“How often do you worry about being forced out of your home due to increased rent or cost of living?”
“Do you feel safe walking in your neighborhood during the day?”
“What services have you or anyone in your family accessed in the last 12 months?”
Theses are just three of the many questions being asked of parents this month, as the second Mission Promise Neighborhood survey is well underway. This survey, conducted every other year, is mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, the main funder of the initiative; however, these are questions already being asked daily by Mission Promise Neighborhood partners and staff, always looking for ways to better families’ lives.
Explains Director of Evaluation Monica Lopez, “Data is vital to this education initiative. Information gives us the ability to act according to what we see is important to our community. We want to make data actionable.”
These comments are echoed by Evaluation Analyst Morgan Buras-Finlay, spearheading the survey with Lopez to ensure the most accurate information is garnered: “I am excited to dig into data to better the initiative’s providing of services. Data is where it all begins so that families can succeed and students can achieve.”
What was learned from the 2014 survey
When the initial Mission Promise Neighborhood survey was conducted in 2014, guidance was put forth from the Urban Institute, an organization with a mission to “conduct sophisticated research to understand and solve real-world challenges in a rapidly urbanizing environment.” In their guidance document, the Urban Institute recommended a survey approach as the gold standard for Promise Neighborhoods. In their efforts to meet the rigor of a census, three-person teams of interviewers hit the streets with maps denoting addresses for their visits, these volunteers painstakingly knocking on doors of designated buildings in the initiative’s footprint. This proved challenging, for the majority of housing in the Mission comprises multi-unit buildings, meaning randomization was difficult.
The main obstacle was that surveyors had a difficult time finding people at home during canvassing. At times, residents felt uncomfortable opening the door to strangers. Additionally, those who did answer the door did not always fit the needed demographic: Latinos with children. This translated to just 65 surveys being completed after three weeks of canvassing six days a week, with morning and afternoon shifts.
Given the poor return on investment, the evaluation team changed course: strategic locations were chosen to find respondents that fit the demographic and had time to take the survey, with a $10 gift card as an incentive for anyone who answered all of the questions.
The new strategy increased the number of surveys to 350, with data then analyzed to better understand the needs of Mission Promise Neighborhood families.
The new model for 2016
To streamline the survey process this year, Director Lopez drafted a more-targeted proposal – a strategy that made better sense for optimizing the gathering of information on Latinos with very young and/or school-age children. It was also decided that a $50 gift card would be a good incentive for parents completing a longer survey. The incentive has definitely encouraged more families to take the survey.
In terms of outreach, postcards alerting families of a possible call were distributed throughout the Mission, plus some were mailed to families with children, as determined by the Mission Promise Neighborhood partner shared Salesforce database. The idea was to take away any fear of taking such a call and answering personal questions. An ad also ran in a local Spanish-language newspaper.
Data is currently being collected via phone calls to a random sample of households with children attending schools in the Mission Promise Neighborhood footprint. Survey interviews are being administered by seven trained bilingual, bicultural research assistants. Some of these research assistants have ties to the Mission; two of them have even been part of Mission Promise Neighborhood programs, as one has provided free tax preparation program and another has participated in the Mission Techies young adult program at MEDA, the initiative’s lead agency.
Mission Promise Neighborhood’s goal is to accommodate interviewees via appointments at convenient times, conduct surveys in-person and provide options for those who wish to participate. For example, if the prospective interviewees cannot speak at the time called, they can set up an appointment for later. This can even be at nighttime, with research assistants willing to take that extra step for the sake of data collection.
The protection of anonymity is paramount, with answers never tied to survey respondents’ names or other personal information.
The neighborhood survey is child-focused, so information about all of the children in the household is collected. Collecting data for all children is something new this year, as in the previous administration only data for one child in designated age brackets was collected. Age brackets are: infants and toddlers ages 0-5; kindergartners to 8th-graders (elementary and middle school); 9th- to 12th-graders (high school); and those out of high school, but under 24 years of age and still living at home.
Lopez and her team also included questions that were not asked two years ago – questions for which they know answers would be impactful. For instance, marital status is now being asked so as to determine the percentage of single-family households headed by mothers. Questions are also being asked about how often people return to the Mission for services. This is to show if displaced residents — often compelled to leave due to a no-fault the high cost of housing — keep an emotional attachment to the Mission. There is even a question around “formal” versus “informal” housing to determine less-than-ideal living situations, which are detrimental to student achievement.
The goal is to survey 600 households this spring, with one-third of that number already being achieved.
Connection to services
An interesting benefit of doing the Mission Promise Neighborhood survey is that it is branding the educational initiative, plus it ensures that residents know the free services available to help their families.
How does this work? After the completion of the survey, the interviewer asks if the family would like a connection to free services. If the answer is yes, the research assistant passes the family’s information to an evaluation team member, who then coordinates a referral or a call back. This has happened scores of times already.
Stay tuned for data dissemination from the completed surveys, as an insightful story of the Mission’s Latino community will surely be revealed … even better than before.
About Mission Promise Neighborhood
The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.