Factors that influence environmental action

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Factors that influence environmental action

ENST20001 Human Behaviour and Environment

Assignment 2: Assessing factors that influence environmental action

Word limit: 1500 words (+/‐10%) excluding reference list, interviewee quotes, coding table and transcripts of interviews and field notes

Submission: Electronic copy submitted online through LMS (in the assessment section)

Assessment weighting: 35% of final grade

Late penalty: 5% per day


The objective of this assignment is to explore the relative importance of contextual and attitudinal factors in shaping environmentally significant behaviour.

It responds in part to Stern (2000)’s assertion that: “The attitude‐behaviour relationship is strongest when contextual factors are neutral and approaches zero when contextual factors are strongly positive or negative, effectively compelling or prohibiting the behaviour in question” (Stern 2000, p415).

Learning outcomes

Through completing this assignment, you will develop:

  • a deeper understanding of theories of human‐environment action and how these apply to issues of interest to you
  • a better understanding of why people do and do not take environmental action
  • basic research skills for understanding human‐environment interactions, including:
  • introductory level skills in qualitative data collection and analysis
  • skills for reporting social scientific information and applying this to questions about human‐ environment interactions


In this project you will research how attitudes and contextual factors shape the action or inaction of a small number of people on an environmental issue. Through an interview and observation of one case (e.g. person or household), you will undertake a qualitative exploration of Stern’s (2000) hypothesis regarding the influence of contextual and attitudinal factors on behaviour.

You will answer the general research question:

How important are contextual and attitudinal factors in shaping a particular environmental behaviour? Further advice on this assignment is provided on pages 3‐6.

Assessment criteria

Read through these criteria before preparing your report since you will be assessed against these:

Clear argument andThere is clear and well defended argument throughout the paper. This is based on a clear and
effective use ofexplicit statement of the aim or research question investigated. A logical link is made between the
evidence (25%)environmental topic under consideration and the stated aim or research question. Theory and
past research is selected and explained in a way that makes clear how it is relevant to the aim and
topic. Published sources are used to provide evidence to support the claims made. Choices about
methods (e.g. selection of participant, design of questions, analysis of data) are explained in a way
that makes clear how methods will address the aim. The presentation and explanation of results
(e.g. structure of this section, presentation of quotations, and the links made with theory in
explaining those quotes) are clearly related to the stated aim, topic and theory. The conclusion
directly relates to the stated aim or research question and is defendable based on the findings
Understanding ofAll key terms or concepts are explained correctly and with explicit reference to readings. The
theory (30%)breadth of understanding of theory is appropriate to the aim (ie. covers all necessary concepts
necessary to the aim, and irrelevant concepts are not included). There is evidence of broad
reading of theory, drawing on multiple (correctly attributed) sources. Ideas from different sources
are synthesised, with relationships between concepts (e.g. contrasts, hierarchical connections)
correctly explained. Aims, theory and any hypotheses about findings are explained and justified
with reference to empirical, academic research publications (research that involves observation of
relevant environmental concern or behaviour is published a peer reviewed journal). The relevance
of the cited empirical, academic publications is made clear through brief explanation of the aim,
methods and results of that work. The interpretation of the interviews demonstrates appropriate
use of theory (e.g. confirming, extending or challenging the concepts in published literature).
Understanding andDescription of methods is comprehensive yet succinct (covers details of participants and reason
appropriatefor selecting them, any materials used and reasons for their choice, procedure for interview and
application of basicobservation, and approach to analysis; only relevant information is included). Methodological
social science methodschoices are explained in a way that demonstrates appreciation of quality concerns in social
(25%)research. Analysis of data is focused on answering the research question, demonstrates good
attention to theory, and sensitivity to language and action of participants. Many quotes from
interview transcripts or field notes are used (in coding table and main body of report) to support
claims made regarding the results. This data is explained and placed in context of the aim and
interview. Strengths and weaknesses of the study are explained in a way that demonstrates
understanding of quality concerns in social research. Conclusions drawn from the research are
consistent with quality concerns in social research (e.g. results are not generalised
inappropriately, causal relationships are not claimed where these cannot be defended).
Effective scientificThe structure of the report is clear, with appropriate headings and subheadings, logical flow of
writing (20%)paragraphs, and well‐structured paragraphs. The language is clear and simple, with correct
spelling and grammar. Interview transcript, field notes and coding table are included in an
appendix. The referencing and citation is consistent with APA style and provides all necessary
information about sources. Note that all sources must be attributed, and a list of cited references
must be provided. Publications you draw on must be cited in the text. Any quotes from published
sources must be indicated by use of quotation marks, citation and page number. the assignment
must be 1500 words (+/‐10%).
Failure to attribute sources or exceeding the word limit may result in a maximum possible grade
of 10/20 this criterion. Use of material without appropriate attribution will also be penalised in
line with University academic honesty processes. https://academicintegrity.unimelb.edu.au/.

Advice on completing this assignment

  • Preparing for data collection

 1.1Set topic and research question/s

Choose one topic for your research. This should be an environmental behaviour (action). Examples of environmentally significant behaviours include specific transport choices, recycling, growing vegetables at home, composting, and installation of solar panels, attending an environmental protest, using products made from wildlife, signing a petition or voting for a particular issue.

You do not have to choose one of these examples but can select a behavior that is of interest to you, however in selecting that behaviour please consider:

whether it is a ‘single, indivisible’ behaviour with a clear link to environmental impact (see Topic 6 lectures) whether it is practical and ethical to observe the behaviour (see Topic 6.7 – reflection questions for some questions to help you consider this) whether there is suitable background research on the behaviour (Some behaviours are very well researched, others not so. You will find clues on this in readings for Topic 6‐9. You will also find guidance on researching background literature in the Assessment Module in Canvas)

Determine the research question you will answer through your research, following the template provided on page 1 and specifying the behaviour you have chosen to study: How important are contextual and attitudinal factors in shaping [insert a particular environmental behaviour]?

1.2  Search for and read background information

Before you start, ensure you understand the theory and past research that informs the question you will investigate.

Ensure you have read the required readings for Topics 5‐9, which cover key general theories on environmental behaviour.

Search for and read academic research on similar questions to the one you will address. For example, if your research question is concerned with recycling, you will find research examining factors that encourage or discourage recycling behaviour. Particularly search for academic, empirical research on this topic (Research that is published in a peer reviewed journal and was based on observation ‐ perhaps through interviews, surveys or document analysis ‐ of relevant attitudes and behaviour). See guidance on this in the Assessment Module ‘Researching Published Literature on your Topic’.

1.3 Preparing for the data collection

You need to interview and observe relevant behaviour or one person. Interview and observations can be conducted face‐to‐face or via video conference apps if that is feasible for the relevant behaviour. Interviews must be transcribed, and observations must be documented in field notes. Support for planning this is briefly outlined below, and dealt with in more detail across:

reading and reflection activity 6.7 tutorial activities in Week 8 online video (research skills) 7.3

Plan your observations: Your interview and observations should allow you to understand the links between the key theories and the topic you are exploring. Plan what you will observe and ask to get this information. Keep in mind that observations and interviews can provide very different kinds of information. Some possible focuses for observation and interview are provided below. These are not intended to be comprehensive. You should select, adapt and add to these to suit your topic. As you do so, consider the ethical issues that might arise through observations. Make sure you plan your topic and observations to avoid discomfort for participants and protect their confidentiality. Once you have planned your approach, practice them with a friend or someone from the class.

Potential approaches for observing behaviour:

Ask the participant to show me how you do a particular behaviour

Ask permission to observe the participant while they undertake a behaviour

Ask permission to take photographs of relevant behaviour settings (see example in required reading 6.7) – make sure you don’t include any identifying information

Ask permission to view documents that are relevant to the behaviour – e.g. energy use bills or food receipts– make sure you don’t include any identifying information

As you observe, take notes on:

Where the action takes place

What the participant does and says

How the participant interacts with other people

What aspects of the physical, social, or technological context appear relevant to the behaviour

Is any environmental impact of the behaviour observable (e.g. water consumed, food wasted, materials sent to land fill (consider whether these can be documented by photographs or other representations)

Potential interview questions:

Tell me about how you [behaviour item e.g. ‘use water outside your home’, ‘organise your household waste’ or ‘plan your holiday]?

o You might use probing questions to understand parts of behaviour that were unclear, or seem inconsistent with the participant’s account, e.g. When I was observing, I noticed that you…. can you explain why you did it this way?

Have you ever done [behaviour item] in a different way? Why have you changed the way you do this? What do you see are the costs and benefits of [behaviour item]?

  • You might probe with specific questions about financial, legal or political factors relevant to the behaviour

Who has influenced the way you do [behaviour item]? Is anyone else involved in this activity? What are their views on the issue?

Collecting the data:

Select and recruit your participant.

You will get most out of this assignment if the person you interview/observe is different from you (consider age, cultural background, but particularly their concern or action in regard to the environment). The person may be a friend, relative or acquaintance but MUST be over 18 years of age. They should not be in a dependent relationship with you (e.g. they must not be someone you employ or supervise).

2.2 Explain the project

Before asking people to take part in your research you must provide information, so the person can decide whether or not they consent to participating. Explain that the project is part of coursework for this subject and explain the purpose of the project (to investigate the specific behaviour and what influences them to do this) and what involvement is required (e.g. allow me to observe the activity and participate in an interview of approximately 5 minutes regarding views on this topic). Emphasise that participation is voluntary, that observations will be recorded in detail, and that you will be reporting on the observations in an assignment and not using it in any other way. If the person is not willing to participate, thank them for their time and ask someone else.

2.3 Collect the data

Take notes as you observe the behaviour, using the guidance provided in Section 1.3. Taking detailed notes while participants are present may make people feel uncomfortable, so consider taking brief notes or voice memos at the time – but make sure you write up detailed notes as soon as possible after the observation. Make sure you ask permission before taking any photographs to document the behaviour and its impacts. Ensure you do not include any information that would identify the participant ‐ no names, or personal documents.

Record the interview using your phone or other recording device. Make sure you ask permission from the participant before recording.

2.4  Transcribe the interviews.

Copy down the interviews word for word. Write up your field notes in detail. Do this as soon as possible after you conduct the observation as you will forget details as time passes.

Analyse the data

Keep in mind your overall research question – your analysis needs to be targeted to answer this question, and to make links between the theory and the topic.

Also keep in mind that you have two sources of data – the observation and the interviews. These are likely to give you different kinds of information. For example, it might be possible to directly observe factors that likely influence behaviour but that the participant does not mention because they are taken for granted (e.g. social norms).

Tutorials will cover basic approaches to qualitative data analysis, and the reading list provides additional support.

But some ideas to keep in mind as you analyse the data:

Consider what you observe the participant doing, and what they say about they do; the environmental impacts you observe (or can infer) and how the participant understands these?

Consider the reasons the participant gives (or reasons evident in their response) for acting/not acting in a particular way – as well as what you observe about how the physical, social or technological context shapes behaviour. How do these relate to the theories and concepts covered in Topics 5‐9?

Consider the values or beliefs that underpin the participants actions. These might not be stated explicitly, so you will need to consider if there the evidence in your data, particularly the interview transcript. How might these values or beliefs being shaping action?

Developing a coding table is the best way to demonstrate your analysis. Opportunities to practice developing and critiquing coding tables were presented in the first part of semester (as part of preparation for Research Report 1 – e.g. 3.6 online activity and 4.4 tutorial activity). Further opportunities for this will be provided in lead up to Research Report 2 submission (see online activities and tutorials for Topics 8 and 9).

Prepare your report

Structure your report in the following way: Note: (word counts are suggested only)

Introduction (450‐550 words): This section should state the aim of the investigation (the key research question, adapted for your purposes), draw on theory and empirical research to explain the reason for posing this question and what you expect to find, and outline what other researchers have found regarding your key research question (as much as possible, select and explain published research that examines questions similar to your own topic– where there is none, provide examples from related research). Make sure you appropriately reference the reading material you draw on.

Method (200‐250 words): Describe the way you collected the data for this assignment. Briefly describe the participant (simply approximate age and education/work background and any other relevant information) and explain briefly how and why you selected them. How did you collect the data (i.e. observations and face‐to‐face interview, how long did it take, what did you observe, what questions were asked, how did you document observations)? Try to make this description brief but comprehensive. How did you analyse the data? What kind of theory did you draw on when analysing the data and how did you organise your ideas (e.g. in coding table)? In writing scientific reports we aim for transparency and repeatability, so provide sufficient details so that the reader could potentially repeat the procedure.

Results and discussion (500‐600 words): Present your analysis in a way that helps answer the research question, noting the suggested approach to analysis above. It’s really important that you provide evidence to support your observations in this section. With qualitative research, evidence is provided in the form of words spoken by the participants (quotes) or sections from your field notes. Carefully select short sections of answers that demonstrate the point you are trying to make. Include some explanation of the context to make it clear what was being referred to. Where the observations support or challenge the theory in readings, comment on this. Include the full text of your interview and field notes in an appendix, as well as the coding table you have developed. Make sure you refer to these appendices in the main body of the report (e.g. in the methods or results sections).

Conclusion (250 ‐ 250 words): In this section, answer the research question as best as you are able. Give a short summary of the contextual and attitudinal factors evident in your study. Comment on any strengths and limitations of the study.

References: Make sure you list the readings you have referred to in your report, using an appropriate citation method. Citations should follow the APA style (excluded from the word limit).

Appendices: Include the interview transcript, field notes and coding table (excluded from the word limit).

A note about research ethics in reporting:

For reasons of privacy, you should present your methods, results and interview transcript in ways that protect the identity of the person you interview. For example, don’t use their name or photograph in your report – you can use pseudonyms (made up names) if it makes it easier to organise information in your assignment. Similarly, you may need to disguise other information that could be used to identify the interviewee – for example, it may be best to disguise information about organisations with which your participant is involved.

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