The room glowed with the warm light of the sun slipping beneath the ocean horizon. Points of light dotted the surrounding hills of San Diego. Our third Community Listening Session took place here, in City Heights, one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in San Diego.
A challenge went up. It read “my priorities are my family”. I added it to the mosaic of rich stories we were here to listen to. As the last light faded from the sky, the room was alive with stories of cultural diversity and prejudice, stories of moments of hardship and triumphs. One theme was universal: the hope for finding a better life for themselves and their family.
The James Irvine Foundation partnered with Gravitytank to help them redefine their grant making. I was part of a team of researchers and designers tasked with assignment of understanding the constituents of the organizations who are supported by the Irvine Foundation.
We used a mix of research methodologies in order to document and amplify participants’ voices. At the heart of our research we conducted multiple regional community listening sessions and in-home interviews.
From Oakland to El Centro, we journeyed across the state conducting multiple community listening sessions, in-depth interviews, speaking with community leaders, and also broadening our reach through dScout, a mobile research app.
According to official poverty statistics, 15.3% of Californians lacked enough resources—about $24,000 per year for a family of four—to meet basic needs in 2015. The rate has declined significantly from 16.4% in 2014, but it is well above the recent low of 12.4% reached in 2007. Moreover, the official poverty line does not account for California’s housing costs or other critical family expenses and resources.
About one in five (19.3%) Californians were not in poverty but lived fairly close to the poverty line (up to one and a half times above it). All told, two-fifths (40.0%) of state residents were poor or near poor in 2014. But the share of Californians in families with less than half the resources needed to meet basic needs was 5.9%, a deep poverty rate that is smaller than official poverty statistics indicate.
In 2013, 78% of poor Californians lived in families with at least one adult working, excluding families made up only of adults age 65 and older. For 53.8% of those in poverty, at least one family member reported working full time. For another 24.2%, at least one adult was working part time.
The Community Listening Sessions were held in community centers, churches, union halls, and schools across six regions. Each session was highly interactive, blending Q&A, group discussion, identifying patterns, brainstorming, and reflection.
After some listening sessions, we spent 60–90 minutes talking with one or more Californians in their homes or at work. In total, we spoke to 17 individuals in-depth. These conversations gave deeper insights into their everyday lives.
From our multiple listening sessions and in-depth interviews, we learned in detail the incredible problems Californians face today.
After listening to more than 400 people from across the state, it became clear that opportunities abound in California, but those opportunities feel unattainable for many of the participants we heard from.
Despite working hard, too many Californians still have to make difficult decisions about what they can afford in order to survive.
Busy schedules, unfriendly work environments, and unsafe situations make day-to-day life feel fragile and unstable.
Working Californians who are struggling with poverty yearn for respect for their contributions at work and in their communities.
Those who are physically or socially isolated from strong personal and professional networks miss out on vital information, resources, and support.
Some Californians feel trapped in their current situation, leaving them unable to make progress toward their goals.
With limited time, energy, and resources, Californians who are working but struggling economically still find ways to exercise their creativity. We asked participants about how they practice their ability to create and why they’re passionate about those activities.
We took what we heard and found five themes that capture the challenges of today’s Californians.
From simple decisions like writing challenges in first person to providing snippets of raw interview transcripts, we strove to be authentic to the voices of the people we talked with.
Numbers and stats are great for showing scale, however by prioritizing stories over statistics we were able to better show what people’s lives are like and what they care about.
Media like video and photography were incredibly important tools to capture and share the rich stories of these Californians.