesenia, Justin: For the last shift, Justin and Yesenia planned to go to Trader Joe’s, where our group has previously had success, to cover a different shift. Justin talked to the manager, and he did not want us there, despite the fact that it was an off time for them, and a week ago, a different manager told our group to come back at this time. To fill the shift, we had to find alternative places to canvas. Justin and Yesenia walked down El Camino and Escondido Road to any small businesses that had been missed by previous shifts. As this was our last shift, we had already covered the easier businesses. In most of the small businesses, there are not many workers, and the workers present are busy, so these are hard to canvas. We went to Safeway and were permitted to survey, but every worker was busy. In total we received 7 responses (we struck out many times). However, after this experience, we came to the conclusion that we have covered all of the businesses that were willing to talk, serving as a natural end to our study. This is useful information for our survey because it shows that we represent Menlo Park businesses to the extent that is possible.
Justin: During our Wednesday meeting at the d.school, I “cleaned” the data so that it is in a format that we can study. This involved creating dummy variables for the modes of transportation and incentives people would want for public transportation.
Sarah: Even though I did not canvas this week due to sickness, I worked on starting to fill out the final write up during class on Wednesday and work on the weekly reflection remotely.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Shikha, Yesenia, Justin: At Applewood pizza, one of the workers declined to fill out the survey, stating “Oh, I know none of that” in Spanish. Yesenia tried reassuring her, in Spanish, that the questions on the survey were simple, like ‘how many minutes does it take you to get to work’. However, she remained unwilling to fill out the survey and we thanked her anyway. We were interested in seeing how the language barriers and even literacy could play into other canvassing interactions, but as Tuesday was our last day, we no longer have to worry about that. Still, it is important to consider we are considerate of literacy challenges or things that may dissuade workers from filling out a survey. Reading between the lines, it is possible that such a response is to avoid saying “I am unable to read the survey,” or perhaps to more politely decline to take the survey. In either event, we cannot force somebody to take the survey if they do not want to, as this would undermine our integrity as surveyors.
Justin: We can use some of the graphs that were automatically generated by Google. However, for some metrics, we will want to study responses with respect to race or income, or compare metrics in new ways that present illustrative conclusions.
This week we were assigned readings extremely pertinent to our particular project. The SPUR Report worked on breaking down the transportation patterns, needs, and recommendations for the Bay Area and Alex Schafran’s “Silicon San Francisco, and the West Bay” focused on the urbanization (and lack thereof) in Marin County. The SPUR report deals with more of the findings and literature we have come in contact with in our work with our community partners. The way that the writers decided to put together the publication in terms of the figures, colors, and headings was very visually pleasing, and we hope to be able to incorporate aesthetic ideas from that report into our final deliverables. In their introduction, they state “the Bay Area has more than two dozen different public transit operators—and yet only 3 percent of all trips here are made using transit.” That statement is something that we probably would not have expected before our group work started, but now makes more sense as we have canvassed and increasingly seen trends that people from all socio-economic brackets tend to drive to work alone. To us, that means that a lot of the public transportation options are inaccessible because they are so disparate and sometimes illogically planned that it makes using multiple types of public transit untenable, to the point that driving alone in a car through hours of traffic is more helpful. We hope that our project can address this fatal flaw in the public transit system in Menlo Park, and hope that the findings of the SPUR Report as well as their recommendations can be seriously taken into account. It can be done with effort and money, as evidenced in London’s updated transit routes that are now widely used and accepted and touted as being one of the best laid out plans and easiest ones to understand.
Switching to the second reading, Schafran’s “Silicon San Francisco, and the West Bay,” focused more on Marin County. Historically, the area has been home to extraordinarily wealthy people in search of a quiet and nature-centric location to settle down. To that end, as evidenced by the Schafran article, there was quite a bit of pushback regarding urbanization of West Marin (aka the 1973 Plan). The article even states that “at virtually every turn, efforts to combat the unnecessary urbanization of West Marin were innovative, aggressive, and progressive.” These innovative approaches took the form of environmental protection rather than equitable living and social equality. By hiding under the guise of protecting the natural beauty of Marin County, the already well-to-do residents were able to subvert most efforts for urban development in their bucolic mansions on the hills. This parallels a little bit of what we have seen in Menlo Park: there are wealthy residents who do not welcome new change in their traditionally well-off and well-to-do area, pushing back on the idea of welcoming affordable housing to their area. For example, the financial barriers in Menlo Park like the average monthly rent for an apartment being $3500. This has traditionally made low-income families unable to move into these neighborhoods, leading to issues such as long commutes for the workers in the area. However, in 2008, Schafran documents that Marin County passed a “countywide measure to fund transportation improvements. The major provision of the bill was to fund a commuter train, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), between San Rafael and northern Sonoma County.” While this seems to have been some sort of panacea, it was not.
Schafran goes on to say that even with all the money funneled into transit, there would still be
a disconnect. It all goes back to Marin County’s reliance on the environmental versus social
good fight. Thus, there is precedent of good ideas going to waste. Unfortunately, our group does not have the bandwidth to see our project all the way through and make sure that our recommendations make actual change in the long run. However, since there is a history of money going into transportation and not getting used in the proper ways, our team will focus on emphasizing the benefits of including affordable housing and better public transportation in and around Menlo Park.
Because we can identify and call out communities like Marin for what they are doing, and because we can see the flaws in the public transportation sector and examples of how to fix them, we should do what we can to ameliorate the situation in the Bay Area. It starts with baby steps like Menlo Together’s work on trying to understand the commuting patterns of low income workers in Menlo Park and their quality of life, and it ends with actual change on a city, regional, state, and maybe even national level.
Update on Project Activities
Katie and Justin: We did our canvassing shift at the same time as last week, Thursday from 8 to 10 pm. We targeted Trader Joe’s and Safeway to get ahold of the folks who were working the night shift. We also stopped by Amici’s and Chef Kwan’s since we noted that there were quite a few workers in those establishments the last few times we canvassed. In total, we got around 8 surveys. We dropped off a stack at Amici’s and Chef Kwan’s and will pick it up sometime Sunday.
Michelle & Shikha: Michelle and I did our Saturday afternoon shift last week as well as a Friday morning shift today with Yesenia. On Saturday, we went up down Santa Cruz Avenue as well as around a few side streets. We mostly talked to small business owners, managers, and workers (about 1 per establishment) and got about 7 surveys and 2 in personal stories. On the Friday shift this week, we went to Safeway, Staples, and a few small businesses in that plaza. We got about 15 surveys, mostly at Safeway, and 2 stories.
Sarah & Yesenia: As explained in later sections in this reflection, our schedules could not align for us to canvass together this week. However, we both were able to get out into Downtown Menlo Park this week. Sarah focused on smaller storefronts in Downtown Menlo Park, while Yesenia focused on larger businesses like Safeway. Sarah was able to get around 10 responses on paper during her afternoon, opting out of using an iPad because the older demographic of workers/managers/owners in Downtown Menlo Park seems to be on the more technologically unsavvy side. Yesenia used an iPad in her afternoon in Safeway, as the overall demographic is on average younger and more adept at using iPads.
We brought up the concern to our community partners that with our limited schedules and unexpected difficulties with getting folks to participate in the survey that we would not hit the 100 surveys that we originally agreed upon. Right now, we have conducted 74 surveys;
We discussed what our final deliverables would look like again.
Chris Lepe from TransForm suggested that we create a shareable blog post for us to make this information that we’ve gathered accessible to everyone, not just city council members. Given our current capacity, it may be something we look at if we finish our deliverables early but we want to focus our original final deliverables first.
What We Observed and Learned
In terms of connecting our work to the class readings, housing has a very expansive definition but a limited view in Menlo Park. Most people like the idea of affordable housing but are also attached to the idea of low-density housing, green space, and knowing your neighbors. Some in Menlo Park blame Facebook and Google for raising housing prices and pushing long-term residents out. Others say that even more than housing, traffic will push them out of the area.
This week we learned about affordable housing in California and the history of public housing. Our project relates a lot to the topics we covered this week since our surveys are intended to assess the need of affordable housing in the area. Many of the people we spoke to during the survey talked about how expensive all of the housing was in this area and how difficult it was for them to afford it. They talked about the consequences: working longer hours, driving further, and paying more for rent,
Michelle & Shikha: Friday mornings can be busy, but waiting for workers to serve all customers proved effective. People filled out our survey rapidly, and some even left contact information. People are really fed up with these issues in Menlo Park and were happy to take the survey. We had more lengthy conversations when going to smaller businesses with fewer workers. However, surveying at Safeway was much more efficient than on Santa Cruz Ave because of the density of workers. The difference in Safeway was that workers had less time to fill out the survey. A few still wanted to chat for longer but were wary of their manager nearby. The manager approached Yesenia and Michelle and told us to ask him before coming in next time. He mentioned that he paid his employees by the minute, so we shouldn’t take too much for their time. Still, it was a productive session and the workers were excited to help.
Yesenia & Sarah: Making personal connections with people really helps get what you want! Sarah had a successful afternoon on Thursday with one memorable interaction with the owner of a luxury pet store. After having a lengthy conversation with the owner and building rapport, she gave me access to most of the workers during their breaks for additional surveying. The rest of the afternoon was spent in other shops along the Santa Cruz strip of Downtown Menlo Park as well as the side street businesses. 12:30-2:00 pm on Thursdays is a good stretch of time to interact with workers.
Yesenia had a schedule conflict to go canvassing during the usual time so she ended up joining Michelle and Shikha Friday morning from 10:30 am -12:30 pm. She noticed a great difference between canvassing in a store like Safeway and a small, family-owned business in downtown Menlo Park. Because Safeway is a bigger, busier store than the small, family-owned businesses, the workers were more in a hurry to fill out the survey, which gave us less time to collect testimonies, but more time to survey other workers. The manager was also very wary of us asking workers to take a few minutes to fill out the survey because they are paid by the minute, as mentioned above.
Katie & Justin: Night shift is a really hard shift to cover; people are at the end of the shift and ready to go home. We recognize that our survey is not a priority to them when they either have a family to get back to or a job to finish.
Getting people to fill it out on the spot is a lot more successful than dropping it off and picking it up later. However, when it comes to businesses like restaurants, we want to work around their schedule and accommodate for their needs. If we had more time, we could canvass at different times where restaurants were in a lull (3pm-4pm or 10am-11am), but with the resources we have and the time we are able to dedicate, we had to coordinate some drop-offs and pickups. We do not think that we will have many responses, but the managers seemed to be interested, which is a good omen.
We went into Trader Joe’s, in which we have had success before. We understand the night shift is hard to cover, but we were unable to capture Trader Joes in the last night canvassing session and we thought it was valuable to represent. I (Justin) spoke with the manager, and he allowed us to take surveys, but after I conducted one survey, he reconsidered his decision and cordially asked us to leave because they were busy closing. The manager told us to come back around 2:00 on a weekday when the last shift starts (so that we do not double count the same shift).
We were able to conduct some Spanish surveys. I, Justin, personally enjoyed this because I felt like I could really connect with the person I was interviewing this way. I originally started in English (which I default to), but he did not speak the language. I could tell that he appreciated me speaking his native language. Also, in terms of data, it is important to reflect all languages to the best of our ability to avoid response bias. We encountered a Burmese man that we could not communicate with, but there is not much that we can do in cases like this.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
We may have to do one more shift of canvassing to get close to the target number of 100 surveys. We currently sit at 74 surveys, and we are hoping to reach about 90. Katie will go back to pick up a few paper surveys from restaurants downtown. Shikha will lead another shift. Our updated goal is 80-90 surveys.
We met with the community partners again on Friday. They approved the outline for our final report. Our plan is to individually work on these pieces for next week, refine over Thanksgiving break, then meet with the community partners for approval on November 30. Broadly, Katie will be focusing on the literature review, Sarah will be writing about the project background, purpose, and methodology, Justin will work on survey analysis and data visualization, Michelle will compile stories, Yesenia will write summary descriptions of the survey data, and Shikha will work on compiling the powerpoint.
In terms of data analysis, the response spreadsheet will require some amount of cleaning. For instance, some of the questions required respondents to select all that apply, so we will need to make dummy variables. Broadly, we will manipulate the data so we can study it.
The community partners mentioned a few other potential action items. Adina wants us to meet with a business leader in Menlo Park to ensure that they are not surprised by the findings when it is published. We will likely be meeting with this person the Friday after our final presentation, then build our Letter.
Update on Project Activities
This week was also spent canvassing. Each group tried to diversify times in order to get a different response crowd.
Michelle & Shikha: We plan on doing our canvassing shift this Saturday afternoon. We will be using two iPads and interviewing in the same area of Menlo Park (businesses along the Santa Cruz and El Camino intersection) as there were many small businesses whose managers and workers we didn’t reach in our last shift. A Saturday may have more foot traffic and constant streams of businesses, but it may not have a “peak” crowded time, so going back and forth between businesses will be easier. We plan to go back to two of our interviewees to get some first-person details about their ability to live and/or work near Menlo Park. We may also consider getting some responses from families who live in the area, as understanding what Menlo Park wants is also crucial.
Yesenia & Sarah: We went canvassing along Santa Cruz Ave on Thursday, Nov 1 at about 1:40 pm. We split up because Sarah had the only iPad that was charged. Yesenia collected one last paper survey that was left during the previous canvassing round. Yesenia then decided to charge the iPad in a Starbucks, while Sarah finished her shift at about 2:30 pm. Yesenia continue surveying from 3:15 to 4:15 pm. She was only able to get one survey response as many store workers were either i) occupied with customers ii) talking with each other iii) didn’t feel comfortable filling out the survey while on the job. Sarah was able to collect around 7 surveys total, but realized that there was an influx of people from work/school who started to populate the area around 2pm. Next week, Sarah will be interviewing the people of Bow Wow Meow, whose owner has graciously agreed to have the workers in-shop next Thursday fill out the form, with the potential of a spoken testimony.
Katie & Justin: We went canvassing along Santa Cruz Avenue Thursday, November 1st around 8:00 to 9:30 pm. We went as a pair since Katie had a hot spot on her phone and Justin needed to use it to administer the surveys as well. Our goal was to focus on restaurants and businesses that were winding down at this hour. In total we got under 10 surveys. We mostly wanted to experiment with alternative times to avoid major rushes. We surveyed Juban, a Japanese restaurant, Baskin Robins, and Walgreens, but had trouble getting ahold of folks who were busy working in the kitchen. We left surveys at Subway and an ice cream parlor. Katie administered surveys through the iPad and Justin administered surveys through an iPad and paper (when out of range from Katie’s hotspot).
What We Observed and Learned
In terms of connecting our work to the class readings, urban agriculture is not within the scope of our project. However, the idea of urban resilience brought up the idea of community trust and social capital, which is valuable to Menlo Park. When surveying managers in Menlo Park, many showed pride in their businesses and providing for their clientele, despite their complaints about the housing and transportation issues needed to get to the area. The downtown culture of Menlo Park may add to community familiarity, which may have this converse effect of not wanting to create seemingly drastic but necessary changes to downtown that accommodate more workers.
There could be some extrapolations between urban resilience and transportation as well. Looking at the “organizational perspective,” a key factor of a well-operating system is one that takes into account public attitudes. Although it could still use more traction, public transport is integrated in the norm of Bay Area communities more than in other California communities, such as the Central Valley or Los Angeles. It’s also a topic of advocacy for TransForm, Friends of Caltrain, and other non-governmental agencies. Creating more accessible public transport therefore fits within social constructs of Bay Area workers and has the mixed use of governmental maintenance and NGO oversight. Our project directly ties into framing the need for improved public transportation, which operates within a resilient organizational framework.
Michelle & Shikha: We have no new findings to report this week yet in terms of surveying, but will add our next shifts to next week’s reflection.
Yesenia & Sarah: iPads are finicky! Yesenia ran into trouble with charging her iPad, which meant she had to recharge at the local Starbucks while Sarah canvassed. We also have found that people are less inclined to fill out a survey on an iPad due to the small font, hard accessibility for older people, and proximity of interviewers to them while they fill it out. Next week we will retry the paper copies, so that the people who want privacy when filling it out can do so. Since Yesenia had to charge her iPad, she canvassed from 3:15-4:15, which is not a good time because that is peak time for people getting out of work/school to go into Downtown Menlo Park for coffee/food/other goods.
Katie & Justin
* 8pm-10pm is actually a really difficult shift to do because most businesses are closed and many restaurants are in the process of closing up, thus are not interested in doing surveys (they probably want to go home). For those we were able to talk, we sensed a fatigued tone (in strict contrast to the enthusiasm expressed by people earlier in the day). Not only does this make people less likely to open up personally, but it also could reflect poorly on our study as people view responding as more of a chore.
* We did not receive much verbal feedback. Nobody would be potential candidates for testimonies.
* We need to print out more spanish speaking surveys/develop an approach that is inclusive of spanish speaking workers who work in the kitchen
* Big box stores like Trader Joe's and Walgreens are easier to canvass, but we need to develop solutions to allow for our survey to reach a wide scope of audience.
* Some restaurants told us to come back later after people left. When we came back, they would be closed. At first we thought that there was an elusive window just before official closing, but upon further inspection, this window does not really exist, as businesses really start the process of shutting down before they officially close, and have no desire to take an optional survey.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
We look forward to our final week of data collection. Our community partners have expressed quality interactions and data over a fixed number of surveys, though we still hope to get close to our original goal of 100 surveys. We will meet at the end of next week to review conclusions and move into a focused analysis face, though we’ve had preliminary discussions about our conclusions thus far.
When we (Katie and Justin) were canvassing, we realized that restaurants in the downtown area like Chef Kwan’s had many workers but because of the fast paced work environment, asking workers, even for just 5 minutes, to fill out the survey was not realistic. We recognize that we cannot interfere with workers’ job duties. Restaurants like these would be better for dropping off a stack of paper surveys and collecting later (even if this has a lower response rate). Stores like Walgreens and Trader Joe’s have more worker flexibility. Katie and Justin plan to go back to Trader Joe’s at night to survey the night shift (before closing).
Katie and Justin went to a Chinese restaurant around 9:20. Despite having a large workforce and no customers in the restaurant, the manager did not want us surveying. Katie pointed out afterwards that this response may arise from different cultural beliefs on what is expected at work. Katie spoke with her and dropping off paper surveys may be a possibility.
I know from personal experience what it is like to be working late and having to close up. Workers are not happy to see people come in just before closing because it means that it will take longer to finish. There is really no reason for them to stay to answer an optional survey. People may be more than unenthused about helping, but may be actively resentful towards us because they see us as preventing them from getting home on time after a long day, which can fuel deep personal feelings (which challenges our integrity as researchers). In contrast, when going in the middle of the day between rushes, workers have more disposable time, and in fact may want to help.
Looking forward to our goal of 100 surveys, we hope to survey about 50 people this upcoming week. This means that each pair has to survey 17 people at least. Using what we learned from our trouble finding available workers to survey this week, we are optimistic that we can achieve this goal by changing our canvassing times to earlier, yet less busy hours.
Update on Project Activities
This week our team moved forward to the survey process of our project. Katie worked on creating a design for the paper versions of the survey and Michelle created an online Google form document. Justin translated the survey into Spanish. Both paper and virtual surveys have both English and Spanish translations. The six of us have split off into pairs to maximize our team’s ability to reach out to different groups of people in Downtown Menlo Park.
The last few weeks have been focused on refining the language and content of the survey to make it understandable by a wide audience, while also generating usable data. The paper design of surveys was sent to community partners and the team for review, both for input on design and language. We had our canvassing training with Leora from HLCSM on Monday afternoon, and we were able to get tips, ask questions, and do role play to get us into the mindset.
There were three survey shifts this week. Michelle, Shikha, Sarah, and Yesenia stayed mostly on Santa Cruz Avenue and El Camino and surveyed small businesses. Shikha and Michelle focused on businesses along the El Camino and Santa Cruz. Cross Section. They surveyed from 10:30 am to a little after noon on different days. Sarah and Yesenia surveyed Thursday 12:30-2pm right around the tail end of lunch rush hour.
Justin and Katie originally planned to do a late night survey around 9 pm on Thursday to reach out to workers who work in a restaurant. However, Katie’s car battery was dead and they were unable to conduct that shift. They are making plans for doing a late night shift next week, in order to catch workers during off hours. This morning, Justin and Katie went to Trader Joe’s. They found that this was a good time to go for grocery stores since there weren’t too many people shopping and many of the workers were doing inventory and stocking, which is much easier to take a few minutes for the survey, as opposed to the workers at checkout.
We also had a debrief meeting this Friday to discuss our survey experiences with our community partners. Leora and Adina from Friends of Caltrain were present in person, and Chris phoned in.
What We Observed and Learned
Before beginning our canvassing, our biggest challenge was preparing the survey. We found it difficult to cut questions to shorten the survey and had to test the language of our survey with friends and service workers on campus to ensure it was clear. Each member of the group tested the survey with at least one person on campus and found no major difficulties. We then moved the survey to a digital format on Google Forms. We ran into technical difficulties with the iPad, especially with viewing permissions and getting internet connection on the go. We learned that a good solution was to create an easy to remember bit.ly link and tether from our phones while surveying.
We also learned about canvassing through a training on Monday with Leora, one of our community partners. We watched training videos and prepared introduction speeches. One of our biggest learnings were:
* Dress in friendly, approachable clothing. Don’t be too professional, don’t carry a clipboard. Smile and make eye contact.
* Don’t open with your name and introduction. Instead, go straight to the point with the ask. Leora emphasized that we should say that we are Stanford students (not researchers) to make people more willing to help us.
* When introducing the project, offer the iPad to the person. Once they take the iPad in their hands, there’s a high chance they will take the survey.
Leora was a huge help in making us feel more comfortable and prepared to canvas. Afterward, we each chose areas and days to survey in pairs and set out. Below, we will discuss learnings from each survey shift.
Michelle and Shikha: This pair surveyed small businesses on El Camino Real including McDonald's, Mattress Firm, a hair salon, and a bookstore. Like other groups, we found that most employees were quite willing to talk. However, employees tended to defer to their managers for permission first. Restaurants were difficult because they had constant streams of customers, even around 11 am, when we went. We had more success with smaller businesses, who had 1-2 employees and were willing to have long conversations. There also seemed to be a wait time often to talk to managers or catch the employees at a good time, so we only surveyed around 5-6 people in a 1.5 hour period of time. Each survey takes closer to 3-4 minutes, but it can be close to a 10-minute process for us to engage them, make conversation, have them take the survey, and move to the next business. Our findings showed that 3-4 of our respondents came from Redwood City, whose prices are much more affordable than Menlo Park.
We got a few star interviewees who could be great to capture stories from. One was the owner of Feldman’s Bookstore, who has lived in the Bay Area his whole life. He has owned his bookstore since 1996 and has seen online bookstores cut into his margins. He feels lucky to have inherited a home from his parents, but wouldn’t be able to live downtown if not. He had a lot of great insight on how the Bay Area has changed and why people aren’t able to use public transit reliably.
Another was a manager of Mattress Firm, who has lived in the Bay Area for about 10 years. He had a lot to say about transportation. He doesn’t trust public transit because it’s unreliable and there are few first mile/last mile connections from his home in San Jose. So he drives his car 45 minutes each way.
We also heard from multiple businesses about land use issues - how small businesses don’t always have a say in their landlords’ decisions about what to do about building renovations. For example, renters of business spaces receive no compensation if the city buys the building from the landlord to tear it down.
Yesenia and Sarah: This pair surveyed small business and a fast food chain, on Santa Cruz Ave between University Dr and El Camino Real between 1-2 pm. We found workers very open to having a conversation, especially since it was after the lunch hour rush. This could also be because it was a Thursday, and most businesses do not have a large amount of flux on weekday afternoons. While there weren’t that many customers in the stores, some workers/owners preferred to fill out the survey later rather than on the spot. We will explore other options of getting them to fill them on the spot, either by changing our canvassing pitch or offering the iPad for them to fill out the survey right away, so to avoid having to return to businesses to pick up surveys.
We learned a lot through experiencing first hand canvassing in Menlo Park. Again, we found that many people are willing to talk, which really helps our project and what we are trying to achieve as we wish to collect testimonials. By introducing ourselves as Stanford students, it seemed that business owners and workers were more open to talking and had a positive attitude about our work. Stanford has a reputation for being a prestigious institution so using this affiliation may have been one of the reasons that made people confide in our intellectual abilities, respect us, and wish to know how they could get involved. By the end of our shift, we had given 13 surveys, partially filled out in person, and partially to be picked up this weekend.
One of the people we spoke to wanted to know what the data was being used for, and after we explained that part of the project is writing a small brief for Menlo Park City Council, they launched into other ideas for ways they want Menlo Park to change for their individual services. Since that is not a part of our group’s breadth in our survey, it was sometimes difficult to find the language to tell them that we were not a direct line to City Council and that their proposals were not a part of our survey goals. For instance, one woman who has lived in Menlo Park for 40 years wanted us to talk to City Council about allocating the center of the parking lot for cars with permits. She became very passionate and entered into a tangent, to which we could only tell her that her voice matters and that we will include her sentiments in our deliverables, but that this probably isn’t going to be the focus of our appeals. Another observation was that non-commuters were more reluctant to fill out survey; one woman said “I’m not the voice you wanna hear from”. We feel like it is important to get data from all of the workers so as to not have bias data, so we told them, “your input still would really help our research”.
Katie and Justin: This pair went to Trader Joe's in Menlo Park and got a total of 13 responses for an hour of recording. Justin also talked to someone who was interested in participating further and providing a story for us to record and share.
* When surveying grocery stores, we found that it was difficult to find a time to survey people who were working checkout. A nice thing to do is to offer to help bag while they filled out the survey.
* iPad worked great. We liked that people could fill out the survey on the spot.
* One particularly vocal worker, who we plan to contact again for a testimony, described city council about not treating low income workers “as human beings,” and only caring
about the rich who can cash the checks. He is 44 years-old living with his parents in East Palo Alto, who have had the house for 30 years. He says the only way that people are
able to live in the area is if they have 14 roommates. He does not have children, and
does not know how people can raise children in this area.
* I gave a survey to one of the employees. In describing what it was, a customer came up
to me and asked to be part of the survey. She was very upset by how bad traffic was, and said that she generally does not even bother coming into Menlo Park because of the traffic.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Yesenia & Sarah: We went out Thursday afternoon from around 12:30-2pm. Unfortunately we
hadn’t expected to have technological issues going into the canvassing, and had to rely on our paper copies of the questionnaire. That being said, we were able to get 12 surveys filled out, and we will be picking up some of them in the coming days. Looking forward, we are going to make sure that we have the google survey at hand on the iPad before we go into Menlo Park, but also keep the paper copies at hand for the people who want to fill them out after their business day is over. We learned that by making personal connections and presenting ourselves as Stanford students who were conducting an anonymous survey, most people found us very approachable and were willing to have long conversations with us. Our goal in the coming weeks of canvassing is to make sure that we continue our progress in talking to workers and business owners and hearing their opinions through using the iPads and paper copies of the survey as well as the spoken word. Due to technical difficulties and limited time, we did not try to get voice recordings from the people we interviewed. In the future, this will be a much bigger focus for the both of us. We expect to have much more streamlined survey outings in the coming weeks, as we will have the collective knowledge of our group members as well as our own experiences to go off of.
Michelle & Shikha: Using an iPad definitely makes people more willing to fill the survey on the spot, so using two in a more crowded location should elicit quick responses. We need to be careful and make sure we are connected to wifi or a hotspot at all times, as we almost a lost a survey response when we were disconnected. In our experience, people did not find any questions difficult, and many would keep the conversation about their experiences, so we’d love to find a way to continue the momentum of their thoughts without stopping to clarify or take care of administrative waivers on our end. Our goal this week is to diversify our shift time and allow ourselves a longer period if possible/schedule permits. With our new documentation strategy, we can pick up on more of the comments people make. We’ve learnt so much more about the reality of transportation in these few conversations, and we are looking forward to understanding more in the coming weeks. One positive note is also how positively people are looking at our survey - many have thoughts and believe in the cause. Even if they aren’t interested in further advocacy or including their contact information, there’s a clear need, making our research relevant.
As a group, we met with the community partners on Friday to update them on our work and findings. They gave us a few suggestions for improving canvassing:
* Ask business owners if they have recruiting issues due to housing or transportation costs. This won’t be part of the survey but would be great stories to capture.
* To improve story capturing, have one person in the pair take notes on quotes while people talk, while the other holds the conversation.
* Bring waivers on spot and take photos of people who tell stories to avoid having to go back.
* Look into different times like after dinner rush at restaurants starting around eight or nine.
* Add a question of what time you usually leave for work to the survey (might indicate certain times of congestion/incentivize people to use certain forms of transport).
* If people discuss issues outside of our scope, listen but indicate our inability to aid that situation in order to not promise or intend something that won’t happen
Justin and Katie: Perhaps the most striking commonlity from all our surveys is how much people dislike traffic. As soon as we would mention traffic, the workers would immediately go off and want to tell us everything. Even though many of the people in this location did not have terrible commute times (as they were mostly minimum wage workers, who tend to live nearby their jobs), commuting is a very stressful task that affects a large swath of the Bay Area population.
After our first session, we have a few improvements to faciliate the quality of the information and our effciency. First, we want to come back at the end the Trader Joe’s shift around 10pm. This would also be a less hectic time and would allow us to survey a different group of people. This venue is great because the manager was welcoming, there are low income workers, there are many employees in a single location (reducing travel time), and workers have a fair degree of flexibility: besides the checkers, workers were able to take a few minutes off to answer a few questions.
In light of the opinions we received, we want a better mechanism to capture personal testimonies. Often times people make small comments. We want to write quotes down as they say them. The only difficulty in this is that by writing things down, it prevents us from connecting with the peopole as effectively (it makes us appear to be studying them, which can could be counterproductive). To be able to capture more of the data, we need to have photo release forms on hand so that we do not have to go back for footage.