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Stage 1a Observe people, place, environment


This phase is about observing your surroundings in an immersive and experiential manner. It is not about the small details individually, but instead about getting an overall feel of the neighborhood. Focus on the variety within the space of both the physical artifacts and the relationship people have with them.

Explore: Powers of 10 is one method of considering problems at varied magnitudes and scales. Can be used to ensure full understanding of context. Model below illustrates this concept.

Focus on public spaces. In our example, this was mostly streets frequented by pedestrians and individual businesses, but depending on your context this could include places such as parks, schools, or other existing institutions or organizations. It is important to carry this style of observing and documenting throughout the project, as continuously being open to new information will be beneficial to your project’s development.

Community Bus Stop



Documentation: There are many ways to document, each tool offers certain advantages.

Explore: It is your choice which places you visit, but some good rules to go by are choosing locations that seem to be distinguished, ones that are either always busy or never busy. When you are within these places, act as if it was your first time there. Feel free to ask employees, business owners, or customers casual questions. Do not attempt to gather specific information nor act as if you are working on a project.

Photography: Gives visual documentation of places visited. Video: Captures observable body language, cohesive visual and aural feedback. Audio: Records ambient noise in the environment.

Documentation: It is important to document what you observe, capturing the physical spaces and artifacts within them, as well as any social interactions you observe. This can be done through a variety of methods mentioned on the left sidebar. We recommend doing at least one form of visual documentation. Note your observations and feelings either while you are there or immediately after your visit while it is still fresh in your memory.

Live Notations: Records feelings and cultural nuances. Artifacts: Physically archives collected things and represents places visited.

Wander through neighborhoods, stop at places that catch your interest, document the neighborhood without a filter, experience the natural setting in which you are working

Examples: Brochures, business cards, posters, flyers from the business and surrounding community.


While you are observing people, be sure to respect the privacy and their personal space. For example, ask permission to record and take photos from back of the room.

Have you collected artifacts, images, and observations that would give someone unfamiliar with your neighborhood a full sense of it and the diversity it encompasses?

Research Tool for Community Growth  

We developed a research method that is intended to be used by community organizations, such as business development corporations to assist t...

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