Drug addiction, homelessness, unsafe streets; just a few descriptors that might come to mind at the mention of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. But through research online, our group has already found a plethora of amazing organizations offering free food within this neighbourhood. We will continue to fulfill our objectives through further research and complete our goal of compiling a detailed asset map for this diverse community!
Weekly Objectives and Achievements
Objective: Research other assets or resource maps currently available to avoid redundancy.
Achievement: Through online research, we have determined that while other food asset maps are in existence, there are none specifically labeling the organizations that offer free food in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside. As this area houses the population we are focused on, we felt it would be helpful to be able to provide detailed information about what is available.
Objective: Define “assets” and “vulnerable persons”.
Achievement: We defined asset as any form of free food offered whether it be a meal, snack or grocery item. Our definition of vulnerable person’s adapted to our changing perspective. It is currently people that do not have access to food on a consistent basis, including the facilities or resources to cook for themselves. The strategy behind the broad definitions is to capture as wide a range of people and food options as possible.
Objective: Research Vancouver areas where vulnerable people live and create physical boundaries based on this information.
Achievement: We have set the physical boundaries as north of Keefer Street and between Carrall Street and Clark Drive. To achieve this we had to remain practical, recognizing that four people can only cover a limited amount of space by foot. Within these boundaries appeared to be the highest concentration of charitable organizations offering food so we chose to focus on this area.
Objective: Research housing and food sites commonly used by vulnerable people to determine what is being accessed.
Achievement: This is still in progress.
Objective: Gather our data
Plan: Our information will be gathered using online resources such as websites and articles on organizations. In order to maintain efficiency, the known food assets will be divided among the group members to research. To focus our research we will be following our template of questions (Project Proposal, Appendix A) keeping in mind the gaps needing to be addressed presented in DTES Kitchen Tables article. The deadline for data gathering is March 4th.
Objective: Improve group deadlines
Plan: Upon reflection, we have struggled as a group to meet specific deadlines. To counteract this problem we have decided to have a group consensus on when to set them, check in with each other if an extension is needed and to monitor the google documents every couple of days to stay up-to-date. These strategies will be applied at our next meeting and continued throughout the term.
Objective: Maintain flexibility
Plan: As we move further into our project different perspectives have come to light. It is easy to disregard this and stay with our first plan, however we have decided to adjust our position as we go. We will be searching out more information that looks at the struggles being faced by our chosen population. We will continue to share ideas and be open to any patterns or trends that may appear in the data. One of the main areas we need to be open about is gathering data. As it will not be ethical to speak directly to people using organizations we will have to use other methods to obtain information. Maintaining flexibility will be an ongoing process throughout our project.
As a group, one of the main problems we encountered was finding an appropriate population of interest and figuring out how we could assist them without crossing ethical boundaries. After discussing our topic with Adrienne and Will, we realized that we have to be very cautious and selective about how we deal with the public. Due to the sensitivity of our topic, we decided against speaking to this population in order to gain information as we are unable to predict the unintended consequences of such an interaction. Not only do we have to be flexible in gathering our data, focusing mainly on available online resources, we also faced problems finding an appropriate partner who would communicate with us and provide us with information about their organization that cannot be found publicly.
Our group role as UBC community agents was to come up with an idea and a strategy to use food assets more efficiently in a way that would benefit a vulnerable population, without crossing ethical boundaries. We also had to make sure that we were working on a topic that has not been done previously, so that we can improve this subject. In order to achieve our goal, we decided to divide the tasks in a way that each of our group members can do what she is best at. Behnaz chose to be a communicator and researcher, Cailey is our editor, Claire is the writer, and Evelyn takes care of the presentation, ensuring our work looks professional. In addition, we agreed that to each be responsible for our own work and make sure that any information obtained is with ethical approval. Last week we started gathering as much public information as possible from online research. We were hoping that by the end of our research we could better decide the next steps we need to take towards our goal. This led to actions such as: defining our physical and ethical boundaries, drafting our proposal, determining our questions for potential partners and obtaining answers from online resources. A concern that came up as we were doing our research was that we did not have a community partner and as a result we had to change our perspective and create our own objectives, purpose, and steps. Furthermore, not being able to directly contact the people on the streets due to ethical reasons, we must rely solely on online information which limits and can cause a challenge in getting direct answers. We were concerned at the beginning of our project, due to the above mentioned issues, but now we feel more confident after talking to Adrienne and receiving constructive feedback.
Our actions are based on identifying the food assets of our community, however, we learned that obtaining this information is associated with many ethics policies. Our new understanding is that we cannot interact directly with the public for our research. We must base our research from publicly accessible information available on websites. Broader issues of this approach include the limitations of collecting data in this manner, and how it might negatively affect the accuracy of information that we’ll be compiling in our resources. Because of this, we will have to collect our data carefully, and thoroughly verify our sources to make sure that our online websites are reliable.
Because food insecurity is a very real and sensitive topic for the vulnerable population that we are interested in, it is exceedingly important to uphold the rules of ethics and exercise respect while collecting data. For example, approaching community kitchens visitors to ask about their food sources, food security, and nutritional values would be an ethics violation, even if it is done with good intentions. As described in the DTES Kitchen Tables Action Plan, many Downtown Eastside residents feel intimidated or humiliated when lining up to receive food (Popowich et al., 2010). Being approached and questioned by unfamiliar university students could further make these individuals feel uncomfortable and decrease their sense of empowerment. To avoid these negative effects and adhere to proper ethics, our method of collecting data have been adjusted from what we had originally planned.
Now that the unethical nature of performing even informal interviews with vulnerable people has been confirmed for us, we need to shift the focus our research to on-line sources. When absolutely necessary we can conduct phone conversations with staff members of organizations if we clarify the ethics beforehand with our instructors. This change in our research parameters may actually simplify the data-collection process by removing the time-consuming aspect of legwork and interviews. However, by conducting all of our research on-line our group will be disconnected from the area of our study and the people’s direct needs. To adjust for our limited engagement in the field, we will be practicing triangulation, the second procedure for validating qualitative data as described in the article by Kodish & Gittelsohn (2011). Triangulation involves using multiple sources, which in our case will be reputable websites, to gather and confirm findings and information. For example, we will be looking for several different websites and apps that lists food assets of the DTES, we will then proceed to compare and verify the information across these multiple sources.
Even so, if online sources stating addresses and hours of operation appear to be inconsistent, there is also the option of confirming information without an interview by viewing the location in person. This allows us to observe our research setting more closely and also gives us an opportunity to collect photos. As Dr. John W. Creswell explains in the video, photos allow detailed visual perspectives to be expressed, which is important for supporting our qualitative research (SAGE Publishing, 2013). Of course, our photos of the downtown eastside will never contain identifiable faces, to comply with proper ethics and to maintain respect for the privacy of individuals.
In order to make this project successful, we need to justify the need for our particular map more clearly. Again this requires on-line research, but also calls for an analysis of the existing data on food assets in Vancouver to identify gaps in the knowledge that our project will address. Based on what was discussed in LFS 350 lectures, we are focusing our project on the Community Food Security (CFS) concept which is “an extension of the food security concept. [It] can be defined as all individuals in a community having access to affordable, safe, culturally appropriate, ecologically responsible and nutritionally adequate food at all times.” So far we have assumed that our map will contain valuable information on Downtown Eastside food assets, but this assumption is not adequately backed by evidence of information gaps in other projects. If we are able to validate the information covered in our map in comparison to previous data, our project will become much more valuable as Vancouver Food Strategy project and as information that can be built upon by future research.
As the spring comes and the night slowly shrinks, our VFS project is beginning to bloom along with the blossom trees that line many of Vancouver’s streets. Flower metaphors aside, there is still much work to be done. Through our research we have learned about the complexity of the Downtown Eastside community, and have found ourselves uncovering more questions than we have the scope answer. We have had to adjust the parameters of our project, especially in the case of our methods, to ensure we our work is relevant and most importantly, ethical. However, we have found ways to bypass these problems by expanding our online research and are well on the way to achieving our objectives.
Kodish, S., & Gittelsohn, J. (2011). Systematic Data Analysis in Qualitative Health Research: Building Credible and Clear Findings. Sight and Life, 25(2), 52–56.
Popowich, F., Campbell, P., Westenburg C., Landry, L., Callfas, U., McIntyre, M., Vallee, K. & Buswa, L. (March 15th, 2010). Downtown Eastside (DTES) Kitchen Tables A Community Led Food Action Plan PHASE 1. Retrieved from: http://dteskitchentables.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/DTES-Kitchen-Tables-Community-Action-Plan-Phase-1-FINAL-REPORT.pdf
SAGE Publishing. (2013, March 1). Telling a Complete Story with Qualitative and Mixed Methods Research – Dr. John W. Creswell [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5e7kVzMIfs