By Carla Villacis


As researchers, there is a systematic process for conducting research that has been ingrained in us through our training. First, we identify the topic, research question, and target population (see Blogs #1 and #2). Next, we design a methodology that will maximize the validity and relevance of data we collect – this includes the creation of the data collection tools and parameters within which we can control the variables (see Blog #3). This is then followed by data collection, data analysis, writing of the findings, and dissemination of the study.

What most of us quickly realize, however, is that this process is not as linear as we wish it to be. For instance, our goal of amplifying community-level transportation recommendations in Camden County requires us to keep up to date with upcoming changes and projects related to transportation, such as the increase in public transit fare across New Jersey that will go into effect July 1, 2024. Similarly, while our topic, research questions, and methods remain constant, we have had to refocus our participant recruitment to in-person outreach strategies due to AI-fabricated responses in our online data collection. This is an unavoidable complication of conducting research in a hybrid era that requires protocols to remove suspicious data prior to analysis.

Lastly, we have encountered that dissemination of the study starts much earlier than results are ready. In order to get the richest data possible, we need the community to be aware of who we are, why we are asking these questions, and how their involvement matters. Moreover, our responses to these questions should address the different perspectives of our audiences.

When asking a library or social service agency to share our survey or lend us a room to hold a focus group, our message centers around the fact that they are the most direct bridge to the community members we need to hear from. When discussing with transportation providers about promoting our study at stations and on public transit vehicles, we identify ways in which our separate efforts to seek community input may align or overlap so we do not overwhelm our target audience. When asking community members to participate, we acknowledge the validity of their experiences and opinions and aim to make them feel comfortable sharing their expertise with us. Ensuring that our participants, partners, and stakeholders understand and value the information we are gathering is essential to the outcome of the study.

Data collection started about a month ago, and over that time, we have encountered novel situations that have led us to shift our strategies to ensure the quality of data needed, and to further define what it means to connect with community members. Our partners have shown us great support extending the range of our outreach efforts, and participants have demonstrated their expertise by providing detailed context and reasoning for their opinions and suggestions.

As we speak with more community members and start seeing patterns in the data, we will start identifying audiences for the presentation of findings. We would also like to find ways to share the findings with participants and community members at large in acknowledgement of their time and contributions, and we look forward to doing so.