The PSRG employs ethnographic research methods to explore the psychological, social and cultural interrelations of individuals, neighborhoods and local public spaces. We promote the use of ethnography (the study of culture) in public space design, planning and evaluation based on empirical evidence. Our approach identifies underlying structures of inequality and power dynamics that impact social justice in the use and management of public space. We utilize methods of interviewing that go beyond the simple opinion survey to elicit significant meanings and values attached to these places. PSRG is a leader in the use of Rapid Ethnographic Assessment Procedures (REAP), a rapid data-gathering methodology. In 2019 the REAP process was further refined through the Toolkit for the Ethnographic Study of Space (TESS). The TESS is designed to uncover the causes of social exclusion and lack of diversity in urban space offering multiple methods that researchers as well as community members and activists can use. These methods involve techniques applied over a short interval of time and include interviews, focus groups, behavioral mapping, participant observation, physical traces collection and transect walks. We emphasize the importance of involving people and communities as participants and as part of the research team that may also include social scientists, designers, and planners.
Applied Ethnographic Research Methods
The PSRG combines various ethnographic research methods to deepen the understanding of the cultural relationships between people and public places and is a leader in the use of Rapid Ethnographic Assessment Procedure (REAP), a rapid data-gathering methodology pioneered by the National Park Service and the Toolkit for the Ethnographic Study of Space (TESS). The group has devised useful ways of synthesizing the findings of the different research methods and presenting them in easily read charts, matrices and socio-spatial maps.
The PSRG has applied the rich description of traditional ethnography to reporting on uses and values of public spaces. By describing the social life of parks and plazas as well as reporting the summary results of interview and survey data, the group brings the meaning of individual and group experience of places to life within the text of an article or technical report.
Qualitative Data Analysis
The PSRG has been creative in using statistical computer software to analyze large amounts of qualitative interview data. For user studies of three New York City parks, the group faced the challenge of making sense of a large body of qualitative data accumulated from hundreds of interviews taken over the course of a year. The PSRG devised a process of coding open-ended interview responses and using the statistics software to create a fine-grained portrait of how cultural relationships between people and parks vary with ethnicity, social class, and user constituency.
Engaged Research Methods
The PSRG collaborates with architects, landscape architects, urban designers, planners and public space managers to develop research protocols and conduct data analysis to inform public space designs and management plans.