The Citizens Handbook
Listening Projects

A New York citizens group wanted to identify what issues would motivate people to become involved in addressing the problems of a low-income neighborhood. They decided to use an informal technique called a listening survey to discover what aroused the most emotional energy.

A group of residents agreed to conduct the survey for a small honorarium. In preparation they held several workshops where they talked about the common blocks to listening, how to eavesdrop in public places, how to get permission to insert yourself into a conversation, how to keep people talking without intruding, and how to deal with people who say something you dislike.

After the exercises they wrote down all the places where different people gathered, plus the names of people who everyone talked to, such as hairdressers and bartenders. Then they formed pairs and went out to the places listed to find people. To conduct the survey, one person encouraged people to talk, while the other acted as recorder. At the end of each week, everyone got together to evaluate the material collected and determine where the strongest feelings lay. Both residents and service providers were surveyed in this way. The results of both surveys were then made available to the whole community.

A close relative of the listening project is the story project. It can focus on gathering the history of an area or capturing the character of an area. Listening and story projects provide good excuses for bringing people together.

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