Since we had our kickoff meeting with community partners last Friday, we were able to jump into our survey design this week. We met on Monday to split up work for survey questions, scope of work, and the reflection. We also talked about teaming norms and scheduling. We learned that our availabilities overlap best on Fridays and Tuesday afternoons (3-5pm), and after class is best for quick check-ins. We also created a calendar-format agenda to solidify our work for the next few weeks. We will be sharing this with our community partners so they can track our progress. Roughly, we will begin our canvassing/survey administration next week (end of week 4/beginning of week 5).
To design the survey, we began by looking at previous surveys done by TransFORM (Chris Leppe), which were much longer than our target survey. The TransFORM survey also targeted a broader audience than ours, but was still useful for designing questions about transportation in general. We also independently looked at other transportation surveys conducted by groups like CTAA, Virginia’s DOT, and MIT. We then independently created lists of questions, which we compiled in a document throughout the week. We aimed to create them without consulting each other, so we could see where there were duplicate questions and overlaps of interest.
On Friday, we met as a team without community partners to write a full first draft of our survey, plan our canvassing training with community partners, and further develop our scope of work.
For the survey, we started by highlighting questions that others had written that we found interesting. We compiled these into a separate document. Then, we reworded and reformatted the questions to be similar to the TransFORM survey. Finally, we added demographic questions and open-ended questions. The survey is quite long -- it has 17 questions not including the open-ended responses -- but we wanted to send a more comprehensive list to the community partners so they can edit it down. We have sent the first draft of the survey to our community partners. They will edit it virtually, then have an in-person session with us next week to finalize it.
We created separate surveys for employees and managers. Although employees are our main target audience, we want to see if employers or managers understand their employees’ transportation and housing issues, so we can better target our final messaging. The worker survey asks more about the individual’s transportation habits, while the employers’ survey asks more about their workers’ issues and the transportation incentives that they’d be willing to subsidize/support.
What We Observed and Learned
In class, we learned about the principles of effective and ethical service. This is important for us to keep in mind as we’re only contributing to a small part of the larger transportation and housing affordability problem. We’re entering as outsiders who have (for the most part) never canvassed before. Here are some concrete ways that we addressed this:
- Clear Expectations: We created a calendar-style agenda for our community partners and confirmed our expected deliverables with them. Broadly, the agenda is to finish survey design and training in Week 4, conduct the survey for Weeks 5-7, and create deliverables Weeks 8-10. Our deliverables will be one shareable document (similar to the Palo Alto TMA reading) and one shorter letter to the county board (1-2 pages). We also discussed our strengths and confirmed our team roles. Although we will discuss this more in our scope of work, broadly these are our roles: Shika will be the community liaison, Yesenia will manage the canvassing schedule, Sarah will manage the class deadlines and projects, Michelle will lead design of the final deliverable, Justin will lead survey analysis, and Katie will lead secondary research.
- Preparation: We all read the documents provided by the community partners. We commit to meeting throughout the week and keeping constant digital communication so we are aligned before we meet with the community partners. We keep our agenda, which is shared with the community partners, updated so they can see our progress. We ensure that we stick to our deadlines (e.g. survey was due Saturday, we completed it Friday).
- Reflection and Evaluation: Through exercises like these reflections, we aim to reflect on our progress and stay critical of our own work. Already, we are learning that formulating useful, clear, and unbiased questions is difficult. We had to workshop our wording several times within our own group, and know we will receive additional changes from our community partners.
- Humility: We are trying to maintain an unbiased perspective even as the groups we are aligned with have policy recommendations that they want to drive towards. We want to make sure that there is a reciprocal relationship between us and our interviewees -- we are wary of making sure that we use our interviewees’ voices transparently. We want to ensure that we’re not imposing answers upon these lower-income, commuting workers that we know little about. Our learnings in class and our upcoming canvassing training with Leora (a community partner) will hopefully help with this.
Another thing we are learning is that managing schedules with so many people is difficult. Our community partners, as they come from three different organizations, have very different availabilities. Originally, we aimed to hold our survey review and canvassing training all next Friday. However, Chris and Adina had conflicts come up. We realized that there were no time spans during the week that all of our team members could meet for long enough to run both the survey review and the training, so we decided to split up the two. Leora will run the canvassing training, and Chris/Adina will lead the survey review with us. We had to manage our wording to be clear and inclusive. We’re learning a lot about managing client relationships and conflicting schedules, and have been excited by how great our community partners have been in terms of flexibility and letting us set our own agenda.
Lastly, we learned about phrasing questions effectively. Generally, the goal provided by our community partners was to understand if workers who commute into Menlo Park would want to live closer to work, and what their barriers are if so. We aimed to make our questions unambiguous, quantifiable for the most part, and objective. As an example, we started with a question: “are you able to get to work using public transit with minimal walking?” We thought that “minimal walking” may be ambiguous, so we worked to better define it in terms of numbers -- minutes to walk. Our next iteration was “How long would you have to walk to get from your house to the nearest public transit station (bus, Caltrain, MUNI, etc.)?”
Another example is the question, “how do you get to work?” We thought this could be too open-ended and wanted to make it multiple choice, to ease analysis. Instead, we changed the question to: “What mode of transport do you use for your commute to work? (Circle multiple if they apply)” and made multiple choice responses such as “car (driving alone)”, “car (with at least one other person)”, “bus”, “rail service/caltrain”, etc.
This is still a work in progress. We’re not sure if, as people who don’t commute regularly around the Bay Area, we might be missing some important questions. Maybe our perception of a typical commute and popular modes of transit is skewed. Maybe, when we ask about transportation subsidies they would be interested in, we’re missing discussion of other important initiatives. Maybe our wording on some of our “agree/disagree” questions is biased. We’ve heavily workshopped our questions already, but know it will still require further development. That is why we will work with our community partners, who have experience conducting surveys, to discuss multiple vantage points and include any missing, pivotal questions.
We also hope to combat this by launching a literature review. We want to review at least 5-10 sources about housing and transportation issues in the Bay Area, to ensure that we’re considering all perspectives and initiatives. We will provide update on this in the coming weeks as we wish to have input by the community partners on this idea. Again, we want to make sure we are adhering to the principles of ethical and effective service, outlined by the Haas center, by including our community partners in our decisions.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Deland challenged us to think earlier this week about who are the members of the “community” that we are working for, what do we know about them, and what can we learn from them. It is critical to remain aware of the community we are working with so that we can ensure that our work is actually meaningful and has the potential to create wanted impact. Although “Menlo Park” is in the title of our community partner project, we recognize that there will be many people coming from different communities throughout the Bay Area. These communities will vary in demographics including race, ethnicity, median income, profession, distance away from Menlo Park, etc. Menlo Park is a very wealthy area, yet the people we will be interviewing will often have blue collar jobs and may not earn enough to afford living in such an expensive area. We believe our “community” will be comprised of people who travel far distances to get to work, and who may be allotting a sizeable percentage of their income to transportation, as the community partner reading on Palo Alto Transportation indicated. We believe that historically there has been a lack of access to public transportation for workers in areas such as Palo Alto and Menlo Park, but we acknowledge that these are expectations that should not be reflected in our survey questions. We posed questions on our survey that would allow us to get to know the “community” we are working for better by seeing how far they work from their homes, what methods of transportation they take, how much they spend on transportation, etc. We were careful in how we phrased questions, as aforementioned, to leave our expectations out and get honest, accurate answers. Again, we wish to access the level of need for more public transportation, not try to prove that it exists because then that would skew our data. Once we analyze our data, and find that there is a need (or not), hopefully even more data can be collected to form a case that can be presented to the Menlo Park City Council by our community partner.
Looking forward, we have a few meetings and deliverables for next week. First, we will have a group meeting on Tuesday afternoon to review the Scope of Work and prepare for our midterm presentation. We think that meeting regularly throughout the week like this will keep us on track (last week it was Monday, this week Tuesday works better because we have a longer chunk of time). Before that meeting, the team will finalize our portions of the written scope of work and slides, and work to get our sections down to 2 mins of speaking time.
Additionally, we will be scheduling two meetings with community partners. First, we want an in-person survey review with Adina and Chris, and Leora if she is available. We sent some proposed times to the partners and look forward to hearing their response. To prepare for this, we will review any digital feedback from the partners and make those changes before the meeting. A few questions we have on the survey are: what are transit incentives that we should consider? How can we ensure that our questions are unbiased? How can we make our survey as low-effort yet honest as possible? Is our survey for managers asking the right questions, or should it be more similar to the employee survey?
The second meeting will be canvassing training with Leora, where she will teach us how to conduct door-to-door surveys in Menlo Park. We look forward to learning from her, most likely on Friday. After this, we will pair up and create a canvassing plan to ensure we hit our 100-survey goal. Some of our concerns here include: how do we reach commuting workers door-to-door if they don’t live in Menlo Park? Should we contact employers before coming to their place of work? How long should our survey be to receive the best response? What format should we deliver the survey in (paper or iPad, maybe)? What are the best times to canvass? How do we introduce ourselves to appear approachable? What should the street boundaries we target be, if any? Should we be taking pictures or videos on the spot?
We will also, as mentioned above, start our literature review. Katie will be spearheading this, but we will all contribute, and try to draw resources from the class and community partners if possible.