Listen. Amplify. Collaborate.

By Rahul Mitra

One of the most exciting elements of this project has been engaging our community partners and listening to diverse perspectives, viewpoints, and themes through our work. Researchers — especially applied researchers — often state that their goal is to listen to concerns on the ground before advocating for particular policies or designing research projects, but that rarely happens to the full extent. It is happening, however, for us here. Listening deeply to these voices and concerns has meant that our team’s original plans have changed drastically, more than once, and that our timetable has also altered. Nevertheless, the scope and nuances of the advice shared with us by our community partners is immeasurable, and I am on the whole glad to have paused to listen awhile. More than “awhile,” though. I should have said that I am glad that our entire project has shifted from policy design to community listening, amplification and collaboration.

We’ve been doing several public appearances and talks over the past few weeks, especially. For instance, at a recent “Greening your Neighborhood” community forum organized by the Michigan Sierra Club and Friends of the Rouge, we fielded an information table, shared some preliminary findings with a poster, recruited new participants to contact, and also filmed some wonderful footage of community members engaging, talking and listening. In late March, our team spent more than 6 hours working during the “World Water Day” event at the Wright Museum, which I helped organize with some amazing and hardworking community organizers. This time, in addition to all the wonderful work at the Greening event (viz., information table, poster, recruitment, footage filming), we also facilitated an hour-long interactive workshop and filmed “vox populi” (or “voice of the people”) with several attendees.

First, the workshop was a wonderful precursor to the community conversations that we want to host, with our community partners, over the Summer of 2019. Not only did it help us try out specific discussion questions and prompts for maximum audience engagement, prepping for the workshop also helped me reflect on and further refine the eventual goals of our project. This led to creating the slide deck below, which emphasizes LISTEN. AMPLIFY. COLLABORATE. as our trifecta of communicative strategies to achieve our goal of meaningful and equitable water security policy in Detroit (and nationwide).

Second, the “vox pops” were a fun and relatable way to trace the impact of organizing this event on how attendees perceived water affordability and security. Grad assistant Jacinda Gant was especially amazing at guiding so many wonderful attendees through the process of describing why water security mattered to them, how water affected their community and way of life, and what pledge they would make to safeguard water security after World Water Day… all within 30 seconds! We even had a minor fangirl moment when US Rep. Rashida Tlaib did a vox pop for us on camera!

But, more importantly, our entire grad student team worked incredibly hard and were so dedicated that it warmed my heart. By the end of the night, we were a tired but so-completely sated group of engaged researchers… I’m so utterly grateful that we get to do this, thanks to the help and support of so many amazing community partners and research participants.

Thank you for your trust in us.

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