What is an Ecological Footprint? Here is my presentation for York University's alumni group on what the Ecological Footprint is and user demands on future research.
Community Footprint Calculator
Creating a tool for collective environmental action
Beginnings and Context
I was approached by a group to design, create, and test a prototype of a Community Footprint Calculator using the Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity datasets.
The challenge: Make a tool that would allow individuals to input their lifestyle data which would then be averaged out into a group environmental footprint and produce relevant behaviour change goals.
Finding participants and building relationships
Focus groups are controversial, but I really like them for the discovery phase of projects. I like to invite 6-9 really key people that know the situation well so I can empathize and understand perspectives as quickly as possible. As I sit in a focus group,
For this project I conducted a two focus groups with 7 people in each. I learned key information including:
Successes and failures of previous attempts at solving this problem;
The technological literacy level of the primary users;
How people in this group engage with one another (the culture) and;
For the second part of my discovery phase, I had interviews with key stakeholders in the project. I met with:
Ecological Footprint engineers to ascertain what would be technically feasible
Community leaders to gauge the kind of outcomes they were looking for and how willing they were to engage, and
The group tasking me with the project to ensure appropriate understanding of their desired outcomes.
Boundary work is an important part of everything I do. Not only do I want to think about who is included in a project, but who or what, based on the scoping, will be excluded. Focusing on what will be excluded helps the reflection process on if the plan that I am developing will be equitable and have appropriate outcomes.
While there are multiple approaches to boundary analysis, I have preference for Critical Systems Heuristics as a pre-design phase reflection tool.
Creating the Calculator
After the development phase, I began work with the data engineer to create the first iteration of the calculator. Given the low technological literacy of our primary user group, we used a Google Form instead of any other less streamlined platforms. I wrote a series of questions that would obtain the necessary information to calculator the Footprint, but also asked these questions in various ways so I could follow up on the kinds of questions the users enjoyed doing.
See the final survey. The survey automatically links with our large datasets on the backend for calculations.
I then distributed the survey to the participants to obtain initial feedback on our approach.
Formalizing the Ideas
As the participants filled out the survey, I began thinking about what the Community Footprint Calculator would look like online. I knew the page would need to be relatively simple and straightforward, usable by the next billion users, and inviting. The homepage itself would be straight forward.
However, the user dashboard would be a challenge given the end user needs. The dashboard would need to show at least the community footprint and a list of goals for the group, while not being overwhelming.
The users had very positive feedback on this design.
While nearly all of the participants I spoke to said they would never use this on their phones, the intention is for the project to scale out to groups all over the world. To start thinking about the next billion users, I made a mobile feature and started thinking more about accessibility.
The wireframes should also include an option for hearing impaired, given our demographic, and a translation area.
The final stage of development was to create a list of possible goals for the communities that are associated with theories of environmental sociology and behaviour change. I developed a set of ideas in all major categories of the methodology and the engineers assigned each recommendation to possible outcomes.
The project resulted in a formal report to the hiring group who are currently reviewing it and are hiring an intern to work with us on formalizing the project as a website. Given that the individual calculator sees over 2 million views per year, we expect similar uptake when this is launched.
Some clear needs going forward include:
Questions changed to be based on behavioural aspects per week or month, users found these questions more enjoyable and easier to answer
Generate more group behaviour change ideas - ideas most preferred were events and seminars which are usually less effective tactics but commonly liked
I completed both objectives of the project. With the engineer, I created a proof-of-concept for an individual calculator that also generated a group Footprint. I also linked the outcomes of the group Footprint to recommendations for individual and group behaviour change.
Future research questions:
How do we make the numbers generated by a few relevant for the whole group?
How do we get others engaged beyond the initially interested group?
What is an effective educational initiative for carbon offsets and where is this most relevant?
What additional data could be collected, such as life and work satisfaction, to encourage people to reflect on desirable ends to maximize by reducing their footprint?
Final thoughts and reflections
This project was a really exciting opportunity for me because group behaviour change is continuously identified as an integral part of environmental change. Yet, most environmental policy and research focuses on individuals or city levels, rarely on people being together in communities.
It was my role to bring together research from environmental behaviour change, sociology, and psychology to ask the right questions and then produce a list of group goals and challenges to spur collective action. I played the role of both UX Researcher and Manager with a team of engineers ready to implement my findings.