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Visiting Washington, D.C.
This study speaks to a non-profit organization’s program facilitating community-university partnerships that architect pathways to economic and cultural opportunity for youth. I-SEEED engages youth as integral researchers who use digital technologies to interrogate the research processes and findings of the organization M2M and to supply local geographical and qualitative knowledge about the availability of healthy food in food stores in and around Oakland. Through in-depth descriptions of this technology, the author illuminates how GIS (geographic information system) technology can engage youth and their communities as community scientists and how their collaborative data analysis processes advance democracy.
2. Theoretical framework
This study integrates community capacity building with participatory action research (PAR) traditions of research that emphasize community-centered research. In contrast to neo-liberal educational interventions which often narrowly define “expert” knowledge, YPAR 2.0 and participatory technology models of research emphasize collaborative problem solving and allow for deeper and multi-directional analysis of the power dynamics between race, space, place, waste—and, in many instances, make more accurate public datasets derived from specialized and expensive surveys and/or sensor networks. Youth used research to help communities understand, validate, and act upon interpretations of digital data and visual maps of inequities in their communities.
3. Methods and Data
This study presents the methods of data collection and digital analysis of youth and the impact of their data collection on local and state-wide food distribution. M2M’s research plan ensured scientific rigor of its work by subjecting research results to peer review by youth researchers. Using paper maps makes the GIS data collection process more accessible and easy to learn. Youth employed these methods of data collection to document food stores in Oakland and the quality of food available in these stores. Digitizing the data then allowed planners and community members to collate and analyze the data with the Local Ground user interface. Youth used digital visualization tools to share findings with key decision makers, presenting their findings and implications for policy reforms.
4. Results and conclusions
The digital data and visual print and on-line maps helped multiple stakeholders to better understand the structuring of place, people, and varying impacts on community members. These data combined to facilitate analyses of where change is needed, the complicated reasons for the perpetuation of inequities in food distribution, layers of intersecting solutions that are needed, and roles each entity in a community can play in working together to redesign urban spaces and access.
Through partnerships such as these, youth have an infrastructure to be taken seriously and to be a part of real community change on multiple dimensions. This study speaks to the networking and research possibilities through these exciting technologies. These kinds of partnerships engage with neoliberal policies such that richer pictures of applied learning and youth empowerment as community leaders are present at the table. The collaborative research method engages youth voices in community change and trains youth in interrogating the research practices of others while learning how new technologies can support such interrogation.