Post by Kara Downey
Though our empathy work is far from finished, we are already unpacking our notes and trying to identify specific users and infer latent needs to address. One benefit of designing for a nearby community is that we need not follow the design process in a linear fashion. Instead, we can regularly return to the west side of EPA and conduct additional needfinding to see if our ideas make sense, and how community members respond to them. Being able to make multiple trips to EPA is also useful because it allows us to develop deeper relationships with some of our potential users. Developing strong enough relationships to have meaningful conversation can be challenging in part because of EPA’s relationship with Palo Alto and with Stanford. On the one hand, former and current students who live and work in East Palo Alto have served as valuable resources in their own right, as well as linking us up with broader networks of long-term residents.
On the other hand, the closeness of Stanford and EPA raise the stakes for the project. Though some of the aforementioned Stanford students have made long-term commitments to EPA (and some there for the short term have had lasting impacts), far more cycle through the area in conjunction with a class or a short-term volunteer project, which leads to an understandable “intervention fatigue” and a hesitance to engage with outsiders. Sustainability is one of the key principles guiding our thinking, whatever we produce for Magda will be better than nothing, but it’s hard not to worry that we’re feeding into that cycle. One of the most uncomfortable things about this class is the fact that while we’re working to the best of our abilities, many of us are beginners, and the realities of the quarter system mean that we have to rush the process along. This has been discussed in other blog posts, but at the end of the day the class is designed for us, the students, to learn about the design process, not to maximize the chance that we will produce something useful. This tension is inherent with any class that uses real-world problems–and hence real people–as part of a learning process, but it feels especially strong in the context of EPA’s history of being an object lesson for privileged Stanford students. This doesn’t mean that the class is somehow normatively bad, but it does mean that the intellectual leap involved in inferring people’s latent needs is harder when we’re concerned about designing with rather than for the community. It also means that we feel (useful) pressure to ensure that the time people spent talking to us doesn’t go to waste.
Speaking of those who’ve talked to us, we’ve developed POVs around several categories of users. Our first user type is embodied by a young mother who is interested in being involved in community politics, but who feels uncomfortable in public spaces due to a lack of police presence. It is not clear what she specifically is afraid of, but other residents of our section of EPA have voiced concerns about loiterers, and about slow police response time. We’re still working to hone her specific need, but a desire to feel more secure in their neighborhood is something we’ve heard from numerous people. Our second user type is a young, educated leader of an active NGO with strong ties to the African-American community. This user needs to adapt his organization to the changing demographics in EPA. Our insight is that this user seems to see serving the African-American and Latino communities as mutually exclusive goals: one can either “refocus” to the Latino community and abandon the organization’s roots, or justify continued attention to African-Americans on the grounds that they are increasingly a minority in EPA, but potentially lose relevance in the broader community. Our hope is to develop adaptations that don’t force this sort of a choice. Our third user is a high-school aged participant in an after-school arts and technology program at one of these NGOs. This is another user for whom we’re having trouble articulating a specific need, but the insight is that he sometimes feels judged for being from EPA and wants to prove negative stereotypes about the area wrong. This is a problem that transcends ethnic identity, but that is closely tied being a member of the EPA community writ large. We hope that developing this POV will help us hone in on issues that would resonate with all of EPA. Finally, we’ve identified a community of veterans as an untapped source of enthusiasm and volunteer labor for community projects. Hopefully some of these POVs will prove useful for ideating–and if not, EPA is but a short car ride away.