Exploring Resilience through Interviews with Community Leaders

This semester I worked with interview data from members of New Hampshire communities conducted in 2019 with individuals that have a background with the economic development or environmental and conservation organizations for their towns. The interviewees were asked questions that can shed some light on their community’s resilience- the successes and challenges that their communities face, their most valued things about their community, and where they see their town in ten years. Community resilience is the ability of a community to bounce back from a setback or challenge. This is especially important to examine in New Hampshire communities because these towns have faced a series of challenges and setbacks in recent years, including the loss of major industries, changing demographics, and extreme weather events. This data reveals how community leaders characterize and prioritize challenges that their community faces and how they seek to tackle those problems. Not only is this information interesting, but it also grants insight into how changemakers within towns communicate and what plans they have for the future. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, interviews from 2020 compared to 2019 also have an added dimension, and I am excited that were able to collect information about this major event and how it has impacted New Hampshire communities.

I spent my time pouring over manuscripts from these interviews to put together some of the major themes and topics that arose in these conversations. Dealing with qualitative data such as manuscripts that can’t easily be assessed numerically was a new and challenging task for me. I had to determine what was important in each interview and then categorize those pieces into common themes that many of the interviews shared. This comes with a degree of subjectivity and often times I wondered if I was including too much in my analysis. I thought it was all important! The categories that I sorted pieces of information also changed frequently as I read more interviews, which is expected as further reading gives you a better understanding or new epiphany about your data set. This offered a challenge for me as I had to depend on my own reasoning and comprehension skills to bring forward the most pertinent information for analysis later on. Previously, I have worked with numerical qualitative data from Cooperative Extension’s Rail Trail Survey, which is much more straightforward. With that project, the answers to the survey questions were a simple “yes” or “no” or a numerical value and each question represent its own category of inquiry. Contrastingly, the Community Resilience survey questions are open-ended and meant for the interviewee to be able to share what they think is most important. It is up to the researcher to discover those themes that are found throughout their data and to create a count of how many times a theme has been mentioned in order to analyze their data. This experience was eye-opening for me because I have had no prior experience with qualitative and long-form data like these interview transcripts. This summer, I learned the basic principles of how to analyze this data with NVIVO, a software commonly used by research professionals. I know that this will be very helpful in my future career because it will allow me to further my range of research to data that is less clear-cut numbers and more contextualized thoughts and ideas, where participants are open to shed light on things I haven’t even thought of and offer their own unique perspectives.

Although this kind of analysis takes a couple extra steps and very careful observation, I really enjoyed reading the interview transcripts from New Hampshire residents active in their towns. It was obvious throughout all the interviews that these individuals really care about their communities and it amazed me how they came together, sometimes with very few resources, to get things done to help out those in need or improve their town for everyone. A benefit of this dataset is that it gave me a fuller picture of the how and why interviewees felt the way they did, whereas answers on a survey for example do not provide that amount of depth. Through reading these interviews, I feel like I know these individuals and I want to thank them as well as everyone else involved in their New Hampshire communities for making this a great state to live in! I also want to thank the generous donors who made my internship possible, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with Cooperative Extension in helping New Hampshire communities and improving my own professional research experience. Thank you again!