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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Putting the cart behind the horse : using interface driven modeling to help regional stakeholders craft an understanding of sustainability Walsh, Michael Dennis


This thesis examines the theoretical underpinnings of an innovative approach used in developing a computer based educational tool. The tool itself combines two fundamental design philosophies from a previous modeling and scenario building exercise with an urgent need to more effectively engage regional stakeholders in the complexities and intricacies of sustainability. The result is a powerful learning tool aimed at stimulating dialogue and increasing understanding about regional growth and development issues. In order for this approach to be useful it was necessary to develop and incorporate a set of design criteria that improves the effectiveness of the simulation. Effectiveness, in this context, is defined as motivating an individual to change their behaviour based upon the information presented by the simulation. In order to understand the link between information and behavioural change, or action, the thesis turns first to the body of research that exists on behaviour motivation, in particular the field of social psychology. A considerable amount of the literature concentrates on explaining human behaviour by way of two key constructs, attitudes and outcome expectancy. However, as we shall see, attempts to explain environmentally responsible behaviour, which is used in this instance as a surrogate for sustainability, by way of these two constructs have been at best inconsistent. In order to overcome these shortcomings, researchers have developed a number of multi-construct models, which have been somewhat more successful at explaining specific behaviour. When considering the complexities of sustainability, in conjunction with attributes of a computer simulation however, the conclusion is that the set of design criteria must be derived from a more multi-disciplinary body of research. Conveniently, many of the studies reviewed from the social psychology literature are cognizant of this shortcoming, and lead directly to additional areas of research. For instance the energy conservation literature quickly leads beyond the typical attitudinal and expectancy explanations, and delves into the fields of persuasive and effective communication. This casting of a wider net ultimately allows for the development of a more comprehensive set of criteria. By using this expanded set of constructs, it is possible to both clarify and strengthen the role of a computer simulation, in so doing, move beyond considering the link between information to action to focus on the relationship between information and understanding. Two additional benefits to considering a wider range of constructs, namely recognizing the importance of the environment in which the simulation is used and understanding the supporting role played by ancillary material, are also uncovered, and their contributions explored. The result is a set of design criteria that embody the characteristics of a new approach to modeling known as Interface-Driven Modeling (IDM), which weights equally the need to employ a powerful user interface with the necessity of using credible models and data. Leveraging the power of the Socio-Economic Resource Framework (SERF), and its fundamental design philosophies Backcasting and the Design Approach to Modeling, IDM becomes a third key departure from more traditional socio-economic modeling exercises. The manifestation of this approach is the Quasi-Understandable Ecosystem Scenario Tool (QUEST), a product of the University of British Columbia's Sustainable Development Research Institute. Although QUEST embodies the philosophies of Backcasting and the Design Approach to Modeling, this thesis concentrates on exploring the theoretical foundations of IDM. Interestingly however, the IDM approach has been developed as much from the heuristic process of developing QUEST as it has from the literature reviewed in this thesis. By employing the design criteria explored in this thesis, it is argued that QUEST and its delivery methods can be combined to increase public understanding about sustainability in the Lower Fraser Basin of British Columbia. This thesis contends that this elusive public understanding, not solely information provision, is an important step towards creating an increased commitment to sustainability from regional stakeholders.

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