Understanding East Austin Homeowners’ Experiences: A Research Update

This quarter, AC4D partnered with the City of Austin to answer the question of how to improve civic engagement in the Austin. We formed three teams to each explore and learn more about different facets of civic engagement in Austin, and this post provides an update of the project and my team’s work to date.

What is Civic Engagement?

It wouldn’t be surprising if the introduction to this post raised a major question – what exactly is civic engagement, and why are we researching it?

Civic engagement is a term that describes a broad range of activities where citizens are actively participating in civic life. From voting and making one’s voice heard at a town council meeting to contributing through neighborhood organizations or volunteering in the community, these activities are the foundation of a resilient, thriving city where citizens are dedicated, involved, and active in shaping the city they call home.

The question of how to improve civic engagement is a challenging one. How do you define it? What helps or hinders citizens’ contribution and participation to civic life? To the extent we answer these questions through our research, we give the city tools and insights to create a healthier more thriving city.

Civic Design

The second question that may have come up when reading the introduction to this post is this:How can design practices be useful to a city?

Utilizing design methodologies to address civic dilemmas is not a new endeavor. In fact, user-centered design methods are best suited for solving problems where it’s necessary to synthesize an overwhelming amount of complex and nuanced data from a wide range of disciplines. There is no system more complex, rich, and human than the city, and for this reason, cities across the United States have begun to employ innovation and design strategies and teams to better problem solve their toughest challenges.

This field is often called civic design. To learn more about the emerging realm of civic design and using innovation methods to support cities, consider reviewing some of the Government Innovation programs and projects supported by Bloomberg Philanthropy.

Our Team’s Research

The City of Austin’s Innovation Office developed a design brief asking us to explore and better understand how to improve civic engagement in Austin, and each of the three project teams focused on a different facet of civic engagement. Our team consists of Kaley Coffield, Maria Zub, and me, Noah Ratzan.

After initial research into the topic, my team learned that homeownership is a key indicator of civic engagement, and we decided to learn about homeowners’ experiences and challenges in Austin.

Our hypothesis is that by understanding how to support homeowners – those who are more likely to be civically engaged – then we can better support civic engagement in Austin. What’s more, we focused on understanding how to support homeowners who are experiencing the greatest challenges and who traditionally have had the least resources to affect change in the city.

Since East Austin is experiencing the most rapid gentrification and change to its neighborhoods, we focused our research on understanding East Austin homeowners’ experiences, and we designed this research to be useful in developing solutions to support them.

Presentation on Current Research

We have finished six weeks of research learning about East Austin homeowners’ experiences in the midst of their changing neighborhoods. We are wrapping up research and are now preparing to present and dialogue with the City of Austin about the findings.

Below is a video to share with you my team’s current research and insights. We will next begin combining these insights and research findings with the other teams to develop a broader perspective on the state of civic engagement in Austin as a whole.

Want to see more?

If you enjoyed the video and would like to know more about this project, check out the school’s recent blog post entitled City of Austin partners with Austin Center for Design to tackle Civic Engagement. Thanks!