#29 Taking Action for Earth Day through Active Buildings

Amidst the current Covid-19 crisis, Earth Day marks its 50th Anniversary on 22nd April 2020, with “climate change” as its main theme; and all events arranged to mark the occasion will now be carried out digitally, due to the global pandemic.  What better way for SPECIFIC to help mark this important day than to hold an Active Building webinar.

A bit about Earth Day: On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet.  The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement and is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event. Definitely a day worth commemorating!

As well as celebrating this historic date, a webinar on Active Buildings provides us with a new way to promote the work we are doing at SPECIFIC to a potentially wider audience than would be possible without the use of technology, with the added benefit of there being no need to travel, thereby saving CO2 emissions, costs and precious time.

It also enables me to trial a new method of data collection for my research – use of electronic focus groups instead of the more traditional face-to-face focus groups.  This brings with it some new challenges, but also lots of positive outcomes.

After a bit of digging into whether or not online focus groups have been used as a research method before, I found some interesting papers on this – incidentally, all of which were from healthcare research (I’m not sure if this is significant, but I haven’t found any related to architectural research yet). Also, I haven’t found any examples where a webinar has been used together with a discussion (focus group) session and questionnaire yet; just examples where chat rooms have been used for discussions.  Most of the results found in previous research were positive in favour of online or electronic focus groups and I found very few downsides.  As I have already carried out some face-to-face focus groups (and may in time carry out more of these), and now an electronic focus group, I will be able to directly compare the two methods for myself.

I plan to use both asynchronous and synchronous methods to do this – I will be issuing participants with samples of my design guide and the questionnaire in advance of the webinar to be reviewed in their own time (asynchronous); but the participants will then come together for the webinar simultaneously at the prearranged time of 10.00 on 22nd April 2020 (synchronous), where they will be given a presentation on Active Buildings, followed by a discussion on the developing design guide.

Anticipated benefits of an electronic focus group session/webinar include:

  • Anonymity may lead to more honest, thoughtful, open responses, and maybe more criticism, which can be good to generate ideas.
  • More equality as those less likely to ask questions in a face-to-face session may feel more comfortable posing questions/responding via the chat facility.
  • Issuing the design guide and questionnaire beforehand may elicit more detailed responses as participants have more time for consideration.

Other obvious benefits include the fact that offering the session online enables me to reach a wider audience and to reach those less able to travel due to financial or time constraints, being sole practitioners, or working in remote rural areas, for example. There will be no geographical restrictions and no travel costs.  So, I might expect a higher attendance rate than the face-to-face sessions, due to the convenience, time and cost aspects, but also particularly at this time where people have fewer human interactions.  Time will tell.

Wider environmental benefits include:

  • No travel = no fuel consumption, no emissions
  • No catering = no food waste
  • No printed material = no paper, ink or power for printing used

Potential downsides could include less interactions between participants, less discussions, less engagement and less ability to build up a rapport with participants.  These may or may not impact the results significantly.

Of course, these are just anticipated outcomes, based on other research and my own expectations – once I analyse the results from both my face-to-face focus groups and my electronic focus groups, I will be able to make my own conclusions.

If you’d like to join me for this session, you can sign up here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/active-buildings-in-practice-tickets-102074573798

In the meantime, enjoy the Easter weekend as best you can under these trying circumstances.

Published by jorclarke

I am an Architect, currently working at SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, Swansea University, and studying for a Doctorate in Sustainable Built Environment (D.SBE), which is focused on developing an Active Building Design Guide.

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