Update on Project Activities
Visiting The Tech Interactive this week, we got a much stronger sense of the space that the exhibit will eventually occupy. Danny (our liaison with the Tech Interactive Museum) was able to show us around the space and also show us the prototype of the Community Voices exhibit we will be contributing to. We also got access to the past the interviews that had been conducted by the summer interns/students from last year. These past interviews will be useful as we look towards our own project and try to determine what areas/voices that we hope to focus on as a project team.
What We Observed and Learned
In our visit to the Tech Interactive this week, we gathered valuable insight into the process of creating an exhibition and the intricacies of museum curation. We met with Danny as he showed us the space that the eventual exhibit will occupy. Observing this space, we saw how hands-on the experience at Tech Interactive is; indeed, it is an active walk through the large space. Envisioning our exhibit in the space, we felt humbled and honored to be contributing to such an impactful learning environment.
Also, we were able to visit during the hours when the Tech Interactive museum was open to the public. Therefore, we were there at the same time as public visitors who most likely are similar to the audience which will be viewing the exhibit we are helping to create. It was inspiring to see that this audience consists of a wide variety of people from adults to even children as young as 5-6 years old. Being able to get context for the location of this project will be helpful when trying to determine what specific stories and interviews we hope to garner because we now know that we should try to get things from a variety of different perspectives so that it can appeal to the wide range of perspectives that will be present in the audience for our exhibit. At the same time, recognizing our contribution to the project as one step out of many before it means that our approach to gathering and cultivating interviews to showcase has to be focused and specific, so as to avoid repetition and add to past work.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
After visiting The Tech Interactive this week, we identified our action items for the next week. We want to try to meet with the former summer interns to get a better gauge on which leads we should pursue. Then we need to pursue those warm leads, as well as find any of our own. As of now, some group members have sent emails to potential leads, and some are setting up interview times with leads already discovered in the area, including a Stanford student who is from Fremont, an area that Danny encouraged us to cover stories from because of the unequal distribution of story coverage. Listening to the interviews that have already been conducted has made us try to determine which types of people/voices are underrepresented and therefore who we should focus on for interviewing. It seems as though a lot of us are very passionate about trying to capture the voices and/or stories of people who have traditionally been excluded and marginalized from these types of conversations. Specifically, we have talked about the need for the inclusion of voices from the Bay Area’s indigenous communities, and other communities of color. Therefore, we are hoping to sometime soon attend a farmer’s market or some similar type of community event, and to pull on our contacts and connections on and around campus, in order to be able to get interviews. The information we get from these marginalized community members might have a slightly more unconventional take on these issues relating to climate change which we think will be very useful in achieving the goal of trying to make this museum exhibit relatable to a wide variety of people.
It is critical to present a representative sample of stories and experiences for the Community Voices exhibit, as representative participation is a crucial facet of advocacy and empowerment, a component we discussed in class relating to Arnstein's Citizen Ladder of Participation (1969) and the levels of participation and representation necessary for true participation.
While there seemed to be a broad range of groups represented in the visitors of the museum, visiting The Tech also brought up questions of access, as admission is not free and can be burdensome especially for family groups. In addressing this question Danny told us of a ‘pay what you can’ system the museum implements, but that the vast majority of visitors pay the full fee. This was a signal to us that there are levels of/barriers to access other than the price at the front door - broadly, there is work that must be done to make it known that museum spaces like The Tech are open to everyone, and this work must be in active opposition to conceptions of museum spaces, which are indeed traditionally quite exclusive. Bringing this to the scope of our project, our work in hopefully searching for stories among indigenous communities and other communities of color also has the potential to call those communities into a museum space and facilitate local recognition of the ways this exhibit aims to serve everyone.
Update on Project Activities
This week we gathered as our full team for the first time, and met our community partner contact from the Tech Interactive, Danny. During our kickoff meeting in class on Monday, we had a chance to introduce ourselves and our motivations behind joining the project to each other. In this process we were able to see plenty of overlap in our interests and our goals for the project, both in terms of what we want to produce and in terms of personal skills development, etc. Namely, we share a common interest in engaging with climate/environmental crises on a personal basis, and in developing journalism skills through our interviewing and editing.
We also learned from Danny about some of the most recent work that’s happened for the project. Two summer interns have passed on to us a handbook for conducting our interviews and continuing to help sculpt the exhibit. We began thinking about how to most efficiently use our time in resources over the course of the quarter, especially by beginning to hone in on the groups of people we might be most interested in collecting stories from. The last interns focused on collecting stories from everyday people - folks who might not think about or engage with climate change conversations on a regular basis, but who nonetheless of course have experiences to share about their interactions with natural and built environments. We share an interest in looking at stories based in the area’s indigenous communities, as we see the importance in those stories being integral to any kind of inclusive representation of Bay Area experiences with the environment.
We continued this conversation at our second meeting, where Danny also taught us how to use our recording equipment.
What We Observed and Learned
Not only did we learn about the technical components and equipment necessary to conduct high quality interviews, but we also learned about important things to keep in mind when approaching and interviewing people. First, it is essential to remain genuine and transparent about the process without setting unrealistic expectations. We discussed the importance of communicating that there is no guarantee that their story will be part of the exhibit so as not to misinform to increase the likelihood of their participation. Second, it is important to communicate key points to the interviewee, such as the importance of clarity in the interview and telling a brief story. However, we also want to reflect on and remember to be ethical journalists and refrain from framing the prompt in a way that elicits a story we are searching for. In other words, we must be aware of and avoid confirmation bias and create an environment conducive to the true manifestation of their story. Third, we have started learning about how to remain sensitive in the interview process, especially as some of the topics may be sensitive for people to discuss. This is a skill we will refine through experience interviewing people. This week, we began to understand why sensitivity and remaining humble are essential when capturing compelling narratives.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
The Community Voices project has been in progress since last year and Danny informed us that this summer there were two interns who spent multiple weeks working specifically on this project. Over the course of their internship, they were able to record 11 different interviews from various community members/experts in the field of climate change. Listening to these recorded clips was very useful as it provided us with a guideline for how we should facilitate the interviews. Zach and Sarah (the interns from this summer) asked prompting questions but overall just let their interview subjects talk for as long as they wanted which led to very lengthy raw interview footage (roughly between 30-45 minutes long). They then edited down these large chunks of raw audio footage into 2-3 minute snippets that captured an important message from the interview. We predict that having access to the before and after of their interview footage will be very helpful when we have to edit our own interviews. However, listening to the previous interviews was especially useful as it gave us a sense of whose voices have already been taken into account and whose voices are still missing.
As a group we are all excited about the prospect of getting interviews from community members whose voices are less often heard when talking about climate change, whether that be young people, low-income people, people of color or even just people for whom climate change is not their area of expertise. Our most essential next steps are to reach out to people within the Bay Area community to ask if they would be interested in being interviewed. In addition to that we need to make a list of which groups we hope to focus on and brainstorm ways that we will be able to get in contact with and access these various potential interviewees.
Some challenges we are anticipating are founded primarily in the interpersonal intricacies of the conversations ahead of us, chiefly including a disclaimer in which we make clear that their story is not guaranteed to be included in the exhibit. Another challenge we anticipate is coordinating our schedules for team meetings and field work. We plan to address this challenge by splitting into two groups for certain events depending on the availability of the entire team. Learning how to ask the correct questions is a skill we anticipate to be challenging and plan to address by closely reading the handbook and notes left by previous students who worked with the Tech Interactive, and even by mastering smaller skills such as making sure the interviewee restates the question posed so that their story is cohesive and deliberate.
Is there anything you might have done differently if you were to embark on your project from the beginning?
I think this project has been a big learning experience for all of us involved. We were really unsure of how to start the project, as none of us had tried to reach out to people for interviews before, or anything similar. In the first place, our timeline was very ambitious - we should have started reaching out to people we wanted to contact much earlier, and we also should have tried to reach out to a higher volume of people earlier. We were very optimistic about people responding to us, which we were very disappointed about - in the first week our target was to reach out to 3 people each, but by the end of the second week in our timeline we had only made contact with 3 people who were interested total, one of whom stopped responding further along the line. We should have started off immediately with reaching out to a higher number of people first, to account for the number of people we would contact that would not be interested in our project. We also should have utilised our networks more effectively - it was only in the later weeks that we started asking people we knew who they might know that would be interested, which expanded rapidly, but at that point we were already on the tail end of the project. People we have second and third degree connections to would also be much more likely to actually want to contribute.
An example of how this worked out was that we had one contact, Imma De la Cruz, who was put in contact with us via Sabrina’s roommate, who was immediately enthusiastic about the project. She in turn put us in connection with a few other interested people she knew and worked with, and even coordinated facebook events to collect stories at. This was incredibly helpful to us, and it would have been great if we had found a few Imma-type people that could have helped us make more connections earlier on.
Another thing we wish we could have done differently, although we aren’t sure how we could have gone about doing this yet, would be to contact more people of colour and people from low income neighbourhoods. The people who tended to be responsive to our project were mostly people who worked for non profits, and those were for the most part, non-profits that supported Palo Alto and more affluent neighbourhoods. It was a goal of ours to have a broad representation of people in our narratives, but understandably, other non-profits did not have the time or for what could have been many other reasons decided not to work with us. We might have worked a bit more intentionally on how to go about approaching these organisations, trying to find more personal connections to them, but on the other hand, we were finding it difficult to figure out how to approach people for their narratives in a way that was not extractive and exploiting peoples’ trauma for their stories.
What was your greatest learning from your community partner and/or from your fellow teammates?
In retrospect, there was probably no single greatest learning from the Tech Museum or from each other as teammates, but we learned a lot of little, but still important, things along the way. Through our work with the Tech, we learned the impact that collecting stories can have on all parties included. During interviews, sometimes the interviewees would become emotional as they discussed how climate change has impacted their lives, discussing how a natural disaster had destroyed their hometown, or how climate change has inspired them to follow a plant-based diet, which in turn has reconnected them with their ancestors. As we listened to these interviews, we were often moved by the interviewees’ passion, pain, and motivations. Thus, if anything, we have probably learned the most from the people we interviewed.
We learned how museums can be a way to convey these stories to the public in order to encourage them to act on seriously pressing issues. We will probably see the full impact of this in February 2020 when the museum opens, but in the meantime, the Tech/course has provided us with readings and research to support the act of storytelling to inform and persuade people to inspire change.
As a group, we learned from each other and together about how to interview, edit stories, reach out to organizations, and coordinate with multiple partners, which are useful skills for future projects both in school and our eventual careers. The lecture on ethics in community work encouraged us to think critically about our work in collecting stories, and listening to each other’s opinions and thoughts on that topic as well as on how to split up work, approach reaching out, interview, and more taught us how to combine our different input to complete assignments and deliverables while reflecting regularly.
Overall, we’ve learned how everyone’s story is important. Whether it was interviewing a community leader on climate change or working on reflections together, we witnessed firsthand how different backgrounds play a strong role in how we approach different situations we encounter in the world and more specifically during this quarter. It showed us how important it is to listen to individuals from all walks of life, those who can bring up various points to consider to ultimately make the project and the world in general a better experience.
Was there a particular "a-ha" moment during your project that shifted your thinking about sustainability or community-based work? Or if you cannot pinpoint a specific incident, what major learnings will you take away from this experience?
We didn’t really have a specific moment of realization around community-based work. Moreso, we gradually arrived a deeper understanding, with some key steps along the way.
First, we learned how challenging it can be to match your needs, capacity, and vision with that of a partner organization. From the get-go we think there were some inconsistencies between our groups vision and mission and that of the Tech Museum. This differences were not immediately apparent, but as time went on, and we further discussed expectations and our progress, we realized the project we had in mind didn’t entirely line up with the Tech’s vision. Over the past several weeks, we have worked to bring these two together, in order to deliver a useful product to the Tech that we can be proud of. Partner interactions are an essential part of community-based work, and through this experience we’ve learned how important clear, open, and honest communication can be. It is best to resolve things as they arise, and bring up discomforts and concerns. It is also important for partners to treat each other as equals and work against any pre-existing power dynamics. We had this issue. We initially treated our partnership with the Tech as a client-contractor relationship. We mostly kept our progress and operations within our own group, but soon learned that the Tech felt very out of the loop and lost in terms of the project. Viewing ourselves as collaborators, instead, helped create a more productive and healthy working environment, and will likely lead to a more nuanced and useful final product.
Through our work contacting community members, we learned how important networks and personal connections are to community-based work. We went into this project expecting people to be relatively responsive and open to collaboration. We soon learned, however, cold calling/ emailing has a very low success rate. It wasn’t until we met several key individuals, like Violet and Imma, that things really started to take off. Through their networks we were able to meet many more people for interviews. Having a mutual connection made organizations and individuals much more trusting and willing to collaborate with us and let us into their space. We also had much more luck when tapping into and working through our own personal networks, such as Cameron and Sabrina’s connection to the Jasper Ridge community. Getting people to share their stories - or do anything for you, really - requires trust and reciprocity. This experience has shown us how important it is to have and form connections with those you work with. As Violet and Imma explained to us, these networks take time to build, but they are vital to community-based work.
Finally, through our discussions in class and guest lecturers, we learned the importance of ethical service. Our task was to record the stories of individuals across the entire bay area. Initially, we thought this would be easy, but conversations around ethics complicated our project. We learned about a case study in Colorado, where a film crew went against the wishes of residents they interviewed and stripped away their autonomy. This made us realize how essential autonomy and consent are. We couldn’t just go in and extract stories from these people and tailor them exactly to our own ends without any thought for them and their feeling.
Update on Project Activities
This week, we were able to make great progress in the planning and collection of interviews.
Since our last reflection, we have interviewed Mike B. who is the Development Director at Sunwork - a non-profit organization whose mission is to help make solar more affordable and widespread with the help of trained volunteers - and he is also a member of Carbon Free Mountain View Board which meets regularly to discuss and advocate for a more sustainable Mountain View.
We also interviewed Jessian C. who runs a blog called Fun and Draconian where she writes about fun ways to live a greener lifestyle. Jessian also manages SF Approved, a site of green products she helped create at San Francisco Department of Environment. Lastly, Jessian serves on the board of the Earth Island Institute, which has been the organizing power for more than 200 grassroots environmental action projects and is currently overseeing a network of more than 75 projects.
On Friday, November 16th, we are talking to Laura M., a board member at Canopy - an organization whose mission is to plant and care for trees in urban communities who need them most, often working with communities in East Palo Alto.
We are still communicating with several other individuals, in the process of scheduling interviews for this weekend before break, and a few days throughout the week after the break.
We are also meeting up with our community partner, Danny on Friday, November 16th, who conveniently happens to be driving past campus in the afternoon. This meeting will most likely serve as a check-in, and we are hoping to share a few of the stories we have collected so far as well.
What You Observed and Learned
Now that we’ve been able to conduct more interviews and get more raw audio stories, we are able to look back at what voices we are giving a platform to and which voices we haven’t yet done so for. We currently haven’t been able to interview low-income Bay Area residents, which is alarming considering low-income residents are the ones who will primarily lack the resilience and mobility to evade and recover from the effects of climate change. For example, the wildfires that are devastating California at the moment will most impact low-income residents who lack the financial means to escape from the smoke (due to strict work conditions) and lack the capital to simply purchase a new home. As we conduct our last few interviews, we should be cognizant of how we have been reaching out for possible interviews in order to best find sources from low-income residents.
Additionally, we have encountered our first more emotional interview with Mike B. as he discussed the effects climate change could have on communities in the Bay Area if we fail to mitigate climate change. Although the interview didn’t have him emotionally distressed, it was an important reminder that we should always be cautious when seeking out stories about how climate change could directly impact an individual. It is easy to forget that at the end of the day, these events were personal and harmful to those we are interviewing, and we should always prioritize the mental well being of our interviewees before anything else.
Finally, this week we had our meeting with Danny to discuss how much work we have accomplished and yet to do. This meeting came at a perfect time considering our group has been discussing how to reevaluate our relationship with our community partners, Danny and Michelle. Because they have offered their time and energy to take some of the work off our shoulders, we’ve talked about how this may best look like, whether it's through scheduling interviews or conducting them. During this week’s meeting with Danny, he reassured to us that if there is anyway he can help us out, to just tell him. We agreed to share the raw and edited versions of our interviews with him during Thanksgiving Break so that he can give us constructive criticism in our edits. Finally, we spoke to him about our financial constraints when traveling around the Bay to gather stories, and he offered his car and museum funds. This meeting helped concretize ways in which our community partners may help us, and how we can continue approaching them when requesting help.
Critical Analysis and Priorities for Moving Forward
As the quarter comes to an end we plan to finalize our project deliverables over Thanksgiving break. First, this weekend before leaving we will be getting at least two more interviews from IMMA.
Then, throughout break we will each be individually working on the editing of the interviews we have so far. We have all downloaded Hindenburg and received a tutorial on how to use it by Cameron. We hope to collect a minimum of eight audio deliverables to be used as stories in the map at the tech museum, by the end of the week.
Following this, we will return to campus and finish our last set of interviews. Ideally, we will be interviewing the last six people we need. This would allow us to reach the set goal of 14 deliverables. We are aiming to hit this number but if we are unfortunately unable to, we will prioritize quality of stories over quantity. We would edit quickly after on Hindenburg in order to be able to present all the deliverables on time together.
Finally, we will be meeting on Monday evening, day one of week ten, in order to review the audio stories we have each edited, propose a plan for our final paper, and ultimately create our final presentation and begin to review in order to be prepared for the formal presentation on December 5th.
Update on Project Activities
This week has been a productive and motivating one for our project. First off, we got approval from Michelle at the Tech Museum to offer free tickets to our interview subjects. This will help us reach our goal of a more equitable project. Secondly, we conducted an interview with Violet Saena, from Acterra. The interview was extraordinarily productive, and gave us a clear path for moving forward. Finally, we have scheduled 8 interviews for the coming weeks.
What We Observed and Learned
In our interview with Violet, she told us a lot of great information about Acterra and the work they are doing to help communities have access to solar energy. She also gave us an insight into what certain communities in East Palo Alto face, where 60% of the population is vulnerable to flooding, and the flooding that happens is only getting more frequent and more intense with climate change. She told us about the different communities of the area, and how they have different needs and different struggles.
The interview was a great learning experience, and we were very glad that Violet was so kind and receptive to us making mistakes and learning how to use the equipment. In terms of audio recording, we learnt how to use the microphone, which is slightly more complicated than simply switching it on and off, as we needed to ensure the volume levels were within a clear range to ensure it did not have any distortion, which required a lot of trial and error in terms of the distance we held the microphone away from Violet as she was speaking.
In terms of making a good interview, while we thought of questions to ask beforehand, we found that Violet had a lot to say, and we heard the most insightful thought when she just spoke about what she wanted, without any prompts from us. In this way it was quite a challenge to think of prompts that were trying to prompts that would allow her to talk freely, while still providing enough of a question that she could answer. It was more about finding the threads of conversation that we wanted to know about in more detail than asking questions we wanted to know the answer to. It was also surprisingly difficult to balance thinking of insightful prompts related to what Violet was saying, while concentrating on what she was telling us and trying to digest that. I thought Cristina did a really good job of doing this, and the good thing about having multiple people at the interview was that we could fill in for each other when we needed to fill in gaps.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
We have a little over a month left until our deliverables are due, and even though we have been behind schedule for some time, we have many interviews scheduled in the coming week or so. These include individuals who work with bees, someone who focuses on energy, another who works at Jasper Ridge, and more. As we continue to collect these climate change impact and resilience stories, we will begin to edit the audio and photos that we take.
A couple weeks ago, Cameron and Cristina went to a community event in East Palo Alto, where many sustainability organizations from around the Bay Area were tabling and offering their services. A lesson learned from this event is that these organizations are super well connected, and if we follow these connections, we might be able to piece together a larger narrative of climate change impact and mitigation throughout the Bay Area. At events like these, we might also be able to meet more people like Violet from Acterra, whom we interviewed this past week. Violet is responsible for linking organizations together to help vulnerable communities prepare for climate change impacts, and she is an excellent resource in linking us to potential stories. In fact, at the end of our interview she asked us to send her our availability so that she can help us schedule interviews with some community members that she knows. She’s the person everyone pointed us to in order to talk more about community efforts in climate change. If we can meet more people like her - essentially incredible gateways to more people and more stories - then maybe finding more interviews will not be too difficult. Because of our positive experience at this event, we will be on the lookout for similar ones that bring together sustainability advocates and community groups in order to make more connections.
After thanking Violet for her telling us her story, she asked us if we could help her with a project. She is interested in starting a community research team and wanted to know if we had knowledge of people, departments, or funding options at Stanford that could help her with such. We suggest some possible resources and offered to connect her to potentially interested students and faculty, and in doing so, it felt as if a window opened up to in at least a small way reciprocate the time Violet took out out of her day to the interview with us. The request was unexpectedly, but we feel very eager to help. In addition to providing free tickets to The Tech Museum to our interviewees, perhaps we should try to be more intentional about open-endedly asking the interviewees if there is anything they would like to ask us to answer, leaving room for them to ask about potential resources.
Ultimately, some people we reach out to end up disregarding our messages or not able to provide the type of story we’re looking, which is definitely delaying the process. However, we are finding that even though some stories are not the kind we initially targeted for this project, the various stories from community leaders, members, academic, and other professionals are creating a narrative about climate change impact and resilience in the Bay Area with many layers and aspects that will speak to many.