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Setting up the OBP Barn Survey Project: by Bowen Pausey, University of Guelph

Two months ago, the only time I thought of barns was when I’d drive by them on the way out of the city. In passing a handful of barns on unpaved backcountry roads, I only ever thought of them as a tool for agricultural purposes and a symbol of bucolic life outside of the urban environment I’m accustomed to. Today, this perspective has drastically changed.

Back in January, I received an e-mail from the University of Guelph looking for two students to participate in a project course. The goal would be to develop and administer a survey for Ontario Barn Preservation (OBP). Seeing as I had some experience in survey construction and database management in my current role as a Business Data Analyst, I jumped at the opportunity to assist the OBP. Throughout this semester I have had the opportunity to develop the first ever OBP survey in working with Hugh Fraser (one of the Directors at OBP), Dr. Kim Martin (the professor overseeing this project course), and Dr. Randy Bagg (who will be administering the survey in the summer months). This entire process has opened my eyes to the intricate world of barns, viewing them less as a tool or a symbol and more as a relic whose age is able to tell us a great deal about the past. From the shape of the roof to the construction of the joints, the preservation of barns in Ontario goes hand-in-hand with the preservation of history in the province as a whole.

The idea behind the survey is to document, and thus preserve, barns across Ontario. The survey is designed to gather enough information so that the barns can be recreated in a digital environment if they are ever torn down. With all of this in mind, the survey has to accomplish quite a lot while being concise enough to not deter respondents. As of right now, we have split the survey into three digestible sections.

The first section gathers contact information, location, age, and other non-physical characteristics. Although this may seem simple at first, we discussed in detail concerns such as what language should be used in these questions, how many options should be given, or if a drop-down answer would be more effective than an open-ended textbox. These little things matter, especially when someone is voluntarily filling out a survey.

The second section is a set of questions which gather physical information on the respective barn and heavily rely on the barn owner(s) to perform measurements on their own. This has been the most challenging part of the survey building process. In designing the questions with instructions and sample how-to photos, we realized that this wouldn’t be enough to ensure the type of accuracy we’d like to achieve with this survey program. Going forward we believe that a how-to video will accompany each question and will probably be a future phase of the OBP survey build-out.

Our third and final section asks respondents to upload certain photos of their barn. Although relatively simple in its construction and ask, warehousing the photos on a database will take more time and space than the first two sections.

With a draft in hand, we are excited with the progress that has been made so far–not only with respect to the survey but with all of our knowledge surrounding barns in Ontario. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with the team and developing a newfound appreciation for barns.

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