Once you have an idea of what problem you want to research in your neighborhood and who you can interview to learn more about this issue, grab a pen, a notebook, a camera, and a recorder!
Don’t worry if you don’t have fancy, hi-tech equipment. Most smart phones taken amazing photos and have built-in audio recorders. And if you don’t have a smart phone, work with what you do have—your pen and notebook!
Document what you see
Start walking around your neighborhood, and write down the things you are observing based on the problems you listed earlier. For example, if your problem related to the environment, try to notice what plants you see while you walk. What kind are they, how many do you see? Are they big enough to sit under and give you shade? Keep asking yourself questions about what you’re observing. There is no such thing as a dumb question observing too much!
Take your time as you write down your thoughts and visually document what you see. Take some photos of the space, of you or your friends in that space, or maybe even your neighbors in that space. If you don’t have a camera, remember, you can always draw or make a rough sketch of what you see. Or, use your words to describe the “image.”
While observing, try to notice what you are noticing. It sounds silly, but it will you are drawn to and how to continue researching the problem in your neighborhood. Think about why you wrote down a thought or observation or took a picture—why was it interesting and meaningful enough to write down or photograph? What is it about the subject that makes you interested? Keep asking yourself why, and you will keep learning more about yourself and what you’re researching.
Once you have a better idea of what you are curious about, try to start talking to your neighbors! If interviewing people is new to you, try to start with the people you know, like your family or close friends who live nearby. Explain what you are doing , and set up a time for their interview. Before you interview them, make sure to have a list of questions on the topic ready. Also, ask them if they are comfortable being recorded before you start the interview, and explain the purpose of the recording.
Usually, it is to help the researcher make sure they don’t miss any important information, but if you would like to use the recording for public purposes, make sure you have their permission first. If they do not want to be recorded at all, that’s okay! Write down as much as you can while they speak, and it is okay to ask them to repeat themselves. For more information on how to interview someone, look at our suggestions and tips here, How to interview someone for publication/airing.
After doing some interviews, try to go back through the neighborhood and see the problems from your interviewees’ perspectives. How did they describe this street, or this block? What meaning did it have to them? Keep writing down your thoughts and perspectives, and notice what you notice. Continue with this process of using writing and photography to observe the problem you’re researching and conducting interviews, and once you feel like you have enough information to start with, move on to the next step: Revise Problem list and reorder issues in a way you would like to address.