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November 19, 2018
Bijan Kimiagar recently stepped up as the first-ever Associate Executive Director for Research, leading CCC’s research and data analysis staff in producing data driven reports, maintaining Keeping Track Online, and conducting community-based assessment projects to better understand both welcomed and worrisome neighborhood level trends. He joined CCC in 2017, bringing over seven years of experience designing and conducting participatory research with children, youth, and their caregivers, in New York City, as well as throughout Europe, Latin America, West and North Africa, and South Asia.
At UCLA I taught an undergraduate course on sustainable development, and during the same term I had the opportunity to collaborate with a fourth-grade teacher at the elementary school on campus (Anna Maria Alvarez, who also founded an amazing urban Latin dance theater, CONTRA-TIEMPO) on her curriculum about global social and environmental justice topics. I was struck by the way the 10-year-old students had similar reactions and solutions to address issues like climate change and social equity as the undergrads in my course, even if the children did not have the advanced vocabulary to fully articulate their progressive thoughts and emotions as the college students did. This began my desire to better understand how children (including young children) came to see themselves as part of a globalized world; and how they came to understand their connection to people with similar and different levels of privilege both in other countries and in their own cities and communities. This led me to my doctoral studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where I worked with Dr. Roger Hart and many other colleagues on these and related research projects. The international work we did in collaboration with child-centered community development agencies only stoked the fire of my interest in researching how children come to understand their place in the world, as well as their capacities to be part of the decision-making processes that sculpt the environments where they live, work, and play.
I was interested in CCC’s work years before I knew I wanted to be part of the team here. When the Keeping Track Online was relaunched in 2013, I used the resources as part of the courses I taught in the Childhood and Youth Studies program at Brooklyn College. In spring 2016, I presented alongside Dr. Jennifer March during a conference at the New School on addressing urban inequities. There Jen presented on CCC’s new tool to identify unequal outcomes for children and families in New York city, the Community Risk Ranking. We found mutual overlaps among CCC’s data driven work and the participatory approach my colleagues at the Children’s Environments Research Group had been developing. From that point in time, I kept in touch with CCC about our mutual goal of bringing community-level data into settings where young people, their families, service providers, and policymakers all come together to address communities’ most pressing needs.
For many years CCC volunteers and policy staff collaborated with staff at city agencies, community-based organizations, and philanthropic organizations, as well as New Yorkers at-large to better understand the needs of children and families in the city, as well as their solutions to address those needs. These efforts tapped into the fund of knowledge of those service providers working directly with children and families. The more recent participatory research approach exemplified in our community-based projects (Brownsville, Brooklyn; northern Manhattan, the North Shore of Staten Island, and soon in Queens) builds on CCC’s commitment to listening to children and families in ways that also cultivate meaningful community-level conversations and action. We use techniques, such as theater, not just because it is fun, but also because it allows for participants to learn from one another, find validation in shared experiences, and learn about community resources they did not know existed. In this way, the conversation we have with residents is not just about extracting knowledge so CCC better understands the opportunities and challenges for families. Instead, we see these conversations as ways to talk about community assets and needs as a spring board for further analyses that are directly relevant to residents and provide them with data most useful to them.
In the 2019 calendar year, we are starting a new community-based assessment project in Elmhurst and Corona, Queens, which will be similar to our previous community assessment projects in many ways, but of course it will bring its own flavor and dynamics. In this project, we will pilot using SMS-based polling to complement our face-to-face interactions with community members to connect with a larger number of residents, especially parents of young children and youth, which is exciting.
We will also release a set of guidelines for our community-based projects that acknowledge and set standards for how we respect and protect the people who contribute to our data collection projects. We already have several protocols to ensure informed consent and confidentiality for those who we speak with, but so much of what we do in our community-based assessments is about ensuring that those who are rarely included in community-level decision-making are heard in a way that privileges their voices and experiences. These guidelines are a way to clearly articulate the principles of ethical research practices for our community-based project participants and partners, as well as CCC’s staff, Board, and Advocacy Council members.
CCC has never had an Associate Executive Director for Research, so this is an exciting development in CCC’s history and organizational structure. It gives credit to how our research and data resources promote and benefit from core pillars of CCC’s work: our shoe-leather reporting, policy and advocacy; and our flagship civic engagement programs that put the “citizen” in Citizens’ Committee. The research team is the newest unit within CCC, but we have grown quickly in recent years to become a highly collaborative team whose members’ areas of expertise complement one another in such a way for us to rapidly and skillfully produce analyses on a wide variety of publicly available quantitative data, spatial analyses and data visualizations, and participatory community-based assessments. The quick pace of our work is heart-pumping in itself, but the fact that we contribute to improving pressing issues facing NYC’s children and families is what makes the work meaningful.
Where do I start!?! What’s great about the research team is there is never a shortage of ideas, only a shortage of days in a year to implement them all. We have an ambitious schedule to release several data-driven reports and products, the most CCC has ever put out in a single program year, as well as lay the groundwork for future research projects. Keeping Track Online is our flagship data resource, and there is a continual need to update and improve the database. Building on the basics may not seem very exciting, but the basics matter.
In many ways, keeping Keeping Track Online up to speed with the state of the art is like baking good bread. Bread has just a few ingredients—flour, water, yeast, salt. But making GOOD bread is all in the execution and technique. I work with a team that is creative, passionate, skilled and detailed oriented, which are perfect ingredients for creating high-quality, intuitive, and useful data resources. But we are also improving our technique by employing Google Analytics and other tools to better understand how people navigate and make use of the database. So, in addition to bringing new indicators and data visualizations to the database, there is a slew of work being done on the backend to ensure it all works seamlessly.
My first day at CCC was April 10th, 2017, the same day the Raise the Age legislation was signed into New York State’s laws. There was an energy in the office that week as my new colleagues, many who had worked on this legislation for a long time, were both elated by this step and galvanized knowing there was still a long road to ensure proper implementation. That energy is still felt in many ways, but it was so palpable that week. I was already excited to be a new member on the team, and that extra energy made it even more exciting.