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Why we used diary study methods to capture ethical consumerism at the household level during COVID 19

Aleksandra Besevic, 15th January 2021

Photos elicited from participants during our study

Last year, we pivoted our research methodology to understand the household decision making journey of single-use plastics to incorporate photo elicitation and diaries to capture people’s experiences in real time directly from their home environment. Here’s why we chose this method.

The phot elicitation allowed an open format allows participants to record events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours using their own words. This research adopted the ‘snippet’ technique or event contingent protocol, which enables the participants’ to record short snippets of information about activities as they occur rather than continually logging of activities (Bolger and Laurenceau, 2013). This allowed flexibility by allowing the participant to elaborate their responses later in the day if needed. This process allows participants to capture decisions in real time and reflect on them when they have time to reflect. Furthermore, a 5 minute diary is relatively unobtrusive and participants could work around their own schedule (meaning they were more likely to stick with the project for the whole week).

The advantages of using the diary method alongside photo elicitation was that it allows for in depth engagement of participants with their own experiences, occurrences or feelings as opposed to more convenient but possibly un-reflected automatic surveys or tracking. It was intended to explore the rationales and experiences people provide about single use plastics. The diary method was more likely to capture occasions in which single use plastic is used as participants might view these moments as insignificant or simply forgot when asked in other circumstances. The method bridges the gap between the moments of use and connecting these to previous experiences about consumption and disposal (Reid, Hunter and Sutton, 2011).

However, there are limitations of this method. We had little control over the quality entries over the course of the week – it was expected that the quality of the data may deteriorate over a period of time, although we saw no evidence of this in practice. Further, as with any research regarding behaviours there is the possibility of inaccurate or socially desirable reporting. In next week’s blog we will explain in more detail the methods and process we used to conduct the study and share with you our top tips for consistent participation.

For more findings from our research project, check out our Re-thinking Ethical Consumerism: Report two: Householder Perspectives from Photo Elicitation and Diary Study

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