Blog 3: Final Summer Report

Over the course of this summer, I partook in a research project headed by Professor Judith Pajo and alongside Shen Yang, Zoe Kim, and Emma Wolkenstein. The purpose of the project was to gather information on how people who work in a field that deals with environmental maintenance in an urban setting approach their work, how they came to work to uphold the environment, and what they expect out of their work moving forward. To gain a thorough understanding of both the participants in our research and the areas that they work in, a multi-layered methodology was used.

Methodology: The first thing that we did was individual research. We looked online and to previously known connections and places for organizations or public spaces that dealt in some way with the environment. These places include community gardens, compost recycling plants, and water filtering centers. Once a list of places was made, each person contacted the organization to explain the purpose of the project and our interest in the organization and its employees participating in it if possible. For the organizations not normally opened to visitors, we asked about a site tour, to better understand the environment a participant would be working in. These places would be contacted by email or phone if they were unknown to us previously, and reached out to personally by a researcher who had known them from a previous encounter whenever possible.

Once somebody from the organization expressed interest in participating, a site visit and interview date would be set up. Even if we didn’t hear back from a contacted organization, those that allowed access to the public were visited for fieldwork. At these places, I and the other researchers watched what was happening both in the place itself and its immediate surrounding area if relevant. We would take photos and fieldnotes, and strike up conversations with employees and volunteers at the organization and possibly gain a participant or two out of these conversations, and if so, a later time or date for the interview would be set up. At the places where participants had agreed to interviews the same thing would take place, but would include videos, audio recordings, and photos of participants who gave written consent to such.

Interviews took place at the organization site, with a document explaining the purpose of the research, it’s contents, and requesting various permissions of possible identification of the participant given to them at the start of the interview. If permission was given, the participant would then be photographed, audio-recorded, and named in research results. The interviews varied in length, taking anywhere from 15 to 120 minutes. For the most part interview questions were the same: How do you think about the environment? How were you exposed to it in childhood from family, teachers, and other influences? How does the environment play a part in your work? Have you always worked in the environment sector? What brought you into it? Did you come into this job with prior environmental experience related to your work or did you learn it along the way? Are there any particular concerns you have for the environment in the future, both related and unrelated to your work? Aside from a recording of the interview taking place when allowed, notes were taken by the researcher(s) over the course of the interview. Most interviews were followed up with another round of site participation and notetaking, both in its own right and in comparison to previous site visits.

All information was gathered in several folders in a shared google drive between me and the other researchers. Separate folders were made for photographs, interview transcripts, audio recordings, videos, and field notes. These were updated over the course of the summer whenever new research was gathered. The results and analysis of the research are as follows:

Research:

The research collected is primarily focused on the opinions and experiences of individuals working or volunteering with an environment-supporting organization or group in urban spaces, but also takes into account the settings where they work and the unique way in which their work enriches the environment. Gathering the data into a comprehensive database was the first step in analyzing the research, followed by comparing and contrasting the varied experiences and approaches to environmental work shared by research participants.

The first step in the research was to gather field notes and observations of the settings where research participants work. These places had two main categories of being focused on improving or maintaining the local quality of the land or water, but some others also focused on protecting local wildlife, flora and fauna, and air cleanliness. These minor categories of focus were present in the sites we visited, but in tandem to their overarching focus on environmental protection, preservation, and rehabilitation. The differences between the sites in New York and California seem stark to me. Despite both areas being surrounded by water, more sites in California either focused on water cleanliness and accessibility or included it in their services than the sites I visited and heard about in New York. This might be partially due to how the natural waters in California are more accessible and relied upon by the public, so there are more organizations dedicated to upholding the water’s accessibility. That being said, the sites in New York that included marine cleanliness and conservation in their efforts were also very open and eager to discuss said efforts. Another similarity seen across sites was the tenuous relationship they had with the government. Several sites relied on local government for funding and collaboration on programs offered at the sites, but were also in disagreement with the government’s plans on increasing development in the area, at the behest of the environmental work espoused by the sites. One site was involved in a case against the government at the time of my visit. Most, if not all of the sites put a focus on education, usually for the local public, but some also arranging educational visits for students, camps, and other groups. A large part of these organization’s goals need increasing public interest and support to be met, and so outreach and raising awareness of their goals and how they could be accomplished was a prominent part of their work. Where the sites differ, aside from what their particular goals are, is in their placement. Although all in urban spaces, the diversity of the placement and prominence of the sites surprised me. Some were small and unnoticeable at first glance, in hard to reach areas with unclean surroundings. Others were highly visible and busy, with a loud appearance. A couple had booths at other environmental sites, such as a compost drop-off and textiles drop-off location at a greenmarket, although the majority had one location.

The sites we visited were diverse in function, goals, and scope. Despite the differences between them, many emphasized education and public engagement. Some worked in tandem with government funding or land allocation, a few in legal issues with the government simultaneously. Others were vocal about their approval or disapproval with government policies and plans that would impact their environment. The individuals interviewed came from varied backgrounds, some growing up with an interest in the environment, and others developing it in recent years. A few notably first developed an awareness and appreciation for the environment at sleepaway summer camp as children, whether learning to appreciate wildlife in its natural habitat or realizing the disparity in nature available in the countryside compared to scarcity in urban city spaces. Interest in the environment ranged from a desire for recycling of reusable materials to saving and repopulating native marine animals, from reintroducing natural flora and fauna to urban environments to reducing air pollution and protecting native forests from destruction. There were some who spoke about a particular cause relating tot the environment that they were passionate about while for others it was a range, or a desire to improve the environment as a system rather than focusing on one aspect over others.  Some interviewees spoke about their views on the environment in relation to their jobs, and others had opinions that were independent of or differed from their line of work. All of the participants believed in education and making the environment and civic engagement more accessible to the public. Everyone we spoke to were passionate about their beliefs and clearly held them with conviction.

Overall, a lot was accomplished this summer. We were successful in locating and contacting different organizations relevant to our research, as well as visiting them and observing what goes on inside as well as how they appear from an outsider’s perspective. We were able to set up multiple interviews with volunteers and workers at these sites, who spoke to us at length about both their work and their personal outlook on the environment and what it means to them. Aside from formal interviews, we struck up informal conversations with passersby at some of the sites, giving us additional perspective on why people engage with these sites and the environment. When given consent, interviews were recorded and photographs and videos of the sites were taken, ensuring that the information would not be forgotten, so that we can properly assess it.

I really enjoyed this experience. It was daunting at first, having to strike up conversation with strangers and raise the subject of my research, but it became easier the more that it happened since I came to know what to expect. I really enjoy research, the individual aspect of it as well as the engagement with others that comes along with the job. Overall it went well, and I look forward to continuing it this year. I learned a lot about different approaches to improving and conserving the environment, as well as about local sites that I would be interested in attending myself. This research became something I was actively looking for subconsciously, to the point while on vacation in Boston upon passing by a local tree planting project my first thought was about how this would be a good site to do research for this project. This project has definitely made me more aware of my surroundings, as well as the small and large things I could do to reduce harm to the environment in my daily actions. It has also reiterated the need for organization, how having everything in one or certain spaces makes it much easier to decipher and examine in the long run. I look forward to seeing where this endeavor will take me in the fall and winter.

Blog 2: Environmental Discourse in Urban Settings: Progress and Challenges of doing Ethnographic Research

Environmental Discourse in Urban Settings: Progress and Challenges of doing Ethnographic Research

Our research into environmental discourse in urban settings has been making small yet significant progress. There was a slight delay to the beginning of the research because of technical, not ethical safety concerns of Pace’s Institutional Review Board. After some adjustments to the wording of our proposal it was cleared however, and the research officially began. Up until the IRB was approved, I was unable to do anything other than research and record contact information found on the internet for environmental sites of relevant interest. After the research was approved, I was able to get into the heart of the research, and start contacting people of various organizations about my project.

As of now, I have visited one site, contacted two others, and received a response from one. By visiting sites such as a greenmarket in the city and a community garden, we hope to be exposed to some of the diversity that distinguishes contemporary environmentalism. The head researcher and another student also participating in this project visited the greenmarket and took field notes, images, and recruited two people as participants who agreed to be recorded for an interview. I was unable to join them when they visited, so I went to the greenmarket myself on another day and took field notes. My field notes were very different from theirs, in that mine had a more clinical tone in listing the various types of produce that were being sold by diverse producers, the amount and types of people milling about, and how many people were there for environmental purposes. My co-researcher’s notes were more casual and varied in tone, mentioning how the heat might be affecting the amount of consumers and producers there and the history of the site. The field notes have been valuable in comparing what we’ve found based on our respective observations and interactions with people at the site, but due to the late start we had on reaching out to and visiting the sites much more data will still be collected, with interviews at the sites upcoming.

The ethnographic component of the research is successful, given that I was able to visit and interact with the greenmarket and have a visit to a food and electronic waste recycling center planned. The greenmarket already visited is the one I and other researchers took field notes for, and is involved in environmentalism in multiple ways, primarily through buying and selling produce but also in water saving activism and composting. I visited at lunchtime at the height of the day’s heat, but it was still very crowded with a diverse group of people, admittedly more walking through to get to some other destination than to interact with the site, but enough there for the site itself to constitute a crowd. Free samples of produce being sold were being given out by certain sellers, who attracted more prospective buyers than other stalls. Occasionally, people stopped by activist flyers and stalls to talk with the person in the booth, but a significantly larger amount of them were looking to buy produce. While my co-researchers found two participants from the site who agreed to interviews, I was less successful in that area. Those who I did mention the project to at the site were either unwilling or felt unqualified to be interviewed to discuss their ideas and practices involving environmentalism in depth. Thus, my participant involvement at the site concluded with data on the contents and activity of the place, but no individual ideas and opinions. The two interviews that were scheduled from other researcher’s visit to the site will be conducted later this week. Another interview and site visit with a participant from another organization was arranged for later in August, and I will be going to as a sole researcher and interviewer.

The main challenge I seem to be having with this project which keeps coming up is scheduling issues. It is difficult to find a time and date that all parties can agree on to meet up and collect data. I was unable to do ethnographic research and learn how to do said research in the greenmarket we would be in because of timing conflicts, so I made a separate trip to the site on another day. I was able to contact and arrange a meeting date with a participant from a waste recycling center, but it is later in the summer than I would like, since we had to find a time and date when we would both be in the New York area. I will be going alone to the site, because the professor and other students working on this project will be unavailable that day. Another challenge is my relative inexperience in research. I’ve done research papers and studies before, but they’ve been on a smaller scale than this current research project. While this project involves participant observation and one-on-one interviews, my previous research projects were done with either online or book research, and observation from a distance. I’m still struggling with bringing up this project to people who could possibly be participants, because I’m unsure of how to broach the subject and word it in a way that would make somebody interested. This was very apparent during my site visit last week, and is something I worry about for my upcoming interview and site visit in a couple of weeks. But I am scheduled to go to an interview with my professor soon that will better prepare me and ease my nerves. I’m excited to be doing research that is preparing me for a future in research professionally, but I’m also nervous to begin independently. Will I ask the right questions? Am I taking the right sort of field notes? These are my main questions going into my first interview.

This project has definitely pushed me to be the first person to reach out, and be more proactive in broaching the subject of what I’m asking for in research. I’ve always been a very shy person but when it comes to being the researcher, being the first person to speak up is a must. With this being the first major research project I’ve undertaken, I’m finding out more along the way about how to approach people for research, what to take note of and record in site visits, and how to reach out to possible participants and ask for their involvement in the project. It’s an ongoing process, and one that I’m excited to continue to learn from. This project is on the edge of leaving it’s beginning stage, and I’m still figuring out the impact my involvement with the project so far will have on its future. Every part of it so far has been a learning moment in some way, and with everything I take away from one part of the project I learn from and use it to help me improve in my next involvement within the research. It’s an ongoing and valuable process that I hope to continue on throughout this summer and develop into a cohesive and knowledgeable report after all of the data has been collected and analyzed.

Blog 1: Environmental Discourse Research in Urban Settings : Expectations and Aspirations

This summer, I am participating in a research project titled “Environmental Discourse and Diversity in Urban Settings”. The project is a collaboration between Professor Pajo, myself, and several other students. The objectives of our research are to obtain and analyze a sample of the current methods and thought processes of people working full-time, part-time, or as volunteers in the realm of environmental sustainability. Our goal is to observe and hear from various individuals involved in public or private sustainability efforts on how they think about, negotiate, and execute their environmental efforts in an urban setting, particularly how such efforts are done in conjunction with others working in the same field. What are their different ideas on how to approach environmental sustainability? How much variation is there within organizations and across organizations?

Our research questions revolve around how individuals approach, negotiate, and execute environmental work in an urban setting. Some questions are concerned with the individual environmental effort, other questions with the dynamic between individuals working in the same space of environmentalism. To answer these questions, we will use several methodologies. We will give a brief survey to individuals participating in the project, to get relevant background data. These participants will be interviewed separately, to understand and record how they approach, negotiate, and execute their environmental efforts individually. Aside from formal interviews, the participants will be observed in their worksite, to understand how their environmental work is carried out, to be compared and contrasted with how they described the nature of their work. Observation will also be employed for group settings of participants working at the same site. They will be observed by one or two researchers in a setting of negotiation, such as a meeting meant to discuss a possible adjustment in their work methods. This variety of research methodologies ensures that all areas of our research will be answered and analyzed to look for possible patterns of ideas and behaviors.

For myself, the purpose of this project is to understand how people approach environmental work. It would be great to not only collect data but later on also distribute the data for the education of the public. The myriad reasons and strategies people develop in conducting environmentally enriching work will be distributed to the public for the purpose of enhanced knowledge and avenues for environmental engagement in urban settings. When the results of the project are released to the public, I hope that the easy accessibility of such information will encourage the public to become more directly interested and involved in environmentally enriching activities themselves.

This project will be the first research project I am involved in outside of coursework. The work we have invested in writing and rewriting the grant proposal, learning about ethics in research, applying for IRB approval, and more, are already improving my skills in analysis and interpersonal skills. This project is the first that I am participating in as an interviewer in addition to acting as an observer and data collector and analyzer. In addition to learning and improving vital career skills from this project, I am interested in, but relatively new to environmental sustainability efforts. I’ve recycled since I was about 13, but have not become more aware of the various types of environmental sustainability that people in urban environments such as myself are able to practice. Environmental work such as composting and rooftop gardening are efforts that I will be encountering and hearing about at length during my research. As someone interested in leaving a more positive impact on the environment than I have done previously, I aim to learn about what avenues of environmental sustainability such as these are available for me to integrate into my daily life.