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Example: Interview with Catie Heaven

Catie Heaven is proficient in the art of conducting studies on issues. When she worked for the Work Group on Health Promotion and Community Development at the University of Kansas, she was involved in a project called "Girls to Women," during whichshe conducted interviews with dozens of seventh and eighth grade girls. Her new project is a child care analysis that includes a survey on about 600 students in a quantitative/qualitative forum. Here she comments on her experience conducting surveys.

"Do you know how hard it is to get a hold of thirty thirteen-year-old girls?" Catie asks, referring to her survey effort in the "Girls to Women" project. "Getting a hold of everyone was the most difficult thing. The time window wasn't very wide, so getting everything done on time was also difficult. But it all worked out. I think overall we found that the "Girls to Women" program was very successful. It's very good for the students. For me it was a great experience because it was the first time I interviewed a large number of people."

Catie thinks that conducting surveys is important because it provides an opportunity to select her goals. "A well-rounded study is well-researched," she says. "That's the first crucial issue: What you want to ask about? The next component is having carefully worded questions. The way you word a question dramatically impacts the outcome you receive when you ask that question. So, you bounce the questions off of a few people and make sure that they are asking what you want them to ask and that people perceive what you would like to know through the question. The third important component of a good survey is that it reflect different members of the community, so you can say with assurance that the results that you get don't reply only to one specific population, but to the community as a whole."

Catie said that she tries to make her sources as diverse as possible, but each source had its own advantages. "I think official sources are important if you want to generate community action from it. If you have official sources on the data, it lends credibility to your study and that's one component of a good study. Then the other component would be public opinion. We are increasingly relying on public opinion for our public policy, for community actions. And so it is important to have the survey of a lot of individuals in the community."

"Every study is difficult to conduct", Catie said, "because it is hard to get a large number of people willing to sit down and talk to you for 30 or 45 minutes about an issue. It may be even more of a problem if the issue is sensitive, such as dealing with teen pregnancy in schools. "Sometimes doing a survey or study on that is difficult because of all the issues that surround it, like the religious issues, political issues. You might have the students in class saying what they think you want to hear when you interview them and then parents denying things that they know about their children because they don't want you to think poorly of their parenting skills on either end. So, I think the more controversial the issue, the more difficult it is to study."

Once the study is ready, presentation becomes the most important issue. Catie believes that it's hard to present results well using simply one format. "I know that a lot of academics use journal article in order to present their findings and that is very useful when it comes to the global community and getting your outcomes well known. But I think that a combination of a published article and giving speeches on the subject, specifically to the people that you have worked with, is very effective. When you do a survey or a study, everyone gets involved with it and they want to know what are the results going to be. It's good to present to the people that you worked with and also to have a written format for everyone to access.

"I think gathering data for your organization is a great idea because it helps you in two ways," Catie suggests. "In one way, it helps you get the information out. In other words, every time you survey a person, they find out about your organization and about what you are doing, so it's a great way to advertise what you are doing. And on the other hand, you also get a feel for what the community is doing. A lot of the times we have programs that fail, not because they weren't good ideas, but because they were misplaced. In other words, people didn't exactly need what the organization was offering. It is a good thing to do resource match-ups. The only pitfall probably would be when people focus too much for community organizing."

"Whenever you do survey the best thing to do is to start off with is what information is available in the community and in the library already." Catie suggests the one should ask around to find out what's going on in the community, what are the issues. From there one can decide what questions need to be asked to further the knowledge of that particular study. "Just don't sit and wait", Catie said. "Sometimes, just getting yourself out there and doing the best you can with the survey is a good thing to do, and you can increase your data and expertise each time that you do a study."