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.