Update on Project Activities
Over the break, our team mainly worked on data analysis as well as getting together our materials for our final presentation. This past Tuesday morning, our team along with our community partners went to the Community Services Agency (CSA) in Palo Alto to give a presentation to the Executive Director, Tom Myers, and his staff. The CSA has and continues to serve as a safety net for those in need in the Mountain View, Los Altos, and Los Altos Hills area. The CSA provides vital social services such as Emergency Financial Assistance, Senior Lunch, Homeless Services, etc. The presentation served as a means to get feedback from an organization whose mission is to help those who presumably have less, whether that be in regard to access to education, health care, or the internet. Additionally, it was in some ways a dry run for our presentation at the d.school this upcoming Wednesday!
Through the duration of the week, Kendall nearly completed a full draft of the infographic, which is one of our deliverables. Moreover, we’ve spent more time as a group determining what we want to get out of our data analysis, seeing that there are many ways we can look at our survey. Last but certainly not least, we had our final meeting with our community partners, Alex and Christina, on Friday at 3:00 PM. At this meeting, Alex and Christina provided us feedback from our presentation on Tuesday at the CSA. Thankfully, most of the feedback was related to how we could improve the visuals of our slides. Otherwise, they were both very encouraging.
What We Observed and Learned
Starting off with our presentation at CSA, one thing in particular that we observed was their differing concerns regarding the 2020 census. To set in place a disclaimer, this wasn’t a large point of contention, but a nuance that came up during our presentation and discussion. One of our project’s largest “so-what” factors is its significance in relation to the 2020 Census. According to the Census Bureau, starting in 2020, there will be an online component of the Census which will necessitate internet access for all of those hoping to report their household data through this means. Those without digital access face the threat of not being included in Census data. While the Tom Myers, Executive Director of the CSA, full-heartedly agreed with this claim, he also vaguely mentioned general qualms with the types of questions being asked on the Census. This just goes to show that while ensuring that people can participate in the Census by being mindful of digital inclusion is necessary, there are also ways that minority groups can be marginalized through the formatting of the survey itself. Both issues must be addressed in order to ensure social equity through the Census.
Something else that we observed and was substantiated through our meeting with the CSA, was the need for more diversity within the languages that the survey was offered in. As of right now, our survey is only offered in English and Spanish. This is mainly due to resource limitations as Romeo was the only fluent speaker of a language besides English. Upon our visit to the senior center, we realized that there were many other non-English monolingual speakers, particularly Asian languages like Chinese, that were active in the community. While this wasn’t necessarily a surprise given the demographic diversity within Mountain View, we were not prepared to survey individuals in any other languages except English and Spanish. This is a clear missed opportunity. This observation was further supported by a comment made by Tom Myers, suggesting that we expand the language accessibility of the survey moving forward in languages such as Chinese and Russian. Connecting this to the larger idea of community-based work, this experience raises questions of selecting or bringing on team members who are able to communicate with individuals in their preferred language. On a small scale, for example, in a community dominated by one language, this is a fairly simple and easy task. However, when addressing an entire city population, making sure everyone can be included is a much more difficult task depending on the limitations of your team as well as your resources. A potential solution that can be applied both in this type of situation or in any form of community-based work is hiring community members whom you trust to do the translation work for you. Collaborating in this way also comes with the added bonus of social capital of that particular community member. People want their communities to be heard and more often than not are willing to help, whether that be voluntary or as a result of a wage.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
As this quarter and this project come to a close, only a few things remain to complete: data analysis, final presentation, and final deliverables. As of right now, Neal and I are focusing on completing both qualitative and quantitative analysis for both the presentation and the final deliverables. Given the amount of data that we have collected for each, the quantitative work is most significant and serves as the main source of our findings. Per our discussion with Christina and Alex, we’ll be analyzing the data on two main levels: 1) a general overview of the City of Mountain View and 2) based on reported demographic differences, in particular, income level. This will allow us to show how the responses of those with relatively less differ from the higher income Mountain View residents. As for our final presentation, we will be re-iterating on the slide deck that we created for the CSA presentation while adding new finds as this becomes available. Last but not least, we’ve been working on our final deliverables for the past two weeks and are on track to hit our last due date!
Is there anything you might have done differently if you were to embark on your project from the beginning?
We unanimously agreed that we could have produced more interesting findings specifically related to the people that were not connected to the internet by doing more targeted surveying. Before saying anything more, it should be known that this type of broad research was necessary given the fact that it hadn’t been done before. Nevertheless, our team can’t help but feel like we didn’t get enough data from the people we were hoping to learn about. Originally, what prevented us from doing this type of outreach in the first place were concerns related to making this target population feel uncomfortable or singled-out. This should be a researcher’s first concern when conducting ethical community-based research. Despite that, moving forward the next project group should further ideate on ways to learn about community members who lack digital access without compromising good ethics.
What was your greatest learning from your community partner and/or from your fellow teammates?
Overall, what we learned from our community partner was of and related to the inner workings of local government. Three out of our four members had never really worked on projects that were in cooperation with a local entity such as the City of Mountain View. In politics, we hear so much about the state and federal governments that the importance of local entities is often overlooked. In reality, a local government such as the City of Mountain View is responsible for making critical decisions that affect the daily lives of, in this case, nearly 80,000 individuals. We sincerely appreciated the efforts made by Alex and Christina to make sure the voices that could be missed will be heard in the 2020 Census. Moreover, we were relieved to see the degree to which they involved community members to participate in the decision and strategy making process. Thanks to the guidance of our community partners, we were able to talk to key groups within Mountain View whose responses and stories heavily influenced the findings of this research project.
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?
One particular moment stood out to all of us, it was when we realized that the affordable internet plans offered by service providers such as AT&T and Comcast really weren’t serving the community they claimed to want to help due to low internet access speeds. Many of the members of our team assumed that we’d walk into the focus group with the Spanish Speaking Ambassadors and offer them a solution through these low-cost internet services. On the contrary, we quickly learned that many of the individuals in the room had heard of and even signed up for these internet services, but found them useless because of slow loading speeds. To make matters worse, in these situations, individuals often found themselves bait-and-switched to more expensive plans by the very same companies that claimed to want to help them. Connecting this to the larger idea of community-based work, it just goes to show how little outside researchers know before speaking with the individuals they hope to help out. This is why the participation ladder is essential. If decision makers do not give the citizens they are hoping to help some degree of citizen power, it can result in the implementation of solutions the people themselves have already discovered to be insufficient.