What should I actually be measuring: local context

I have been focused mostly on the P budget but through my survey and literature review I need to also look at local context.

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Example of two very different biophysical contexts between in British Columbia, Canada (top) and New South Wales Australia (bottom). Photo Credit: Genevieve Metson and Carissa Taylor

I want to better understand the role of local biophysical, social, political and economic context of a city really to better understand what type and extent of UA (and P management options in general) are best suited for particular locations. But what should I actually be considering as “local” context? I think the idea of nested scales makes identification of variables (or drivers) for local context difficult. Existing waste management infrastructure in a city doesn’t happen in a vacuum, its actually dependent on may processes happening at larger scales, including national policies, the state of technology, global economic trade status ect. Its really the same thing with biophysical properties like precipitation or growing season length, but at least these a little easier to define.

Within the four categories of context (biophysical, social, political, and economic) I have made two subclasses: 1) variables that are systematically collected and/or available at the city level or regional scale that, based on literature in ecology, agriculture, or urban planning, could influence UA and P cycling, 2) variables that stakeholders (people) within the UA or food and waste management sectors believe influence how they make decisions that then impact UA and P cycling.

In the first category I included variables like (these are just examples, there are many more possibilities in each category):

Biophysical: annual precipitation, average temperate and annual variation

Social: food security measures, demographic make-up, employment type and amount (in particular agricultural training)

Political: existing laws on land-use, fertilizer and amendment use

Economic: type of waste collection infrastructure, water management system, income mean and range, market availability

In the second category I planned to ask interview questions about why they manage inputs, production, and outputs the way they do, and what they view as social norms, policies and regulations, technologies, and other factors that facilitate or constrain the practices they currently or would like to do.

I was hoping there would be some overlap between the variables mentioned in interviews and what I had identified in the literature. Ultimately, the second category is measuring something different from the first. It is measuring the perception of facilitator and barriers to certain practices, which is in itself a variable (perception that is). Ultimately peoples’ motivations and perception of the system are important factors in understanding how to change a system. However, considering the time and expertise it takes to properly design and analyze interview data, I probably over reached and I would have never been able to give these aspects of the research questions the time they need.

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