Today on the blog I have Glenn Barth dropping by as we continue looking at city reaching from a research perspective. Glenn is well-known in the city reaching community (and yes, there is a community working on these ideas). He is the author of The Good City: Transformed Lives Transforming Communities. I have been impressed with his work and asked him to drop by here at the blog.
We talked a few weeks ago about the value of face-to-face interviews and I asked him to write more. Here are his thoughts… and he will be around today to interact with your questions and comments.
You can catch up on this entire series here.
In an age of online surveys and an ocean of anonymous quantitative research, face-to-face interviews bring together the power of information and relationship-building to provide breakthroughs for collaborative movements in cities. In Ed’s initial video blog (2-18-11) he talked about the importance of knowing the people of a city and knowing the churches of a city. I actually spend my time guiding Christian leaders to take the first step toward understanding the church outside the walls of local congregations as a part of an exploration process.
Before launching out with a small group of leaders to mobilize others to work with you in transforming your community, slow down long enough to ask questions that can help bring understanding about what God is already doing in your city. We advocate doing face-to-face interviews using a combination of quantitative and qualitative questions. The quantitative questions will give quick snapshots of information in Yes/No, multiple choice, Likert rating scales, and the like. Carefully crafted open-ended qualitative questions will reveal personally customized information with the nuance of the spoken word (e.g. voice inflection, facial expression, body language, and more). This latter approach is vital in building a relationship with those being interviewed.
The key is listening, not promoting. The best approach has three elements:
1) Look at the person you are interviewing.
2) Give him/her verbal affirmation.
3) Give him/her visual affirmation.
I encourage interviewers to take notes on paper rather than recording the interview electronically or typing notes into a computer. Some have told us they would love to bring a video camera on the interviews. Once a piece of technology like a camera or digital recorder enters the conversation, the other person may become less candid. We want to build an authentic relationship as well as collect information.
This is a survey biased toward action, based on what is learned. Aim toward the expansion of a sense of collaboration with the first focus on getting to know followers of Christ who are in a variety of leadership roles and who may be able to influence the culture of the city. We have found it best to start with qualitative questions that begin with the person’s sense of God’s calling or personal mission and move toward the mission and history of the organization he or she works with. Ask about pressing issues confronting the community and suggested solutions. Near the end of the interview, explore the person’s willingness to collaborate with others to address important community issues through service using his or her unique mix of gifts and strengths.
In Modesto, CA, we have just completed an interview process that engaged a team of 18 marketplace, ministry, and church leaders. These leaders conducted 108 interviews with leaders of organizations in each of seven areas that shape and influence culture. I anticipate that in the near future, with the information and relationships built that there will be collaborative work that comes together to address issues that are of concern to many in this city.
There are limitations in using this approach. First, you will have a smaller sample size than most quantitative surveys. Second, what I have described is not a random sample. The survey subjects in this case are carefully chosen with the aim in mind of building a coalition of leaders to serve the city. Those leading the survey process will need to be careful to include persons of both genders, persons of each significant ethnic group represented in their city, and persons from different generations.
This type of survey takes a committed corps of leaders. In Modesto, it took six months to bring together the leaders who would commit to doing these interviews. I come alongside city leadership teams as a coach. We make it clear from the start that the work they choose to do is their work. The local leaders will guide the process and achieve outcomes which they choose to pursue.
Upon completion of this type of survey, it’s important to close the loop with a survey report to those interviewed. We recommend calling together a meeting in which the leaders of the survey process outline next steps based on the conclusions from the survey.
Doing this kind of research is an important part of knowing a city. It creates community as it discerns the community and empowers innovative collaboration for city transformation.
Glenn is the President of Goodcities, a ministry helping leaders collaborate for city transformation. Here is a description of their work:
What is a good city? A good city is a place where people find meaningful employment, create families, live in neighborhoods, engage in the arts, education, government, and live out their faith. In a good city, unjust systems are confronted and compassionate help is offered to those in need. It is a place where God’s redemptive plans are experienced by its citizens and sojourners. A good city offers the experience of God’s common grace, the opportunity to experience God’s salvation, and a future filled with hope.