Designing a Do-It-Yourself Diary for Our After Dark Fieldwork

Our social systems team recently wrapped up fieldwork for the “After Dark” research, a collaborative study between Pulse Lab Jakarta and UN Women Indonesia, to better understand women’s experience when travelling and using public transportation at night. Among the research methods we applied to help uncover insights from women on the ground was the creation of a diary, which the team designed to help the respondents record their emotions, activities and experiences in transit. Through the lens of our researchers, this blog takes a look into the journey of the travel diary, from its prototyping stage to its life in the field and thereafter.

Pacing through the Prototyping Phase

Within the scope of social research, a diary is a self-reporting tool sometimes used to record participants’ behaviours and experiences related to a certain topic of interest. With a similar aim in mind for our research, we decided to design a diary to help us understand what factors influence women’s decisions to use certain means of transport, as well as how they think and feel while onboard.

Anticipating that most of our respondents would be women who use public transportation to return home from work at night, it was important for us to have a diary that can be used easily and comfortably. We tested three prototypes and gathered feedback that ultimately refined the style of diary we used in the field.

For our first prototype, we asked respondents to sketch out their daily journey by first selecting their preferred mean(s) of transport and then marking the transit stops. After testing this prototype with users in Jakarta, we found that filling out this type of diary was time-consuming and required some level of concentration. Considering that many of the respondents would be tired after a long day or busy with not enough time on their hands, we discarded this kind of “connect the dots” prototype.

First Prototype: “Connect the dots”

On our second attempt, we came up with a “sticker placement” type of diary, which requires respondents to place stickers of the means of transport they use to travel between places; place transit stickers whenever stops are made and if there’s an interchange; and then write down information about their experience based on these mappings. While this second prototype was more positively received than the first, there was some anxiety and concerns about carrying around a handful of stickers and possibly losing them on their journey. Again, with the intended respondents in mind, we ditched this idea as most of the women were expected to spend their days going through numerous transit points.

Second Prototype: “Sticker Placement”

In the end, we decided to use a standard diary template where the respondents would only need to complete the questions already listed. The majority of users who tested this third prototype believed it to be the best among the three options, in part because minimum explanations were required on how to fill out the diary and the diary already included important travel-related questions (which made logging the entries less tedious). With modifications in some areas of the diary based on feedback received, we finally had what we thought was a convenient and respondent-friendly travel diary ready to use.

Snapshots of the Diary

The first section is a travel plan. This plan details information about places the respondents intend to visit and the means of transport they plan to use throughout the day.
The second section is designed to record brief details of the respondents’ actual journey during the day, including the means of transport used, transit points and destinations, their awareness of the surroundings (what they see and hear), as well as their perception of safety while travelling.
The third section allows for a more detailed assessment of the respondents’ surroundings, covering everything from the first mile to the last mile of their journey in a given day.
The fourth section provides a space for respondents to reflect on stories or experiences related to their safety. In particular, it reminds the respondents to document what they chose to wear that day and the contents of their bag (knowing this information can help us assess whether safety concerns are associated with choice of outfit or based on items carried around).

Complementing the Diary Study

Reviewing information collected from the field, we believe the diary was helpful for recording the experiences, behaviours, emotions and thoughts of respondents travelling at night. The diary was particularly useful with documenting details, which would have been difficult to recall if only asked during verbal interviews.

The diary also gave the research team information about the respondents’ travel experience which was beneficial for preparing discussion questions for the in-depth interviews. With that information in hand, the interview sessions were more productive and time-effective, benefiting both the field researchers and respondents. In a bigger picture, the diary was a way to build rapport and establish trust with the respondents — these women were personally allowing us to journey with them and experience several days of their lives through their diary records. We should note that less than 10 per cent of the respondents did not complete the diary entries all the way through to the finish, but those incompletions were due to personal reasons not related to the design of the diary itself.

The diary nevertheless should not be seen as a standalone research tool. After the respondents completed most of their logs, we invited them for in-depth interviews, allowing more detailed discussions and time to follow up and clarify the diary contents. These interviews were effective in getting answers to the “how” and “why” behind each diary entries. The interview was an opportunity to document photos and videos of the respondents who gave us consent.

On to the next stage…

Applying a diary study has been a learning experience for our research team — which is one of the highlights of doing field research. Despite prototyping and adding modifications to the diary, returning from the field reminded us that there is always room for improvements in terms of both creating a more convenient way for study participants to log their diary, as well as for the researchers to make better use of the information recorded.

We ran a synthesis workshop to make sense of all the information that we collected. We observed that the experience of women travelling at night and using public transportation are influenced by many factors (seen and unseen) that are often overlooked in existing research. And for some women, being a target for crime and harassments, their preparation and strategy before leaving home, during transit, and returning home can be onerous.

We will use the insights from the field to inform our upcoming co-design workshop, which seeks to encourage more collaborative action among citizens and city officials to help build safe and inclusive cities for everyone. More updates to come from our After Dark research in the coming weeks, stay tuned!


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia.