Chicago Climate Action Plan

Engaging Chicago Communities in the Chicago Climate Action Plan (CCAP) was a pilot research project commissioned by the City of Chicago Department of Environment (DOE) to begin identifying strategies for effectively engaging diverse communities throughout the city in the mitigation activities of the CCAP. The research was conducted over six months, from September 2008 through February 2009. It involved intense fieldwork in one community—South Chicago—as well as three city-wide focus groups, which provided a broader context for analyzing the community data.

This project aimed to:

Document attitudes and knowledge related to climate change. Identify existing conservation practices and community concerns related to environment and quality of life that can serve as springboards for developing creative strategies for community involvement in climate change mitigation efforts. Pinpoint potential “change agents” that might act as catalysts for larger scale adoption of climate change mitigation measures. Determine the most effective communication strategies for disseminating information, including the social and organizational networks that the City can tap into to effectively spread CCAP messages. The research was designed and conducted collaboratively, in English and Spanish, by a team including anthropologists from The Field Museum’s division of Environment, Culture, and Conservation (ECCo), network researchers from Northwestern University’s Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) Research Lab, staff from the DOE, and organizers from two community organizations in South Chicago. The organizations are Healthy Southeast Chicago, a coalition of business partners, community organizations, and residents aimed at improving community health, and Centro Comunitario Juan Diego, a health and social services organization.

Research methods were qualitative and quantitative and included open-ended interviews, participant-observation (participating in while simultaneously observing community meetings and events), focus groups, social network surveys, and visual and performative activities. In total, the research in South Chicago—which lasted for 14 weeks—involved approximately 250 people, including residents, civic leaders, and leaders of community and environmental organizations. The city-wide focus groups involved 41 representatives from 35 organizations.

The majority of the research was ethnographic, with the goal being to gain an in-depth understanding of people’s behaviors and attitudes by studying them in the context of their everyday lives. Like most research, ethnographic research aims to identify patterns and linkages between issues; but it is also based on the notion that people are experts on their own lives and, as such, aims to highlight local knowledge and practices as the building blocks for creative ways forward. A network analysis component was included to understand effective ways to tap into existing communications pathways. Social network analysis is an increasingly popular research tool, but most work is at a large-scale level and not suitable to action-oriented results. The SONIC lab’s methods allow analysis of small-scale networks, and can be easily integrated into ethnographic analysis.