How we collected household diaries to understand the single use plastic journey

We used Padlet to see patterns and trends over the week

Aleksandra Besevic and Danielle Tucker, 26th January 2021

In our recent study on understanding different householder roles in effecting sustainable change we utilised diary study methods and photo elicitation to capture ethical decision making at the household level during COVID 19.

In designing this study, we paid special attention to creating a usable diary design.

The design of the diary had to take into account:

A photo taken by one of our participants
  1. The structure of the diary: It was key that we captured the data that we set out to. Our priority was to capture decision making in situ, therefore we asked participants to take a picture of a single-use plastic in their home and tell us about how it came to be there and what they did with it. This process asked them to articulate the thought process of that item and explain decisions to us. We left the choice of what to photograph to the participant. We were interested in not only what they chose but why they chose it.

2. Providing prompts to engage in wider influences: In addition to the daily photo we asked participants an additional question each day to explore some of the broader influences and dynamics on the household decision making process. These questions (one per day) were semi structured to ensure a range of content was captured that was relevant to the research question. We asked the same questions to every participant. A potential weakness of this structured approach is that by asking particular questions this may affect the way in which the participant conceptualises responses or change the view of the participant. To overcome this open-ended questions were used to encourage more engagement and allows for a wider range of answers. 

Photo by Jhosua Rodru00edguez on

3. Using different technologies to ensure ease of collection of data: A common challenge of diary studies is decline in participation over time.Firstly, we kept the contribution time to 7 days to ensure that participants did not become fatigued by the study. We also allowed a variety of technologies (including email and whats-app) to ensure the participant was confident in communicating and asking questions if needed. Further, regular contact between the researcher and the participant via that platform ensured that participants maintained motivation and encouraging responses. We also ensured that the length of time a participant could be asked to complete the diary study was kept to under 10 minutes to avoid fatigue, drop out or disinterest.

The diary study was conducted online due to external factors (government imposed lockdown). It meant that we needed to rely on digital means for participants to complete the study and therefore this required participants to be computer/ mobile literate. However, there were several benefits in using online technology such as mobile smart phones and cameras. Firstly, there was only one dropout (via email correspondence). This suggests that technology is not only convenient for participants to use it but also fits in with their own digital usage. Secondly, as participants were using their own computer/ mobile there was no need for additional training. Finally, the cost of the project was reduced as no equipment needed to be purchased for the participants. It is highly likely that the use of digital technology in diary studies will be used more frequently and developed over time.

One of the benefits of this sustained interaction with participants was that we could see the evolution of their responses over the week as they were being asked to reflect more on the decisions they were making. Whilst most participants did not change their practices significantly in this time, we found that responses became more nuanced and honest (particularly about restraints on their choices) as the week progressed. We used Padlet to create boards for individual participants which allowed us to see patterns in the photos they provided.

We found photo elicitation and diary study methods provided an accurate and meaningful insight into the decisions which householders make about single use plastics. We learnt a lot about the challenges and choices which they face on a day to day basis. Coming up in future blogs we will share some of these findings with you.  

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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