Enhancing Community Engagement Using Q-Methodology
The purpose of this document is to demonstrate the use and application of the social science technique Q-Methodology as a means of enhancing the public engagement process. This report describes the results and findings from a set of outreach workshops organized by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality following the 2021 Sustainable Oregon Conference hosted by the Association of Oregon Recyclers. The objective of the workshops was to pilot a structured engagement approach to explore patterns of stakeholder agreement and disagreement regarding the various trade-offs within the vast framework of Sustainable Materials Management. Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) takes a holistic view of environmental impacts across the full life cycle of materials, as well as actions that can be taken to reduce those impacts. The 2050 Vision and Framework for Action describes a desired future where people in Oregon produce and consume materials responsibly – conserving resources, protecting the environment and enhancing well-being.
Responses were gathered from 31 participants across four separately facilitated sessions using Zoom and Q Method Software. Within each session, participants were presented a set of 40 statements that outlined trade-offs throughout the entire life cycle of materials. Participants were then asked to individually rank-order the 40 statements in matter of importance to them. Following the completion of the virtual Q-Sort, participants engaged in a facilitated group discussion on how their experiences in materials management inform their priorities and decisions regarding multiple trade-offs.
During the four sessions, both quantitative and qualitative data was collected. The findings of the multivariate statistical analysis of the 31 Q-Sorts submitted revealed two shared patterns of response. Those two perspectives are summarized as:
- The Social Systems Perspective, and
- The Material Systems Perspective
Separately those perspectives reported different priorities within the life cycle of materials, however, together there was shared agreement on the importance of the following SMM elements.
AOR members who engaged in this exercise expressed a high importance for persistent chemicals (i.e., PFAS) to be properly managed throughout their full life cycle. Participants reported that resource extractors and/or producers should demonstrate accountability by planning and implementing enhanced management infrastructure. Participants also reported that the reduction, prevention and elimination of toxic substances within product design is highly important.
Strong support was expressed for the framework of Product stewardship. Participants collectively agreed that manufacturers should have integrated responsibility for their products throughout the entire material life cycle, with an emphasis on front-end processing and extraction. Additionally, there was broad support for Extended Producer Responsibility models (e.g. E-Cycles, PaintCare).
Fair labor was also an area of consensus. Participants reported that enforceable fair labor agreements, which ensure the health and safety of workers throughout all stages of the material life cycle, as a top priority within SMM.
The successful completion of this project demonstrates how a scientifically rigorous engagement method can facilitate public dialog around the qualitative features of environmental protection. Q-Method provides a structured, yet flexible tool to bring stakeholder voices together and better acknowledge varying interests, priorities and values within SMM. Such an approach can greatly enhance the public process by uncovering hidden viewpoints and identifying areas of shared interest within planning and decision-making efforts.