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.