2013 Research Catalyst Grantee
Weber State University
Uncovering Attitudes towards Water at Weber State University
This project will use standard qualitative data collection methods—focus groups and semi-structured interviews—to gain insight into beliefs, attitudes and perceptions about water held by key stakeholder groups at Weber State University (WSU). This will be a first step in a broader research project, in which the approach of iUTAH—utilizing both the physical and social sciences to gain insight into the supply, demand, management, use and abuse of water—is applied at the campus scale. Ultimately, we intend to examine physical science questions regarding water supply, demand, management and use of water at Weber State University as well as other social science questions; further, we intend to work with other campuses to apply our approaches there, as well as learn from whatever similar studies may have been conducted at those other campuses. Our first step in this larger campaign, however, will focus on a social science question: how do people at Weber State University think about water?
We have identified several key stakeholder groups in the WSU community: students, faculty, staff, administration, facilities management, campus sustainability workers, and university trustees. We will conduct focus groups with members of these key stakeholder groups to uncover beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions about water. We will also conduct semi-structured interviews with individuals whose role in university water policy is especially significant, but for whom inclusion in a focus group would be inappropriate because of power dynamics possibly skewing the responses of other participants. Examples of such individuals include the university’s President, the Vice- President for Buildings and Grounds, and members of the Board of Trustees. Focus group discussions and interviews will be recorded and transcribed, and data will be organized by identifying recurring themes and patterns.
This research will be undertaken during the spring semester of 2014. The focus groups and interviews must be conducted during the regular academic year, because many representatives of the key stakeholder groups are unavailable during the summer (many faculty and students). A further advantage of undertaking the research at this time is that one of us (Trentelman) will be teaching a Sociology course on Environment and Society (SOC 3300), allowing us to engage students from that course directly in the research effort. Students in SOC 3300 will run the focus groups, with Trentelman and/or Bedford present to supervise. Thus, the project will help strengthen research skills/capacity among these students. Bedford and Trentelman will conduct the interviews with individuals such as the university’s President. Organizing and scheduling the focus groups and interviews, as well as conducting detailed analysis of the transcribed discussions, will be time intensive for the PIs. University administration at WSU has agreed to provide one course’s worth of release time each for Bedford and Trentelman in spring 2014, in the event that this proposal is successful and the research can proceed.
Daniel Bedford, Weber State University