Monday, June 25, 2012

WWOOF & Pro-Environmental Behavior Research Results

In the summer of 2011 I had the opportunity to join WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and volunteer in the mountains of northern Italy with a lovely Italian family. I found the concept of living with someone else and suddenly adopting their lifestyle to be very intriguing and wondered how it affected other people, especially if it inspired pro-environmental behavior in individuals when they returned home from their experiences.

Understanding what tools can affect behavior and our general consciousness, whether it be WWOOFing and actively experiencing a new lifestyle (or something more subtle such as bathroom design - the original intent behind this blog), is a topic I find to be both fascinating and extremely important. Below are the main results from my research which show that the WWOOF organization has great potential for inspiring behaviors and attitudes that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly
Thanks so much to everyone who helped with this research! Once my thesis is published online I will add a new post with the link: 

General survey and interview results from 1381 surveys and 47 interviews:
  • 90% of survey respondents reported an overall positive WWOOF experience 
  • The greatest motivations for WWOOFing include:
    •  having a chance to live with locals, 
    •  learning more about organic farming, and
    •  traveling around the country.
  • 89% of respondents reported to add or increase at least one pro-environmental behavior as a result of their WWOOFing experience.
  • Human relationships and feeling a sense of community were the most important factors that contributed to a positive WWOOF experience. Volunteers were especially influenced by sharing ideas and engaging in discussions with hosts they respected.
  • Learning through actively working and experiencing a new lifestyle seemed to result in motivating many people to make changes in their own lives.
  • Having multiple experiences, being open to learning, and having enjoyable tasks were strongly correlated with more impactful experiences.

The following quotes represent the sentiments felt by many WWOOF volunteers:

“WWOOFing had an incredible impact on my life. Perhaps not by way of changing my daily routines or immediate lifestyle, but it touched my subconscious in ways that continue to work at my decisions and goals even a year after the experience. It has been an exceptional way for me to take time for myself, to travel, to connect with locals and to make a difference. The life you are welcomed into when WWOOFing could take years to develop yourself, but with some luck, you get to experience it immediately and truly test the waters. What a glimpse at a lifestyle that could one day be your own. And what a way to figure that out for yourself!”

“Sustainable living is now rooted in practice. It seems more real and tangible.”

“It has been absolutely life changing - one of the best times of my life. I came to learn about organic farming, but the level of personal connections I have made with my hosts has far far surpassed my expectations.” 

Ideas for improvement based on the 5E Learning Cycle Model:

An active learning model was used to evaluate the quality of different WWOOFing experiences. The model consists of five components: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate, and each are explained below along with examples of how they can be used by WWOOF volunteers, hosts, and organizations.

The 5E Learning Cycle Model Applied to WWOOF
What volunteers, hosts, and the WWOOF organization can do to create more positive, meaningful experiences. 

Engage: Participants involved should have prior knowledge, interest or curiosity.

WWOOF Organizations
Search for an experience of interest. Contact hosts before arrival to ensure it is a proper match.

Understand personal motivation and goals for WWOOFing.

Read or watch a documentary about organic farming before WWOOFing.
Ask WWOOFers what they want to gain out of their experience.

In the farm description, hosts can share stories and areas of interest (e.g. hiking, climbing, music, history, etc) so that they reach out to volunteers with similar interests

If the host enjoys teaching others about certain topics, include this in the farm description.
Encourage WWOOFers to share their experiences with others to engage a wider audience of people to consider WWOOFing.

Explore: Participants should be involved in hands-on activities.

WWOOF Organizations
Be willing to try new things and withhold judgment in the beginning.

Explore WWOOFing possibilities locally as well as abroad.
Provide WWOOFers with a variety of tasks so that work does not become monotonous.

If possible allow WWOOFers to see all parts of the organic food process (e.g. from planting to harvesting to selling at the market).

Explain: Participants should be discussing and observing.

WWOOF Organizations
Articulate goals for WWOOFing and share them with the host.

Ask host questions about their background, why they have an organic farm, and other areas of interest.

Discuss thoughts and previous knowledge about organic farming with hosts and other WWOOFers and be open to learning new ideas.
Discuss why farming tasks are important to perform, openly share knowledge and values, explain reasons for farming organically, share personal stories about reasons farming.

Spend time with WWOOFers, especially during meals and farm work.

Share books, DVDs and other informative resources.

Have multiple WWOOFers at one time to increase their opportunity to discuss with others.
On the organization websites, in newsletters, or through emails, provide tips and best practices to volunteers and hosts.

Encourage hosts or WWOOFers to hold hosting workshops e.g. a woman in Australia recently hosted a 'Become a Wonderful WWOOF Host' workshop.

Promote volunteers to speak about their experiences at schools and universities. This could be especially beneficial for people who are at transitions in their lives and could have a significant impact on their future career paths. 

Elaborate: Participants should be applying their experiences to new situations.

WWOOF Organizations
WWOOF at more than one farm.

Teach others.

Try WWOOFing after finishing a degree, between jobs, or during some other life transition period.

Make a plan to try at least one activity or behavior learned on the farm at home.
Encourage longer farm stays.

Show WWOOFers how they can transfer some farming techniques and sustainable practices back to their homes.

Ask volunteers to share their own ideas and be open to learning from them.

Give WWOOFers responsibilities to encourage critical thinking and problem solving.
WWOOF at more than one farm.

Teach others.

Try WWOOFing after finishing a degree, between jobs, or during some other life transition period.

Make a plan to try at least one activity or behavior learned on the farm at home.

Evaluate: Participants should be reflecting about the experience and be provided with feedback.

WWOOF Organizations
Take time to reflect about the experience and what was learned.

Talk to others about WWOOFing.

Write a journal or blog while volunteering.
Reflect with WWOOFers about what they learned during their experience.

Provide WWOOFers with feedback on what they are doing well as well as tips for improving.

Show appreciation for the WWOOFer’s work. 
Create a reference system where past volunteers and hosts can leave comments about their farm experiences.

Encourage volunteers to reflect more about their experience and what they learned. E.g. WWOOF Greece sends a short questionnaire to their WWOOFers to ask about their experience, ideas for improvement, and encouragement they have for other WWOOFers.

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