several meetings that I have attended recently, I’ve heard about young people
or poor people who have "documented" some asset, problem, or activity.
It occurs to me that academics and other professional researchers "document"
things only as a first stage in research (if they do it at all). Their real interests
are comparing, assessing, and explaining phenomena, not merely listing or portraying
them. I understand why disdavantaged people stick to documentation; it requires
fewer skills and resources. But much more power comes with assessment and explanation.
I’m starting to think that the rich do research while the poor get "documentation."
The solution is to try to involve young people, poor people, and other disadvantaged
folks in real research, whenever possible.
In this connection: a colleague
of mine has Palm Pilots with database software installed. We’re going to lend
them to high school kids, whom we’ll train to walk around the neighborhood conducting
surveys of physical assets. The data they collect can then be used to generate
maps, which we will post for public use on the Prince
Georges Information Commons site. Later, we’ll help the kids use the data
they collect for genuine research.
The topic that we’re planning to study
is "healthy living," which includes:
1. exercise and "walkability"
security from crime, and
All of these factors can be placed
on the same maps, so that it’s possible to see, for example, where there are sources
of healthy food that are also safe and walkable.
We’re going to start with walkability and crime. Walkability is relatively
easy because there is a standard survey instrument that kids can easily
use to determine whether each street segment is walkable. It’s very
straightforward for the kids to create a map with the walkable streets
colored in and the unwalkable ones left white (or something like that).
They just walk down a street and fill out a checklist on a Palm Pilot.
We can simultaneously work on crime. One idea would be to try to get
actual crime statistics from the police and add them to the map. Apparently,
police departments do not like to release these dataalthough maybe
we could overcome that problem. Another option would look like this:
The kids would take digital photos of places that they consider very
dangerous, and very safe. They would compare and discuss their pictures.
They would then show their collected pictures of safe and unsafe places
to experts, such as police officers and criminologists, who would offer
their opinions. Once the kids had reflected on their choices, they would
declare certain areas to be relatively safe and unsafe, and mark the