Update on Project Activities
The first two weeks have been a great introduction to the team as well as the project. We spent time meeting with our community partner introducing ourselves, sharing our interest in the project, and our overall goals for the class. From there, we dove right into transcribing our first recorded interviews. This consisted of listening to interviews and verifying that the transcripts were accurate and respected the confidentiality of the interviewee. After doing so, we collaborated with one another to address key themes in the interviews and reflected on our takeaways.
The second week we met as a whole group with Stephanie, our community partner, to go over the interviews we transcribed. We talked as a group about key themes and powerful quotes. We were also introduced to the next steps of the project and have started to discuss overall deliverables as well as objectives. Our next steps are to finish transcribing the remainder of the interviews and begin coding them for key themes and objectives. This will help us prepare for our upcoming control group.
What We Observed and Learned
Through editing transcriptions of recorded interviews, we noticed some very common themes that arose, even given the diverse backgrounds of the interviewee’s and their own personal journey navigating the pandemic and the recent environmental hazards. Many of the stories being told talked about the declining mental health of the interviewee’s and of the people in their communities and families. These mental health issues had to do with various factors, including losing jobs, financial stress, social isolation due to social distancing measures, language barriers, and added stress from taking care of children and family members.
There was also an emphasis being placed on lack of information for underserved communities about the pandemic and resources for families that need help. Not only has it been challenging to find information that is reliable and credible for many of the interviewee’s, but the language barrier that many in the Bay Area face has prevented some of the interviewee’s from being able to understand important information regarding their health and safety.
While these interviews all provided some common information about how people are navigating the pandemic, it is important to consider the unique situations that these people find themselves in to ensure that no group is left behind when planning for how to better prepare these communities in the future for catastrophic events beyond the current pandemic.
Critical Analysis and Connection to Class Topics
This week's reading and discussion seemed particularly connected to our group’s project. Two key themes that were present in both have been inclusion of diverse groups as well as oral histories. Our project has been primarily focused on interviews- each interviewee is different, with a different background and unique experience with both COVID-19 as well as climate change. This has allowed us to begin to understand the large variety of situations as well as the disparity of consequences in different communities.
The Greenberg reading “What on Earth is Sustainability?” really captured a key theme of environmental justice which is sustainability for all. Listening to these interviews has allowed us to understand how sustainability in the Bay Area is not just exclusive, but is also harmful to certain communities.
It has been a privilege to be engaged in recording the oral histories of these communities, as talked about in the reading by Baylor University. Being able to capture the feelings of different people and recognizing their personal experiences as a part of this bigger history has been very fulfilling and we are all excited to continue to learn more from them and to continue to develop our ideas of what it means to be inclusive in the pursuit of sustainability.
The AEMP team has been effectively communicating with their community partners and setting recurring meetings to complete assigned deliverables in a timely manner. On Tuesdays at 5-6 PM PT, we attend the COVID-19 Interviews team meeting to stay updated on the status of the interviews, and to hear about related work from other AEMP volunteers. We have also established Fridays at 1-2 PM PT as focused meetings to discuss our progress on our assignments. The first 30 minutes are dedicated to sub-group meetings, during which the set of students conducting interviews will be meeting with Cindy to cover oral history responsibilities, and a group of others will be meeting with Brett to focus on sound visualization progress. We have also designated Sarah as the communicator between AEMP and our Sustainable Cities project team to streamline communication. We have also been given access to multiple documents that are used by AEMP. This includes their weekly meeting notes, their interview documents, and AEMP platform. As of this week, we will be assisting AEMP with a project they aim to complete by November 1. Working in pairs, we will be editing full-length interviews into short 5-minute clips that encompass major themes. To prepare, AEMP has recommended that we look through previous class projects and projects on their site to get an idea of what types of clips we’ll be making. We also scheduled a workshop with Cindy using one of the interviews to better understand what we’re looking for thematically. Lastly, in terms of our long term deliverables, some of us will be conducting interviews while others will be working on sound visualization projects. This is not necessarily a rigid division of teams, and may be subject to change depending on the availability of interviewees and the priorities for AEMP. We will get more information on these projects later in the quarter, but we have access to most of the material we need to start.
By joining the weekly meetings held by the COVID Interviews team, we’ve learned more about the values and practices they use in their work. AEMP strives to use more secure and less capitalistic (profit-driven) platforms for work and data storage. This is consistent with the organization’s aim for integrity and highlights the dedication to create free and accessible resources. For example, our meetings are run on Jitsi instead of Zoom and they are currently looking for a more secure and alternative version of Dropbox. As we work on this project, we will also be using these platforms to stay in line with AEMP’s values and to encourage movement away from large tech companies, which play significant roles in the displacement that AEMP mobilizes against. AEMP relies on team and partner collaboration that is largely non-hierarchical, or horizontal, to complete their projects. This is apparent in the way that they divide work among themselves (rotating facilitators and notetakers, splitting into committees, partner pairing, etc). Along with these collaborative process in AEMP, there is also a culture of open communication and understanding, which goes hand-in-hand with the success of their collaboration. Everyone is mindful and respectful of people’s well-being and workload. They frequently ask others about their capacity before assigning work and/or requesting help. This emphasizes the importance of understanding your team’s capacity to take on new responsibilities and work in order to achieve a group’s goals without burning oneself out. Moving forward, we hope to use these values we’ve seen in AEMP’s work and community to foster collaboration and communication within our own group.
The oral history lecture led by Cindy Reyes & Alicia Morales directly relates to the work AEMP is currently doing through collecting narratives of displacement and resistance in the context of COVID-19. Their work serves to emphasize the importance and urgency of topics we have learned about in class, such as the significance of oral histories, ethical interviewing, and addressing sustainability through the pillars of social equity and cultural continuity. Just as we were challenged to think critically about our positionality as college students in this course, the organization also thinks critically about its positionality in the broader societal fabric and is therefore intentional in the ways they proceed with community work. In both the Arnstein and Sandercock readings, they discuss how power dynamics may arise when working with community members and the hierarchies that exist in ways of knowing, which often overlook the community member as the expert. However, at the core of AEMP’s values is their commitment to establishing trust and partnership with their interviewees, or narrators (as per the Baylor reading), as well as honoring their humanity. They do this in their interview process, which is designed specifically for the narrator to talk about their hardships in addition to how they’ve remained resilient and how they’ve fought and/or encouraged others to fight for housing equity. AEMP makes space for the narrator to bring their whole selves, and asks for their double consent before and after an oral interview, thus allowing the narrator to contextualize and share their embodied knowledge in a holistic way that honors their agency. Furthermore, in their commitment to storytelling and using data for housing justice, AEMP reminds us that by repositioning power in the community and understanding these narratives, we strengthen one of the core concepts of sustainability we learned about in class--people and our connections to one another.
Update on Project Activities:
Over the past week we have been working on the following:
We have also been adjusting to a delay in our timeline. Only 25 businesses out of 38 microenterprises selected to receive funds are fully approved (a process which involves the businesses submitting documents and the financial partner verifying eligibility). Originally, Alex had intended for the money to be distributed before we began our study so that we could use surveys and interviews to assess the success of the program.
What We Observed and Learned/ Critical Analysis:
As we navigated major changes throughout these first weeks, we found that communication is crucial. Our timeline was delayed but we are making the best of our extra time to improve our survey. During a discussion with our project team this week, it was apparent that we are outsiders to this community. From this discussion and Sherry Arnstein’s “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” we realized we must establish credibility and trust before going further. Alex will introduce the study and our group to these businesses. This introduction will make members of the community feel comfortable with their participation. We also analyzed the questions from the perspective of the business owners and edited questions that were too personal or too difficult to answer considering the varied circumstances of the survey respondents. The section in “Introduction to Oral History” titled “Composing Questions” helped us understand the ethical and emotional implications of our questions. We will also use documents such as the Milpitas Economic Development Strategy, to strengthen our community understanding. Additionally, while we hope that the Milpitas microenterprise community will participate in this study, we understand that it is not a priority for them. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make the survey clear and accessible so that it is not another burden.
We also talked briefly about language diversity. Though we discovered that many members of our team are fluent or proficient in another language, we cannot cover the full range of languages spoken by microenterprise owners in Milpitas. Principles of participatory or community planning, lead us to recognize the value of a broad variety of knowledge obtained from all stakeholders. Ideally, we would find additional partners in the community that could assist us in interviewing and surveying groups we might miss. In the context of this project, we must acknowledge where our own capabilities fall short and focus on including as many viewpoints as possible. This is especially important as we begin to prepare for interviews and draft our questions.
Our work here has only just begun. While we have been able to develop an initial draft of the survey, we now know that there are certain ethical details and questions of participation that we did not fully consider. Consequently, this coming week we will edit our survey to make its purpose clearer, make it more accessible, and make it more inclusive. We will ensure that the language we use is inviting and encouraging so that the businesses feel supported rather than interrogated. We hope that by the following week we will be able to distribute our survey to the 38 businesses selected to receive the grant. Once the survey has been sent out and our initial contact with the grantees has been established, we are looking to build a base of trust with these enterprises so that we can conduct more productive interviews in the near future. Above all, we hope that these microenterprises have the financial, technical, and personal support they need to overcome these tough times.
1) What we've done so far
Update on Project Activities:
To preface, the team project comprises two central initiatives that support the overall objective of facilitating the provision of accessible information in regard to communal food resources. As a starting point, group members have self-assigned themselves under specified roles that have been outlined by the project partner (see chart below). All four of the assigned roles were a reflection of the varied interests and skill sets within the team, and of unBox’s major entry-level projects. The foundation of the work will be centered around (1) collecting user feedback alongside users’ personal experiences in order to (2) improve information mediums and access to resources. Collection of user feedback includes creating consent documents, research protocols and interview questions, conducting interviews, and collating data on user testing for both social workers and SNAP participants. Improvement of information mediums entails data entry and adjustments to the SNAP Online User guide and BayAreaCommunity.org website.
What We Observed and Learned:
It is evident that there is a gap in knowledge among disadvantaged households burdened with inconsistent access to reliable food sources – which is largely attributed to the lack of dependable resources. As a collective whole, we observed that through the provision of well-grounded information, organizations such as unBox can bridge this gap in knowledge and mitigate the barriers between low-income households and accessible food sources by reinforcing media that connects them to proficient resources nearby. There are many factors that may impede families from utilizing the food resources in their area. It is critical that as a group, the process of obtaining information for food access resources is simplified in a way that is accommodating for the primary beneficiaries of these programs, including both social workers and participants. One of the ways in which the group can provide effective streams of information is by gaining an understanding of the experiences of underprivileged families by active listening and placing ourselves within their perspective – a premise that has been established to be productive for planning actionable steps. By asking informative questions, we can analyze the needs of communities, enabling the group to serve in an efficient and agreeable manner.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
The next steps for our group centers largely around fieldwork in user testing and content creation. As mentioned before, there are two initiatives: improving access to SNAP through an online guide and refining unBox’s BayAreaCommunity.org website. A set of interviews will be conducted in the next two weeks based on the users for each initiative, namely, SNAP participants and social workers, respectively. To prepare, we will produce a consent document, research protocol and list of interview questions. Once the interview data is collected, we can shift our focus to collaborating with unBox and community members in order to improve access to their resources. Half of our project team members will largely focus on conducting these interviews for user testing while the other half of our team will focus on content creation. Fieldwork for content creation varies based on the initiative. For BayAreaCommunity.org, data entry and validation is one key component in addition to making some resources on the website more accessible to social workers. For the SNAP online guide, fieldwork involves brainstorming new ideas to present the resources to users and ensuring its ease of use.