The Story of TTCG, Chapter 2

Because the SSCC model is designed to connect multiple courses and disciplines to community-identified projects, Connie initially reached out to two colleagues – Prof.

Image contains: grass, tree, and outdoor scene at SIUE with a student holding an SIUE Cougars banner Sandra Weissinger in Sociology and Prof. Anne Werner in Construction Management – to see if they might be interested in incorporating the project into their senior capstone courses. Both agreed.  

Prof. Weissinger teaches and does research on African American communities in the College of Arts and Sciences. Prof. Werner teaches and does research on construction and structural materials, construction methods, and engineering education for k-12 students.

Image contains: sky, tree and exterior of James Avant Elementary School

On Thursday, July 18, 2019, Derissa, Sandra, and Connie met at a local restaurant for lunch to get acquainted and to learn about Derissa’s vision for WP. Derissa shared that she owned one-third of an acre lot in WP just a few blocks from James Avant Elementary School, where the community garden would eventually be located. Because Derissa is a proud resident and passionate teacher in WP, she was clear in her desire that the children of WP have access to the same resources that children in more affluent communities have. Derissa noted that her students and their families struggle with food insecurity and lack safe places to play. Derissa, furthermore, is deeply concerned about the lack of educational enrichment opportunities for WP children. As children from more affluent communities continue to gain access to resources such as STEM centers and cutting-edge technology, the class and racial equity gaps will continue to grow between her students and others.  

Washington Park is located in St. Clair County, is less than 3 square miles of land, and borders East St. Louis to the west. WP currently has a population of around four thousand residents, down from approximately 7,500 residents in 1990. Just over 18 percent of the population is 14 years old or younger. WP is home to James Avant Elementary School (JAES), where Derissa teaches. JAES serves approximately 500 children enrolled in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. 

The partnership between Derissa and SSCC kicked off in the fall semester with three sociology courses and one construction management course engaged with The Tiny Children’s Garden (TTCG)On August 22 2019, the first week of the semester, Derissa came to SIUE to meet the students in SOC 515 and to share her vision and goals.  

In our next chapter, you’ll meet the first cohort of students. Stay tuned! 

The Story of The Tiny Children’s Garden

Welcome to our first blog post of the 2020 year! Our first series of posts were provided by students enrolled in SOC 515, Research Methods & Study Design in Sociology, and focused on where their course readings intersected with their work in The Tiny Children’s Garden (TTCG). This new series will focus on the story of how TTCG came to be. We hope you enjoy the first installment… 

Photo of the lot that will become The Tiny Children's Garden.

TTCG, before it was TTCG

The story of TTCG’s partnership with SIUE’s Successful Communities Collaborative (SSCC) begins in early spring 2019, when Mayor Rickie Thomas of the Village of Washington Park, Illinois, was contacted by SSCC to be its municipal partner in 2019-2020. SSCC is a cross-disciplinary program that supports year-long partnerships between the University and communities in Illinois to advance local resilience and sustainability based on community-identified environmental, social, and economic projects. SSCC’s mission is to connect Illinois communities with the students, faculty, and other resources of the University. Following receipt of the letter, Mayor Thomas requested a meeting with members of the SSCC team to discuss how Washington Park (WP) might partner with SSCC. While WP and SSCC have not yet found a way to partner, Mayor Thomas kept SSCC’s contact information and shared it with Derissa Davis, WP resident, James Avant Elementary School teacher, community leader, and property owner when she approached him with her idea to build a community garden for WP children. Davis soon reached out to SSCC’s director Connie Frey Spurlock who is also a sociology professor and sustainability educator. Derissa’s initial call came through on Friday, March 31, 2019. Derissa and Connie immediately decided to partner to build what became known as The Tiny Children’s Garden.   

Stay tuned for the next installment when you’ll meet Professors Sandra Weissinger (Sociology) and Anne Werner (Construction Management). 

Interviewing: What Am I Getting Out of This?

What’s the probably the best part of being a sociologist? Anyone guess it? It’s talking to other people! Although that may not excite many… A lot of our research consists of observations and looking for important information in books, yet a HUGE chunk our work is also made up of interviews. Interviewing is one of the best ways to interact and learn from people whom you are interested in helping. In order to get down to the main source of the problem, we sociologist (and this can include everyone and anyone as well) need to step out into the field and talk to people. This is so that we, as the interviewers, can collect all the information and data necessary in order to piece together what issues people are facing on a daily basis.


Having that said, before we begin interviewing people, here are some tips and suggestions to keep in mind:

    1. Create an order of questions & ideas to ask your interviewee(s). (Organizational purposes & helps keep you focused!)
    2. Use words and phrases that are easy to understand & hear. (That way it is easier to answer rather than give a full explanation that could take away from meaning/purpose of the question.)
    3. No leading questions. (Leading questions: question that prompts or encourages the desired answer, takes focus away from the facts.)
    4. Ask about your interviewee’s “factsheets.” (Basic information like name, age, workplace, etc.)
    5. Familiarize yourself with the environment, work, and lifestyle of your interviewees. (Don’t go into an interview blindly, know your facts!)
    6. Be prepared to answer some questions about your motives. (Just like you, people will be curious to know why you are asking/interviewing.)
    7. Have a good-quality recording device. (Will be helpful in the future when trying to remember certain details!)
    8. Pick a private, quiet area to conduct your interview. (Helps keep interviewer & interviewee stay focused.)
    9. Be a good, active listener. (Make sure you’re paying attention! Ask or rephrase something if you are confused and or lost.)
    10. Be prepared for the unexpected. (Depending on the interview, some questions may trigger an unexpected emotional response.)

Is one-on-one interviewing the only way to collect information for interested research topic?

No! Another beauty about conducting interviews is that the interviewer can use what’s called a “focus group” as a strategy to learn more about others. Focus groups are consisted of 2 or more people who are willing to be interviewed at the same time. The purposes of this is not only for the interviewer to collect more information; it also helps them get a chance to look at how others socially interact with others, what the reactions and emotions towards other’s answers appear to be at those moments, and also gives the interviewees a chance to challenge each other and their answers (this is where tip #10 comes in!)

Example: Jada Pickett-Smith’s Red Table Talk show that is featured on Facebook. Jada, along with her daughter and mother, all get together on a big, red round table to discuss social issues that have been recently going on or have had happened. Jada is the main facilitator of the conversation or interview during an episode but she is a great example of how interviews should be conducted. She follows the tips I have previously suggested above, whether it’s during a one-on-one or focus group type of interview. Highly recommend watching it just to get a better picture of how interviews are done!


Aside from interviews, there are many other ways to collect and analyze the information given. For example, conversation analysis, it can be considered as an informal interview or a naturally occurring social situation. This type of analysis is more natural, easy flowing conversation with others that make it less tense for everyone. These types of interactions that can be considered as conversation analysis may come from a simple conversation in the break-room, classroom, lobby, etc. The issue with this is when you have to separate the facts and opinions that were collected from that conversation. 


Remember, no matter how you collect information whether its through one-on-one interviewing, focus groups, or conversation analysis, always look back at the tips suggested. This may help you keep you on track with what your research question or interests are and find the facts necessary to answer your questions.



What helps you prepare when conducting an interview or just to have a general conversation with people?

Do you find the tips beneficial for interviewing purposes?

What do you think is a difficult task when conducting an interview?

Wrapping Up Our Project

We have conducted several interviews from community members during our clean up days. We have data that will need to be analyzed in order for future classes to continue research with the Washington Park community. On another note, we as a class are putting together a paper and two panel presentations to present at the Midwest Sociological Society conference that will take place in Omaha Nebraska this spring. With this in mind, I thought chapter 28 would be the most beneficial for this blog post!

Writing Up for Social Research: 

Although some of us have written research papers in the past, writing for research you have conducted on your own may come with some difficulty. I know I am personally going to start writing my thesis this spring, so I found this chapter very helpful!  I think learning about the different section of scientific research writings could also benefits those outside of this class. It could help people navigate the journals and writings in a quick and easy way to get the most out of it.

The main sections of the writing consist of

Abstract: A brief summary of your writings as a whole

Introduction: Explanation of what you’re writing about and its importance. This should make readers aware of topics that will be discussed throughout paper.

Literature Review: Includes current knowledge from other research publications on your topic. Will pull from multiple sources and publications.

Research Methods: The steps you took to complete your research. Although you are explaining the steps your take, you should not list it as a step-by-step process.

Results: a presentation of your findings. Although don’t mistake this for the place where you explain reasons for these results.

Discussion: Go into detail on results in this section. This does not mean you need to include ALL your results, but the ones that support your research questions. This is where you will interpret and explain your results.

Conclusion: Relate your findings to the research questions you have!

Appendices:Any additional materials you may need to include (questionnaire, letters, etc.)

ReferencesInclude all your publications that you have cited in your text here in this section.


Although this video does not have all the components discussed in this chapter it is quick and informative on the parts it does cover!



Is there a part of your own research paper that intimidates you the most?

What is a part of your own writing process that you’d like to share with other writers?


Wrap Up:

Over the course of the semester we have done a lot of work in helping Derissa prepare for the community garden. We completed two clean up days, and I’ll admit after the first one, I was worried we wouldn’t get done in time. After the second clean up, my perspective completely changed. So much amazing progress was made during the second clean up, that I think with the continuance of these successful clean up days the garden will be ready for planting by late spring 2020! I think we have made a lot of good connections with the community so far, and  we want to continue to build this relationship to ensure the completion of the garden and the research that comes with it. We want to prepare the next set of students to ensure their success for next semester.

Check out our Facebook page to see the progress made during the two cleanups!



What do you think is the most important thing we can leave for the future students?

What is one personal piece of advice would you give to the next set of students?

What is something you would like to see done by the end of next semester May 2020?

What is something you would like to help with in the future of the garden?

Documents as Forms of Data for Social Researchers

This week’s readings focused on documents as sources of data. Documents can include:


There are two types of official documents. The first is official documents from the state. This comprises of official reports or findings from the government or state and can provide great statistics for those looking for official documents. Though these reports are usually deemed credible, we must remember that these reports could be biased as research is not always objective, so being aware of where these reports originate is important. The second type of official document comes from private sources. This includes documents in the public domain, such as newsletters for various organizations and companies, organizational charts, etc. Though some of these are public domain, some of these materials are not accessible to the public, so researchers interested in these documents may have to request permission or only rely on public domain documents available.

Mass-media outputs are another form of documentation for data, and are more common. These include newspapers, movies, tv shows, magazines, etc. The way in which to interpret these forms of media for data would be to search for themes, or patterns, that emerge from these documents and then analyze your findings.

Virtual documents are just what it sounds like, documents that are virtual. They include:

Interpreting these various forms of documents for data can include qualitative content analysis and semiotics. Qualitative content analysis is simply finding patterns or themes that emerge from analyzing specific documents and using those patterns or themes to use as data. Once you find your emerging themes, the next step is to interpret those findings and then conclude your findings. Semiotics comprises of analyzing symbols in the social world, or your every day life, and then taking your analysis and trying to find the underlying (hidden) meaning to the specific symbols being analyzed.

This week’s readings really highlighted the various ways in which documents can provide data and how social researchers can use these documents to further enhance their research.

Questions to consider:

  1. How can we use visual objects as data in relation to our collaboration with Washington Park?
  2. In your opinion, what source of documents (virtual data included) would you prefer to use and why?
  3. What do we as social researchers have to be cautious of when looking to social media as a source of data?

Building friendships through interviews


This week’s reading emphasizes mainly on “interviewing”, one of the several methods of field research as discussed in our previous blogs.

We also discussed in our blogs earlier about how building rapport with interviewees helps interviewers acquire more and accurate data. However, the text points out that emotional attachment with stories that respondents shared during an interview may influence data interpretation and analysis, and so the text suggests that it is important for interviewers to stay emotionally detached in order to acquire correct data and to demonstrate the real picture. But as sociologists, interviewing is not just a part of our job or academic research. We dive into a particular research because we care about the people involved in the particular issue and are interested in their culture and to become a voice for their concerns. We make sure that we have a good understanding of the history of the particular community by reading available literature, talking to as many experts as possible and going for observations in the community before we start off with our interviews. So a little bit of emotional influence may be natural and it may even help us see aspects from different perspectives. Sometimes, interviewers may feel that they already know what the interviewees want to convey. But going to the interviews with open eyes and ears may be more effective for getting the real picture. This may also help to identify flaws in assumptions made earlier during the research.

As suggested in the reading, there are ways to prevent biased interpretation and analysis of the interviews- “collaborative operations” can be used during research. One such approach is focus groups; instead of interviewing respondents separately, meeting with them in groups and asking for their perspectives may make the interviewees more aware of what information they are delivering. Also, it has been studied that interviewees tend to respond differently with different interviewers so having research groups for interviewing the same respondents may help in narrowing down the collected data correctly.

After all the questioning and answering is done, a “cool down” session is essential for successful completion of the interview. This may include asking if the respondents have anything additional to say, or if they have any question regarding the interviewer’s research, project or affiliated institution. Thanking the respondents for their time and insights is definitely polite and professional. And finally, asking them for their contact details for further follow-up if needed is also helpful in case if you missed out on important information. Afterall, is it not better to make a quick friendly call while you are in confusions than to get the wrong name printed alongside a person’s photograph?


Questions to consider:

What is your opinion regarding emotional attachments/detachments with interviewees?

In what other ways do you think we can make our interviews in the community more effective?

The Wonderful World of Qualitative Analysis

As a sociologist we have many options for how we want to conduct our research and what method we want to use. One option is qualitative research which has many subcategories. Qualitative research focuses on words rather than the collection of data and numbers. Like any research, qualitative research starts with a general research question and proceeds from there. Shown is a model for the flow of qualitative research:

There are also many sampling techniques within qualitative research. One form is theoretical sampling, generic purposive sampling, snowball sampling. Theoretical sampling is a process in which you are going to generate theory from the data you have collected. Generic purposive sampling takes places when participants are chosen with a purpose in mind. Snowball sampling is used when a researcher starts off with a small group of people and that group of people recruits others to participate in the study.

A few of the options for qualitative research include participant observation, ethnography, interviews, focus groups, and content analysis. Participant observation is when the researcher immerses themselves into the social setting in which they are trying to study. They do this for an extended period of time and observe behavior and conversations between people.

While participant observation and ethnography are similar methods of research, they are slightly different from each other.  The role of an ethnographer goes past that of someone conducting participant observation work. Ethnography goes beyond just the method and also includes the written product of the research. An ethnography will also include the use of non-observational methods such as interviewing, and sampling combined with observational methods. Photos and videos have also made their way into ethnographic studies.

Interviews take place when the researcher asks a series of questions with the interviewee. This method works well when trying to gain in-depth information about people’s thoughts feelings, opinions and personal experiences. In a focus group, a group of people are brought together in a room to engage in a discussion of a topic. Another form of research is content analysis, which looks at documents and texts and it seeks to quantify this data into categories.

When conducting research, we also have to take into consideration the idea of power and authority. From a feminist perspective there is three way that the researchers have power. The first way is that the researcher has more power and control than the researched. The second way is that the researcher has power over how the findings are interpreted. The third that is often researchers tend to have more social power in general.


Questions for consideration:

  1. What method/methods do you think are best for the research that we are conducting within Washington Park?
  2. Which sampling technique do you think will be the best option for our research?
  3. What steps can we take to be conscious of our power as researchers during this process?


Importance Of Conceptualization In Social Research

When conducting research, it is very important that there be a unified understanding of key concepts, or variables. This is very important when conducting research because the researcher could be discussing a concept, in the context of their understanding, whereas others outside of the study, the audience, may have a completely different understanding of that concept. Differences in the understanding of these key concepts will render the research invalid and unreliable. For example, if I wanted to count the number of families in a certain area, what the audience might classify as a family may be completely different than what the research team classifies as a family. And then, you have discrepancies in the research.

The purpose of this image is to show the many different family forms that not everyone may classify as a "family"

Do you consider all of these forms a family? Maybe you do, but someone else might not. Vice Versa.  

Conceptualization is the process in which the researchers identify key concepts used in the research and provide a unified explanation of those concepts so that both the research team and the audience is on the same page. This process of conceptualization is important when coming up with your research question and survey questions. Let’s think in terms of The Tiny Children’s Garden. Our hypothesis is that by building an accessible garden in the Washington Park community, we believe that there will be an increase in community involvement in environmental participation. But what if we, as researchers, have a different understanding of accessibility or community involvement in environmental participation than others and have applied our understanding to the research? Then, what if we took our understanding of these key concepts and used that to come up with our survey questions? Those being surveyed wouldn’t be answering the questions based on your understanding of the key concepts, but based on their own understanding of the key concepts. Our research would lose its validity and reliability, as it’s not good enough to use your own conceptualization of a concept, while assuming others conceptualize the concept in the same way. The process of conceptualization ensures that the research team and the audience are on the same page when it comes to understanding these key concepts.

Questions to consider….

  1. Why is the process of conceptualization so important in social research?
  2. What negative consequences could we face if we do not conceptualize key concepts in our research?
  3. What other terms might we want to conceptualize when conducting our community based participatory research?

Ethics and sampling of CBPR

I will start my blog by talking about ethics in Community-based participatory research. In our case, we will be doing research in The Tiny Children’s Garden. Wait for a second if you haven’t heard about our garden yet. I encourage you to check out the link below to know more about our community garden.

As a part of our research question and Ms. Davis’ goal is to answer the question “How to secure fresh vegetables and fruits for the community at Washington Park in East St. Louis?”. And also, as a part of our Community-based participatory research, we will need to conduct a survey. I will talk about my personal experience in preparing my survey at the university. The first step is to have your research question ready and start writing the survey questions that you want to ask your target audience. In my case, I am doing research on the recycling behaviors of Saudi Arabian households. My target audience is females who are performing or responsible for recycling household-generated waste. The second step, a critical step, in my opinion, is to complete an institutional review board (IRBs) and prove that my survey will not harm my target audience. There are many stages in doing this step by answering IRBs questions such as, describing all the risks that can harm participants and how to minimize them. Questions include explaining how you are distributing the survey, ensuring the anonymity of your participants’ identities, and what measurement you will take to secure their personal information…etc.

One of IRB’s protocol requirements for ensuring that you have completed your participant’s research notification which is to make sure that participants agree to take your survey and letting them know of any harmful risks they might face. The third step is waiting for your desired number of participants to complete your survey and then starting to analyze your results. You might be wondering about Harm! What possible harms will I face answering a survey? According to Alan Bryman, “Harm can entail a number of facets: physical harm; harm to participants’ development; loss of self-esteem; stress; and ‘inducing subjects to perform reprehensible acts’, as Diener and Crandall (1978: 19)” (Bryman & Bell, 2019)

William Iven

So now, let’s assume we have our questions ready, and we got our IRBs protocol approved. We know our target audience, which we call the sample frame. The sample frame in our research is the Washington Park community. To make our survey realistic, we will need to select a smaller group from the sample frame. It will be hard to ask every person living in Washington Park. Our sample can be based on either probability or non-probability approaches. Probability sampling means selecting our sample randomly so that every participant in the population has the chance to participate, such as race, age, gender..etc. On the other hand, non-probability sampling is the opposite of probability sampling, which means choosing specific participants; for example, Hispanic females form the age of 18 to 50. (Bryman & Bell, 2019)


Now we know what type of sampling are we going to use. But how many participants should we ask?  Is it the more the participants, the more valuable our research is going to be?

In order to decide our sample size, we need to consider some factors such as sampling precision (the larger our sample is the less sampling errors we will face), accepted sampling error, our research variables, time and, cost. (Bryman & Bell, 2019)



Questions for consideration: 

  •  What are the ethical challenges we might face when conducting a survey in the Washington Park community garden?
  • What is the purpose of sampling the community at The Washington Park in East St. Louis?
  • Do you think that we need to do a probability or non-probability sampling? Explain why.
  • Do you think there is a specific target audience we need to focus on such as kids, moms, seniors?
  • From your experience in doing surveys, how have you dealt with your sampling errors?


Bryman, A., & Bell, E. (2019). Social research methods. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.



Community Communication

As social scientist, watching people and asking questions is one of our strongest tools. What better way to find out about a person than asking them? Or watching them in their everyday life? It is important however to make sure we are asking the right questions. We also must make sure we are asking the right people. What do we want to know? What experiences does this person have that would make them the right person to ask? How can I ask this question to get the best results?
One of the biggest challenges of conducting research is making sure we are getting good data. Asking questions for research can be a little different from the questions we use in everyday conversations. As such, researchers use special techniques, so we know the data we collected is accurate and appropriate for research. We could talk about the techniques in question constructions, but that’s a whole other blog post. I want to focus on what the researcher does in face-to-face interactions. Once we are ready to start asking our questions, the research must establish what is called rapport.
Rapport is basically how receptive you are when being asked questions and how receptive you are to answering questions. If you are unable to establish rapport you may find your conversation ending early, as the interviewee may become bored or generally unreceptive to your questions. It may seem obvious that you need to establish a friendly mood before you start asking questions, but it can also go the other way. Become too friendly and you may find the person you’re asking questions giving answers that aren’t 100% honest. Your overenthusiastic tone may result in your study containing more of what the interviewee thinks you want to hear – not what they truly believe. What can we do as researchers to overcome this?
As you can see, managing rapport throughout an interview can be a task of its own. When conducting interviews, researchers must be aware of their tone of voice, their body language, and their facial cues. But what other ways can rapport be threatened? Most relevant to us as guests in this community, we must be aware of our social locations and history. We must be conscious of the privilege our institution grants us. We must be conscious of the history between this community and our institutions (and by extension ourselves and this community). What can we do to overcome this? It seems to me the most important tool in the researcher’s garden shed is mindfulness and conscientiousness.

The first few minutes of this ted talk can be a helpful introduction, and provides some new thoughts on rapport.

How big of an impact do you think our history will play in establishing a connection with the community? Does is present positives and negatives?
Do you have any tips for establishing report? Any tips to avoid taking the connection too far?

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