Listening Methods

While taking Technology and Social Change last semester, I had the opportunity to get a head start on this project. Below are listening methods that helped formed my design brief, and my decision to go forth with the Subscription box idea.

Historical Analysis 
Through my historical analysis (an IDEO method) I was able to dig deeper into the inequalities in the public school system – a system that has a direct impact on Black and other marginalized youth’s ability to go into STEM fields. While conducting research on this system, it was evident that, as I suspected, multiple systems of discrimination and oppression are at play, at once. These systems include, but are not limited to, poverty, housing, violence, and healthcare.

Ecosystem Map
I developed a high-level ecosystem map that shows who is impacted directly and indirectly by the systemic and structural barriers to constructionism in education for Black and other marginalized youth.
Now that this has a specific focus, I plan to create another map, that is more detailed, and includes the youth at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club that I will be working with.

Contextual Inquiry
I conducted interviews with different entities from the my ecosystem map. Those people, and their current roles, are described below. The people who were interviewed are not limited in knowledge to their current positions, and were able to speak about the different parts of the ecosystem they are/were connected to.

Research Scientist at the MIT Media Lab
Education Consultant and author of the 2010 Tacoma Achievement Gap Report
Faculty member at the MIT Media Lab
Graduate student at Anglia Ruskin University
Director of the Computer Clubhouse Network
Co-Founder of Technology Access Foundation
Fulbright Fellow currently working on a STEM program for girls in Cambodia
Physics teacher at the Tacoma School of Industrial Design Engineering and Art
Clubhouse Coordinator at the Boston Computer Clubhouse
Alumni of Year Up – Seattle
Software Developer at Microsoft
Computer Science student at a community college
7th grade student aspiring to be a game designer.

Inspirational Works
My inspiration comes from the many Black women who persisted despite the systemic, structural, and social barriers they faced. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work around intersectionality encouraged me to believe that multiple things can be true at once – in this case, multiple barriers can exist at once. The virtual community #BlackAndSTEM, created by Stephani Page, PhD has encouraged Black people in STEM academic programs and professional careers to share their experiences, and empower a new generation.  Following Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, PhD on social media (and in real life) reaffirmed my experiences and desire to pursue this issue. She is the 63rd Black woman in the United States to receive a PhD in physics (there are less than 100), and she constantly speaks out about injustice through her writing. Trish Dziko, who has paved the way for Black and Brown youth to pursue STEM in Seattle for more than 20 years at Technology Access Foundation, inspired me to look more into the traditional education role in constructionism, which impacts a wider range of youth than after-school programs. Tacoma Action Collective, and their work around HIV/AIDS prevention through social justice inspired me to to think of how to approach this issue from a social justice lens.
Books that inspired my research include “Lifelong Kindergarten” by Mitch Resnick and “Why We Can’t Wait” by Martin Luther King Jr.

Below are listening methods that I have started to implement or will implement in the next few weeks with stakeholders.

Stakeholder Interviews
I began with a group stakeholder activity with the Lifelong Kindergarten research group. I started with this group, because they created the first Computer Clubhouse, and developed the four guiding principles they operate under. As a group, they identified creative learning activities, and next steps that can be paired with them. (Next steps can be college majors, summer programs, community college, technical college, four year university, etc.)

Comparative Analysis
During first semester I began doing research on who is already addressing the issue, and looked at other STEM subscription boxes. In the next few weeks, I will take a closer look at the subscription boxes and online communities for marginalized youth, to see what is already being done, and how what I want to do is different. This will allow me to identify gaps in what’s already being offered.

In addition to the methods listed above, I plan to implement the card sorting method before prototyping the online space and community.

Who should guide listening?

Image by Maureen Kavanaugh (

Image by Maureen Kavanaugh (

Because Aki and I are working with a partner who is not based in Boston, geography will determine the listening practices we will be able to employ. We’re trying to be creative – what listening practices can we employ when we are not on the ground with our partner? For our work we are hoping to learn more about some of Lois’s (our main representative from the partner institution) processes around fundraising and audience outreach, as well as determine more information about her network as it relates to fundraising, new audiences, and the two new developments that are slated for The Griot’s neighborhood.

Similar to Aki, believe that an activity analysis will be particularly important to dig deeper into Lois’ processes. She is nearly a one-woman shop who covers most of the tasks related to the museum. Similarly, focusing on flow analysis will also allow us to pin down how Lois’ activities connect, and may reveal opportunities within her processes. Some of these processes will give us better insight into what Lois has already tried, as well as roadblocks and areas less traveled.

For some elements of our initial co-research, I think it will be helpful to envision what future activities could look like–a realistic future with all of its potential snags, as well as an ideal future in which The Griot and Lois are thriving in the manner they would like. For this type of research I think the listening practice of journey mapping and role playing could be interesting, and I think both can be done over the phone/video chat. Journey mapping may be a helpful next step to activity and flow analyses and allow Lois and our design team to imagine more ideal processes. Role playing could allow for us to better understand how other key stakeholders, partners or users might engage with some of our design ideas, but also how Lois might disrupt processes that she is currently a part of and wants to change.

This week, because Aki and I were both out of the country, we completed a set of follow-up questions over email with Lois. The week prior we drafted a set of questions we wanted ask Lois. We began the conversation sharing a little about who Aki & I both are and what we are hoping to get out of the partnership. I think this set an honest and personable foundation for the codesign relationship. We sorted our interview questions for Lois into categories with sub-questions. We then traded off asking questions and then taking notes while on the call to make sure Lois understands that Aki and I are in true partnership, even though my relationship with her preceded the project.

I have been thinking the breadth of epistemologies and methods of communication that can be present in this partnership, and wondering if in listening practices are best selected to honor the subjects at hand, the preferences of the co designing partner, the preferences of the designer, or some sort of calculation of all of the above. At present, I believe Aki and I are navigating with the subjects as our guiding force. For example, if we need to learn more about how Lois fundraisers, we will undergo an activity analysis; however, perhaps later in the process as we begin to understand our partner more and vice versa, perhaps our listening strategies would evolve instead of meet the needs of our partners preferred ways of knowing or methods of communication.

Lastly, an additional part of our listening practice will be listening to what stories and voices haven’t we heard from, and who can help to build our richer understanding of the issues Lois wants to address through our partnership.

Listening Methods with CPA

Photo credit: Chinese Progressive Association (

Photo credit: Chinese Progressive Association (

We plan to work with CPA on either the Workers Center pro-union education initiative or the Chinatown Stabilization Public Goods Campaign. This will be decided by Friday of this week after a general staff meeting we are attending. Depending on which project we work on, we will have to draft a project agreement and schedule meetings with varied stakeholders, including CPA staff, workers in the Home Health Aid union and Hotel Workers Union, and/or Chinatown youth.

Method 1: Fly on the Wall
We were not able to attend the general staff meeting at CPA this week but we are scheduled to sit on their weekly staff meeting on Friday, March 16 at noon. This will help us gain a better understanding of current workflows and dynamics within the CPA office, and challenges the staff are facing.

Method 2: Flow Analysis/Ecosystem Map
We plan to create a flow analysis map with a CPA staff member who runs the specific project that we decide to work on—pro-union education (Fiona and Yusin) or public good campaign (Lydia or Mark). This exercise will help identify bottlenecks, opportunities, and stakeholders.

Method 3: Guided Tour
We plan to join one of their guided tours or ask them to take us on one within the next two weeks. Going on a tour will help us understand the spatial dynamics of the issues we will work on, including the public parcels in contestation or the workers’ places of work and community hubs.

Listening practices planning

I am really excited to get to practice some of the listening techniques we learned about in class last week.  Both Mallory and I are out of the country this week, but did some brainstorming last week and have laid out some plans for listening exercises with Lois at teh Griot Museum.

I found the listening technics of flow analysis and activity analysis to be helpful starting points for Mallory and I to keep building out a full picture of what is working (and what isn’t working) for Lois.  Flow analysis will help us see what are the usual order of operations for Lois for different buckets of work.  I think this will help us see what has been her strategy so far and what she has been able to prioritize given her large and various responsibilities.  I think Activity Analysis will help us see the innovative ways that Lois has been tackling the challenges and opportunities of the Griot — in my mind, the Activity Analysis gives a complete picture of all the activities that might be connected to Lois’s work as an ED and will help all of us see which activites have been effective and empowering to her and the museum.

We were also excited about using the listening technique of Forecasting.  This was a new technique for me.  I think the point of this listening technique is to challenge us to predict the future, both the positive and the negative.  So much of what the Griot will be working with to strengthen the organization will be things that have unpredictable consequences.  For example, new developments are something that the Griot might want to work with to strengthen the organization, but the affects of these new developments on the Griot is difficult to predict.  It would be great to practice thinking about what is the best case scenario for the impact of these new developments on the Griot…and what is the worst case scenario for the implact of these new developments on the Griot.

I also am excited to try doing some stakeholder mapping.  I am still looking into new tools we can use to do stakeholder mapping (please tell me if you all know of any!).  A few of us in class are looking to learn more about good , new strategies here.  I’ve used a tool that has two axises (one about whether a stakeholder is for/against your cause, the other for how much formal power/authority the stakeholder has) that has worked well.  Still, I’m wondering if there are other models out there for stakeholder mapping.

We plan to do some of these listening activites either as email or a phone call since we are in a different city from Lois. It will be a nice challenge to see if we can figure out ways to do these kinds of listening that are engaging and interactive when we’re not in the same room!


The organization I’m working with is the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition (MTPC). This is my positionality regarding our working relationship.

  • I’m a college student, so more likely to be listened to than a child, but less likely to be listened to than a professional. However, I’ll be likely to be regarded as someone who will know how to reach people and be tech-savvy.
  • I am a White Mexican, so I’m already at an advantage of credibility over someone who maybe doesn’t read as White. (unfortunately so, but how working in the United States just happens to work.)
  • I have post-secondary education. I am in college, so that gives me more credibility in the eyes of Adults over someone who never went to college or finished high school.
  • My biological sex is female. Old White Dudes are prone to be patronizing because of this.
  • Sexual orientation is WEIRD, man. I feel like it’s hard to really talk about without addressing my own gender identity, which is also weird and in flux.
  • I have dual citizenship with Mexico. That has to be an advantage somehow.
  • I was raised as Catholic but am no longer practicing. This might help me appeal to religious people, since I’m familiar with Christianity and can draw from that.
  • I don’t come from a background of poverty, so I have more access to resources.
  • English is one of my first languages, so that is an advantage for me.
  • Gender identity is still something I’m figuring out, as I said before. BUT, I am working with MTPC, who is focused on the politics surrounding gender identity, so maybe I’ll figure myself out more when I work with them. They’re like the perfect people to work with.

What I hope to gain from working with MTPC:

  •  I hope to gain experience working with an organization who values a cause that is important to me.
  • I hope to gain design experience, and help people while doing so.
  • I am particularly interested in helping people like me, who are still Figuring Things Out.
  • I ALSO just hope to be a Force For GoodTM
the Power Flower!

the Power Flower!