Participatory Action Research (PAR) provides a critical framework for making science – systematic inquiry and analysis – a public enterprise. Allied with feminist, critical race, queer, and indigenous theories, PAR is an approach to research that values the significant knowledge people hold about their lives and experiences. PAR positions those most intimately impacted by research as leaders in shaping research questions, framing interpretations, and designing meaningful research products and actions.
With these commitments as a foundation we used a wide variety of data collection methods designed to maximize flexibility, to accommodate the exploratory nature of the project and the diverse experiences and interests of the intergenerational research team. These methods allowed us to collaboratively explore a range of questions about youth experiences with school discipline and surveillance, young people’s educational desires, and community concerns.
Beware of the Watchers
Rapid Research is a growing set of techniques with roots in public education that is designed to help us “dive in” to the work, jumpstarting decisions about which topics mattered most to our group, teaching the youth research skills in context, and helping us visualize possible research products.
With an emphasis on the idea that “nothing is precious,” each “Rapid Research” session involved teams of researchers selecting a theme from previous conversations and then either creating and administering a mini-survey or a video short on the topic – all within about 90 minutes. The resulting Rapid Research products were then used to facilitate discussion and analysis of the new themes coming up, in an iterative process.
Sidewalk Science is a set of techniques, strategies and activities designed to bring our research, literally, into the streets and engage the community in dialogue about our findings. BARC used Sidewalk Science to share our ongoing research with the larger community, setting up research stations on the sidewalk and asking community members to contribute in multiple ways: populating a “crowd-sourced” map [link to photo of map] of the neighborhood, providing answers [link to whiteboard photo gallery] to basic research questions like “what does our community need?” and “what does our community have?” among others, or simply taking the time to learn about the project.
Images from Sidewalk Science in Bushwick, July 2014
#wickwalk is a multi-method digital research method we developed for learning about Bushwick, to provide a foundation for thinking about the development of a community school in the neighborhood. Aided by maps, cameras, and interview questions, our research team set out in small groups (including Bushwick residents and non-residents, and both adult and youth co-researchers) on walking tours of different segments of the neighborhood, mapping routes and landmarks, photographing, observing, and talking to people on the street. These tours aimed to document the neighborhood’s “assets,” think about who is a part of “the community,” and to think about what residents could use from a community school. In addition to paper documentation, we used Twitter to post photos of and reflections on the neighborhood with our hashtag #wickwalk, helping build an online repository of our observations and experiences.
Community interviews were conducted our #wickwalk tour of the neighborhood to better understand resident experiences of and relationship with the neighborhood over time. These brief, on-the-street interviews included questions about their favorite and least favorite things about the neighborhood, and their perception of the changes in the neighborhood connected to gentrification.
A series of video testimonials document youth researchers’ thoughts on the most important things to consider when developing a community school, and their hopes and fears about rapidly changing Bushwick. Filmed at the conclusion of the summer, these brief testimonials were based on our work together over the course of the project.
We used mapping in a variety of ways to document experiences in and out of schools, locating ourselves and our experiences. The research team used both traditional maps (e.g., google maps and MTA maps) and more personal maps from scratch to depict experiences of schools and our neighborhoods. These more creative and personal maps allowed us to illustrate our lived geography in ways that were most meaningful to us.