A Tale of Two Tables: Bridging the Gap

For the week’s blog, I would like to focus on some of the interesting insights that we have gleaned as we have embarked on our current project with the Department of Transportation. Initially, the stated purpose of the project was to develop a more progressive approach to parking fines — progressive being the opposite of regressive taxation. However, through the dispersal of our survey, we have been able to get a wider view of the pain points of some of the existing policies.

Though we are still in the early phases of the project, it has so far been an exciting example of how this sort of cross-collaboration can work and as the first official project of the Civic Design Lab since I joined, it has given me a great platform to learn and build from. It has also given me the chance to have some conversations and experiences that highlight the challenge and the promise of the work.

One example of the challenge has been our attempts to gather as much community input as possible. Since we cannot be everywhere at one time, we have developed a survey that has been distributed online and through or various community partners. Still, the survey in of itself is not enough so we have begun to table at various branches of the library.

What has been interesting about the two locations we have tabled at so far has been the differences in responses and interest in this particular topic. One location had far fewer people but more people who were impacted enough by the issues presented to speak with us and take the survey. The other location was bustling but had very few people interested in engaging with the survey. Neither location yielded a tremendous amount of responses but it was interesting to witness and reflect on the impact of parking tickets across two library branches that are relatively close in proximity but seemingly very far away.

Two conversations that were had I think further highlight the differences. At one branch, a resident asked us who the DOT spoke with as it was coming up with its transportation plans. The main qualm being that seeking to make the city less car-friendly will have a negative impact because many working people, working parents etc., can’t navigate their lives solely biking or using public transit. At the other branch, a resident spoke with us about how she got rid of her car and it was the best thing that she has done. She invited me to consider doing something similar as I mentioned my interest in purchasing an electric vehicle. I explained that I work in a place that I don’t live and that my life and commute aren’t set up to be carless.

The tabling and conversations at this branch were incredibly interesting for the content but also for the questions that it generated for me. For instance, is there another topic or series of topics that would have made the tenor of the responses flip? Is tabling an effective means to gather information from people? How can we know? How many of the almost infinite topics would allow us to make a validated decision about this particular form of outreach?

Most importantly, is there a way to bridge the gap between the person who has a life perfectly situated for a walkable community and the person who doesn’t?

These questions are the sort that make the work so intriguing for me.

I look forward to seeing how these patterns change or stay the same with more outreach. We will be tabling again at another branch by the time you read this!

Was there something surprising or interesting that you learned this week?

If you liked this post, you can find others on vulnerability, leadership, trusting the process, failing safely, using data in decisions,  and how to discover untapped expertise on your team. and more here.

Brandon L. Greene is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is the Manager of the Civic Design Lab in Oakland. Brandon is a graduate of Boston University Law School where he was a Public Interest Scholar and Martin Luther King Social Justice Fellow. Previously, Brandon was an Attorney and Clinical Supervisor at the East Bay Community Law Center where he created and lead the decriminalization of poverty clinic. Brandon’s article Depraved Necessities: Prison Privatization, Educational Attainment and the Path to Profit was published in 2013 by SRBLSA Law Journal. His forthcoming articles will be published in the Harvard Blackletter Law Journal and the Berkeley Criminal Law Journal. Twitter: @brandonlgreene. You can read his posts here.

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