IV. When to investigate the 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?


When should outreach educators investigate the social dimension?

Natural resource professionals and educators focus on social dimensions when human factors affect the likelihood that their work will lead towards desired results. In Case Study I, Fitchen found that the “resolution of (an environmental) problem is not a one-way delivery of a product. Rather, it is an interactive process, and the community is an active player, even if it is not formally assigned a role” (Fitchen 1988:19). Environmental problems, furthermore, are dealt with in a particular environmental and sociocultural context, “not a vacuum”, and “every context is different” (Fitchen 1988:19).

Many factors can influence whether an individual will adopt an environmentally significant behavior. Educators can use research tools to identify and integrate information about particular areas and communities into an outreach strategy that encourages citizens to take appropriate actions in their homes, businesses, organizations, and communities.

By paying attention to the social dimensions of a particular problem, educators will be able to:

  1. Learn more about the possible reasons behind public behaviors that contribute towards an environmental problem.
  2. Identify primary stakeholders or target audiences towards whom outreach efforts should be directed.
  3. Generate public support and interest for outreach efforts.
  4. Engage with and learn from community members in the interest of the relevance and long-term sustainability of outreach efforts in local contexts.
  5. Develop sensitivity towards ethnic and cultural diversity within communities.
  6. Identify and build partnerships with various local, regional, and/or national organizations that might be able to provide assistance in the form of expertise and/or funding.


NEXT: What methodologies or technologies are available for exploring the social dimensions of a particular environmental concern?

There are a variety of social assessment tools that can help you learn more about the communities with which you work. But you need to know which tools are helpful for what circumstances.