IV. Is there a social dimension?

CPB Self-Study Module
STEP 4. Collect audience information relevant to the environmental practice and specific behaviors


B. Is there a social dimension to a particular environmental concern?


How to figure out if there is a social dimension

A growing awareness of the connections between human behaviors and environmental degradation, especially non-point source pollution, tells us that there are nearly always social dimensions to environmental problems. If the behaviors of a particular group or neighborhood can be shown to contribute to or solve a particular environmental problem, then it follows that there is a social dimension to that problem. The purpose in employing social assessment tools is to identify the characteristics of a community most closely related to its problem-causing behaviors.

Case Study II: Getting started with social assessment tools provides a brief introduction to social assessment tools and how they can help you get started in actively learning more about a particular community and beginning to identify certain characteristics most closely linked to polluting behaviors.

So, how can you determine if human behaviors are contributing towards a particular environmental condition/problem found in a specific place and community? We start by asking if members of the community are acting in ways that contribute towards a particular environmental condition/problem, which in turn may be affecting the quality of life for various members of the community. The answer to this question requires that you have a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the situation – an answer mutually inclusive of the social and natural dimensions.

For example, if you plan to conduct outreach efforts within a community in order to clean up a heavily polluted stream then you need to identify background information about:

  1. The direct sources of pollution, which might be the run-off of fertilizers and animal waste from agricultural land and/or people’s yards
  2. The characteristics of the community that are causing its members to either ignore a particular problem or behave in a polluting manner in the first place
  3. How the polluted stream is affecting the quality of life for various community members.

There are two overarching ways to learn more about a community’s general characteristics. First, you can look for any pre-existing information in the form of government census data, historical archives etc. Second, you can conduct preliminary assessments of the community in collaboration with other researchers and/or members of the community of interest. Both of these approaches will help you learn more about the community of interest and begin to make decisions about which particular community characteristics are most directly related to polluting behaviors.

NEXT: When should outreach educators investigate the social dimension?