11/6/12: Interview Methods and a Case Study of De-Industrialized Cities (presented by Lorlene Hoyt)

Interview methods
To record or not to record? Expect 6-8 hours of transcription for every hour of interviews. Other considerations: personal comfort, use for research. Tufts Library has equipment to rent.

Choosing and recruiting respondents
Avoid cold calls as much as possible. Mutual connections are very helpful. Rely on friends, teachers, etc. Think about the total population at your disposal. Try different methods of reaching people. Be flexible about where and when to meet—people may be much more willing to talk if the interviewer will go to them, during hours (before or after work, at lunchtime) that may not be conventional.
Ask friendly interviewees to recommend other people to interview, or to provide connections.

Preparation
Send interviewees the questions at least 24 hours in advance, letting them know you may add/subtract questions. Let them know who will see the results. Let them know whether you will be recording.

Be highly prepared! Bring extra batteries for recorder and make sure all equipment is working. Be early. Practice with friends and family. Face-to-face interviews are ideal, but phone interviews can work too. Skype is one step better than telephone.

Incentives for people to participate: many people see interviews as an opportunity to reflect on experience. Offer to share the product with them. If there’s sensitive data, offer to share draft. Get any quotes approved before paper goes to print. Leave the door open for contacting them for clarification or for a future interview.

Location
Location is very important. Make sure interviewees are comfortable and in place where they feel they can speak freely. If meeting in public place choose somewhere not highly distracting.

Difficulties
Begin with easy questions to get dialogue going, before getting into more detailed questions. This method can also help the interviewer to get used to the speed at which the interviewee may talk, accents, etc. May need to reel people in if they go off on tangents, prompt them if they give short answers. Try to get people down from jargon level and move beyond lofty sound bites, make sure they go down a level. Make sure they tell when, where, who, how events happened. Make sure to dig deeper. Being good at this comes from a genuine interest in topic. Look for high points and low points in the story. Try to dig into scenes—what does a conflict/success/celebration look like? Have good transitional phrases in your pocket to move on from awkward questions. Repeat what the interviwee says.
Focus on “how” rather than “why”: how do you do this without losing interview’s richness? Often, “why” is contained in the literature/personal synthesis rather than interviewee’s opinion. “How” is often easier than “why,” and it’s not found in a book.

Send a thank-you after interview.

Analyzing data and writing about it
Look for evidence—rich quotes with some level of detail. Do you see any patterns among them? If three or more people say the same thing, it’s a pattern. Self-reinforcing comments coming from a group can indicate a theme. Spend lots of time with data. Where are the best lines? Rather than clogging writing with many direct quotes, it can be much more effective to use just a few powerful ones.

Lorlene’s presentation (created with Andre Leroux): Voices from Forgotten Cities: Innovative Revitalization Coalitions in America’s Small Older Cities

“Forgotten cities” are smaller industrial cities in the U.S. that were once industrial drivers of the economy and are now largely ignored. (Examples: Camden, NJ; Flint, MI; Lawrence, MA)
-not global destinations
-rarely subject of research
-left behind by residents
-abandoned by industry
-old: industrial history, pop of 5,000 by 1880
-small: 15,000-150,000 in 1990
-poor: low median incomes

Study consisted of visits and personal interviews in Lawrence, MA, Reading, Pa, and Youngstown OH. Face-to-face, semi-structured personal interviews with citizens with stakes in community revitalization as well as mayors, county commissioners, and city counselors.

The arc of the report was that these cities went through four stages:
Dominance=infrastructure, industry, in-migrations, institutions, and identity.
Decline=shock, slippage, self-destruction, stigmatization, shame.
New reality=low civic/gov capacity and collective mindset.
Revitalization=rooted institutions and innovative revitalization coalitions.

Beth Siegel: these cities used to be bustling, involved. They represented the typical “hometown America of the 1950s.”

Events of collapse leave deep psychological scars— often, they literally happened overnight with closing of plants. Public service deliveries slipped when demand was the highest. Corruption and nepotism became rampant. Increasing distrust among institutions, residents, neighbors. Self-destruction: weakened state of governance yields bending of the rules. Arson becomes rampant. Mainstream media begins to pick up on stories, worsens cities’ reputations. Negative image makes it difficult for cities and families to begin to bounce back. Even residents in outlying suburbs tend to look negatively on city, and relations with suburbs decline. Civic disengagement becomes a chronic state. Leaders and residents internalize feelings of failure. Cities cannot position themselves against undesirable development—e.g. jails, incinerators.

“Forgotten cities now lack the large employers and corporate presence necessary to provide adequate civic capacity. They lack adequate governing capacity due to limited financial resources as well as dominant position of “old guard.” Collective mindset is chronically low.

Strengths of these cities: location and connectivity to larger cities as well as rural places. Walkable downtowns/neighborhoods, access to elected officials. Layout and infrastructure: rails, rivers, parks. Architecture: historic mills, homes, churches. Cultural assets: symphony halls, museums, small colleges. Diversity: immigrants, niche markets, unique labor pool. Identity: loyalty among old-timers, willingness to donate time and money. Affordability: competitive housing/labor opportunities.

All three cities now have initiatives dedicated to improvement:
Lawrence: Reviviendo Gateway Initiative (joint public-private sector effort)
Reading: Initiative for a Greater Reading (private sector)
Youngstown: Youngstown 2010 (public sector)

Initial lessons: innovative revitalization coalitions are emerging. These cities are capable of achieving change. Corporate partners are not crucial to an initiative’s success.

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