Occupational Therapy Graduate Student Leads Focus Groups to Assess Transportation Mobility, Smart City Planning

Mary Jeghers, a doctoral student in the UF Department of Occupational Therapy

Mary Jeghers, a doctoral student in the Department of Occupational Therapy’s Institute for Mobility, Activity, and Participation (I-MAP), assisted with organizing, recruiting, leading, and transcribing two focus group to gauge the transportation needs, barriers, and/or facilitators to residents in the City of Gainesville, Florida.

The study, “Transportation Mobility Assessment and Recommendations for Smart City Planning,” is funded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and led by Dr. Lily Elefteriadou, professor and director of the UFTI. Dr. Sherrilene Classen, professor and chair of the UF Department of Occupational Therapy, serves as co-principal investigator on the project and co-chairs Jeghers’ doctoral thesis.

The study was undertaken in collaboration with the H.W. College of Engineering, the College of Design, Construction & Planning, the City of Gainesville, and other stakeholders. The study also forms part of the City of Gainesville’s Smart Cities Collaborative, partnering with UF to develop equitable transportation mobility plans.

The research team used a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach to conduct focus groups in two Gainesville areas: Duval Heights and Haile Plantation. To align with CBPR, the research team developed stakeholder advisory boards to represent the community during focus group development, recruitment, moderation, and confirmation of results.

Jeghers explains her enthusiasm for her involvement in a research project that utilizes a CBPR methodology.

“I am passionate about engaging community members in the research process,” she said. “Not only does this help to increase visibility, but it also builds an understanding of issues that exist in a community.”

Jeghers also added that the CBPR methodology empowers community members to provide input regarding decisions that will impact people’s everyday lives, which is critical when considering transportation.

Work related to the focus groups in Duval Heights was completed before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as cities all around the country went on lock down and then slowly started opening based on CDC guidance, the research team readjusted the process and held the Haile Plantation focus groups meeting via Zoom. Four focus groups were conducted overall: two groups in Duval Heights (n=11) and two groups in Haile Plantation (n=12). The research team employed a thematic and content analysis.

Early findings indicate that participants had both positive and negative experiences with transportation. Factors discussed include, but are not limited to, safety, limitations of bus stops, routes and running times, services for individuals with disabilities, affordability, and alternative transportation. The findings will inform survey development and assist with developing equitable transportation plans.

The “Transportation Mobility Assessment and Recommendations for Smart City Planning” project is scheduled to be completed by June 2021.