As an amateur photographer and a seasoned people-watcher, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m a fan of the Humans of New York photo blog. What makes the content really engaging is that photographer Brandon Stanton goes beyond the portrait by engaging in conversation with the person and sharing something insightful, amusing, or just plain off the wall from that chat alongside the photo. As of today, the Humans of New York Facebook page has over 8 million “Likes” and has led to countless homages across the world, including a Humans of Saskatoon.
What can Humans of New York teach us about research and evaluation? First, check out Stanton’s presentation in Ireland about his technique on approaching people in a city known (fairly or not) for being cold towards strangers: how do you move from “an atmosphere of fear and strangeness … to one of intimacy where people feel comfortable to disclose”?
Breaking the ice this way with strangers is definitely an important skill for community researchers and evaluators, especially when trying to gather opinions and stories at public events. Stanton also provides some good examples of how to dig beyond everyday, pat response through the use of story-telling: for example, if somebody responds to a request for advice with “be optimistic”, the next question could be “Tell me a time where it didn’t pay to be optimistic”.
What got me really thinking about the connection between Humans of New York and my practice, though, is this recently-posted portrait (go take a look, I’ll wait): more specifically, his comment that “You can make about 75% more money with a cat on your head than you can with a cat on your shoulder” (see, I told you to look at the photo!). All I can say is kudos to this guy for doing some research and adapting his practice in response!