English Avenue is a neighborhood on the edge of downtown Atlanta, historic for its and past residents as well as its recent social decline. As a food desert and civically neglected neighborhood, its residents have faced declining resources and prosperity. Since 2008, the Friends of English Avenue organization and others have contributed to reinvigorating the environmental and social space, including engaging with Georgia Tech. Along with other Digital Media students, I have joined the Friends of English Avenue to explore improvements to their community garden via digital media and interaction design. This prompted my ethnographic study of the garden on January 14, 2013, largely focused on people involved and their context of use of the garden, recorded by myself as written observations, sketches, photos, and a video.
This data set is an aggregate of my design ethnography, looking deeply into what people do, use, and think to understand how to improve the self-sufficiency of the garden and Friends of English Avenue organization; therefore, the nature of the data set is mostly factual. Some data was recorded more from my own perspective, rather than a universal or impartial perspective, to what was quoted, paraphrased, or observed, which precludes a truth of the material considering I, the recorder, am a filter or generator of information. However, since the information recorded was done so in as loyal a manner as possible, the material is at least practically factual. Participants in my study themselves do not make facts, though; rather, they do acts, and my role is to express the relative context or narrate the acts. I recorded these acts and their context from my perspective so that when I work on this data later on, during development and design, I can recall the situation through the context or perspective I had while at the garden, immersed in the experience. Quoted and visually recorded material could, however, be considered true given the candidness of such a medium.
Garden operators on site at the time allowed our observations and interviews, though they were not necessarily solicited; therefore, ethical questions concern the publication and veracity of any unsubstantiated (i.e. no image, video, or audio recording) claims made in my data. In the case of publication, my observation and contextual notes were that of my perspective of everyday life at the garden, and could have been gathered by anyone on scene, thus raising less of an ethical issue of privacy. However, quoted and other captured identity information firstly invoke rights of privacy when coupled with my own context. That is, paraphrased material or improperly recorded quotes could unintentionally imply something antagonistic toward the individuals or their organization, Friends of English Avenue. Similarly, information disclosed in a perceived confidential context may also antagonize related parties and put them in an awkward place if published. With the exception of this analysis, since it will remain protected by FERPA, I will not publish my notes due to these ethical issues. Derivative works, such as a contextual analysis or the digital artifact created to benefit the Friends of English Avenue, should be ethically safe to publish given that no private information is disclosed without the owners’ consent. As I am also the data set’s audience, considering the data is to reference during the upcoming design and development stage, there is little possibility for any unintended exposure and ethical issues.
While collecting this data, I focused on the broad patterns of everyday life at the garden that are important to conceive, design, and develop the new digital artifact, in particular how to design in such a way that increases the probability of successful adaptation or at least that decreases the probability or failure due to my lack of understanding of how the users behave or interact with things. For example, garden things like dirt, gloves, and water do not mix well with most modern interaction devices taken for granted by clean, bare-handed, dry users of touch screens on phones and tablet computers. Therefore, I gathered data on how people interacted with everything and when, giving me a full picture of object interaction. My hypothesis after collecting this information is that my artifact should either be used actively by someone comfortable using a common digital data entry device on the garden or near it, or the artifact should be a passive system that users interact with asynchronously with the target factors, which would include the gardeners, the plants, the weather, and the context of all of them together.
Since I am the narrator of the garden’s users’ acts, my influence on how those acts are interpreted and transcribed can lend some personality or truthiness to the real, true events. This would, of course, imply an inaccuracy to some degree in preserving the truth of the events, in fact or in context. Contrary to this effect, though, is my duty as a design ethnographer in this situation to translate the truth or reality of these events into a language more parsable by a design process. If I had instead more faithfully or realistically recorded data, I would have more work to do later on in the design process to determine the practical use of the product without the luxury of context derived while on-site at the garden among my product’s future clients. Therefore, in order to yield a product that would best complement this existing system (garden) and patterns of its users (neighborhood), data must be come from my perspective and context derived during maximum exposure to the system and users observed rather than derived from a more truthfully recorded medium later with no immersion.