Familiar Stranger Survey

The Familiar Stranger Survey is a method for asking people in a public space if they recognize others who spend time there. The purpose of the survey tool is to evaluate the breadth of social mixing in a place.

We define a “familiar stranger” as someone who you recognize but do not know by name. By measuring the number of familiar strangers each participant recognizes, we seek to understand how often that person visits a place and how often others visit it.

To use this tool, take photographs of people spending time in a space at a given time and date (with their permission). Return one week later at the same time. Show survey participants the worksheet with the photos from the week before and ask if they recognize or know anyone pictured in the images.

We tested the Familiar Stranger Survey in Hayes Valley, California, in November, 2015. Out of 29 survey participants, we found that 21% of all people recognized or knew at least one person from the photos we had taken the week before. 14% recognized a “familiar stranger.” All 6 respondents who knew or recognized someone had a “somewhat positive / pleasant” or “strongly positive” perception of the space and visited at least weekly, according to our Participant Survey. Since this study, a question about familiar strangers has been incorporated into our Participant Survey.

Our public life tools are free for all to download, use, and remix to meet your project’s needs. If you use this tool, we would love to hear from you!