Until recently, the dominant trend in both research and practice on the promotion of sustainability behaviour has been to focus on the provision of information in order to change people’s attitudes, beliefs, and subsequent individual behaviour (Gardner and Stern, 1996). These interventions were based on an information deficit model, which suggested that provision of new information was a major driver of behaviour change (cf. Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980).
Decades of research have demonstrated, however, that there is a very weak relationship between the provision of information and sustainability behaviour (Hines et al., 1986/1987; Stern, 2000). Research has also shown that that people are particularly resistant to changing individual behaviours and habits that they see as impacting their quality of life (Bord et al., 2000; Shove, 2003).
Research in sustainability behaviour also recognizes that it is insufficient to simply provide one-way information to stakeholders and the public; rather it is important to engage in a two-way dialogue that facilitates emergent forms of knowledge (Robinson and Tansey, 2006). Arguments for the inclusion of participation on issues of public concern include the normative (people’s democratic right to participate), the instrumental (participation improves trust and support for policies), and the substantive (participation actually improves the quality of decisions) (Stirling, 2006). Applications such as Participatory Integrated Assessment, and planning charrettes, represent approaches with both a focus on participation, and on collective action (Girling et. al, 2006; Salter et al., 2010).
Another strand of recent arguments suggests that to more fully engage with different ‘publics’ participatory processes must address the ‘more than rational’ and foster reflexivity beyond the cognitive domains, i.e. aesthetic, hermeneutic, ontological and professional (Dieleman, 2008; Kagan, 2008).
The Greenest City Conversations (GCC) project provides the opportunity to further both theoretical and practical knowledge on collective sustainability behaviours, and methods of public engagement. GCC is aimed at testing multiple channels for public engagement on sustainability policies. Its two main goals are (1) to facilitate discussion, solicit and analyze public attitudes and opinions on, and support for, a variety of sustainability policies; and (2) to provide a comprehensive understanding of the content and impacts (both qualitative and quantitative) of six different modes of public engagement (“channels”):
- social media,
- multiplayer touch games,
- workshops with visualization,
- mobile computing,
- scenario analysis and gaming, and
- performance art.
The project will engage the public of Vancouver in each of these channels and qualitatively analyze the content and modes of interaction used in most channels for aspects such as cognitive, affective, narrative, normative, sensory, embodied, and motivational components, in order to assess how different channels may engage the participants. We will also analyze the impacts of most channels on participants’ views of sustainability issues in Vancouver (tied to specific City of Vancouver targets, objectives and policies), and trace changes in their sustainability-based opinions. GCC channels are connected through an online hub of information about the project and a portal to the web presences of the various engagement pieces. The project in intended to discover insights for both for the City of Vancouver policy and for participation theory.