Data Talking to Me: March 17, 2013

Here it is one week before the big Research Ride Day.  I have around 15 citizen researchers signed up so far.  There are 8 locations outside of town that I scouted ahead of time where the bold rider researchers will be dropped off.  They’ll use the spiffy new ride boards to catch a ride with kind random strangers passing by, same as I have been doing for 6 months now.  Our riders will have a couple of improvements to test out though.  They will be sporting professional looking ID badges, and they will also present their drivers with a “lottery ticket” and a questionnaire.  The next day, I will post the winning ticket on the website, and the winning driver can collect a $20 prize.  I really need to start researching the effects of prizes as driver incentives, so now is a good time to start.

Lawrence OnBoard is something entirely new in the world, which makes it an exciting challenge, but sometimes I wish I could just look in a handbook, or call tech support.  One ongoing challenge is simply figuring out what questions I should be asking and what I need to be paying attention to.  For example, from the first day of field testing, I have filled out a data sheet for all my rides; tracking things like location, time, date, wait time, destination and gender and age of the driver.  Pretty soon, it became obvious that I needed to track the number of cars that passed by before one stopped, and also what the weather was like that day.  These days I also make note of any passengers (infrequent) and ask where the driver was coming from.  A while back, I started noticing that about half the time, drivers would pass by, but then change their mind and double back for me.  Knowing that made a huge difference, because now I pick spots based on whether there is a good place to turn-around down the road from where I stand.   Another interesting data point is noting the quantity of stuff people will move out of the front seat so I can sit there (God bless them).

On the Ride Research Day, my band of citizen researchers will fill out the same data sheets, but they will also be asked to describe their subjective experiences.  So, just after they return from their ride, they will be filmed giving a brief narrative of the experience-a “snapshot” of their gut reaction.  The riders will then go on to fill out a questionnaire with some more detailed and quantifiable questions like “How safe did you feel standing by the roadside?” and “Did the rideboards work like you expected them to?”  Hopefully, the drivers will send in their questionnaires as well, since I have yet to get a candid evaluation of the experience from the driver’s point of view.

After the second ride day on April 13th, I get to crunch, plot and tally all this data and whip it into some spiffy charts and graphs for all the world to see.  I’m looking forward to what the data will say to me.  Sometimes I worry about being a little too in love with my project, so a hearty dose of objectivity will be a very good thing.  I sincerely hope the data will not say to me  “Girlfriend…. what the %*#&^% were you thinking?”  but will instead say “Hey, that works pretty well.  Here’s how we can make it better.”  In any case, I will know more after next weekend.  See ya on the road!