Katie Kish, Ph.D.

Community Footprint Calculator

Creating a tool for collective environmental action

What is an Ecological Footprint? Here is my presentation for York University's alumni group on what the Ecological Footprint is and user demands on future research.

Beginnings and Context

I was approached by a group to design, create, and test a prototype of a Community Footprint Calculator using the Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity datasets.

The challenge: Make a tool that would allow individuals to input their lifestyle data which would then be averaged out into a group environmental footprint and produce relevant behaviour change goals.

Discovery and Research:
Finding participants and building relationships
Community Footprint Calculator

Focus Group

Focus groups are controversial, but I really like them for the discovery phase of projects. I like to invite 6-9 really key people that know the situation well so I can empathize and understand perspectives as quickly as possible. As I sit in a focus group,

For this project I conducted a two focus groups with 7 people in each. I learned key information including:

  • Successes and failures of previous attempts at solving this problem;

  • The technological literacy level of the primary users;

  • How people in this group engage with one another (the culture) and;

Through the interviews I got an idea of the kind of cross scale changes individuals wanted to make, what was feasible, and what the hiring group absolutely needed.

Through the interviews I got an idea of the kind of cross scale changes individuals wanted to make, what was feasible, and what the hiring group absolutely needed.


For the second part of my discovery phase, I had interviews with key stakeholders in the project. I met with:

  • Ecological Footprint engineers to ascertain what would be technically feasible

  • Community leaders to gauge the kind of outcomes they were looking for and how willing they were to engage, and

  • The group tasking me with the project to ensure appropriate understanding of their desired outcomes.


Boundary work is an important part of everything I do. Not only do I want to think about who is included in a project, but who or what, based on the scoping, will be excluded. Focusing on what will be excluded helps the reflection process on if the plan that I am developing will be equitable and have appropriate outcomes.

While there are multiple approaches to boundary analysis, I have preference for Critical Systems Heuristics as a pre-design phase reflection tool.


User Testing

Creating the Calculator

After the development phase, I began work with the data engineer to create the first iteration of the calculator. Given the low technological literacy of our primary user group, we used a Google Form instead of any other less streamlined platforms. I wrote a series of questions that would obtain the necessary information to calculator the Footprint, but also asked these questions in various ways so I could follow up on the kinds of questions the users enjoyed doing.

See the final survey. The survey automatically links with our large datasets on the backend for calculations.

I then distributed the survey to the participants to obtain initial feedback on our approach.

Concept of the main page.

Concept of the main page.


Formalizing the Ideas

As the participants filled out the survey, I began thinking about what the Community Footprint Calculator would look like online. I knew the page would need to be relatively simple and straightforward, usable by the next billion users, and inviting. The homepage itself would be straight forward.

Concept of what the user dashboard would look like.

Concept of what the user dashboard would look like.

User Dashboard

However, the user dashboard would be a challenge given the end user needs. The dashboard would need to show at least the community footprint and a list of goals for the group, while not being overwhelming.

The users had very positive feedback on this design.

Mobile version concept

Mobile version concept

Mobile Version

While nearly all of the participants I spoke to said they would never use this on their phones, the intention is for the project to scale out to groups all over the world. To start thinking about the next billion users, I made a mobile feature and started thinking more about accessibility.

The wireframes should also include an option for hearing impaired, given our demographic, and a translation area.

A sample of behaviour change suggestions.

A sample of behaviour change suggestions.

Behaviour change

The final stage of development was to create a list of possible goals for the communities that are associated with theories of environmental sociology and behaviour change. I developed a set of ideas in all major categories of the methodology and the engineers assigned each recommendation to possible outcomes.

Results and Reflections


The project resulted in a formal report to the hiring group who are currently reviewing it and are hiring an intern to work with us on formalizing the project as a website. Given that the individual calculator sees over 2 million views per year, we expect similar uptake when this is launched.

Some clear needs going forward include:

  • Disaggregated data

  • Questions changed to be based on behavioural aspects per week or month, users found these questions more enjoyable and easier to answer

  • Generate more group behaviour change ideas - ideas most preferred were events and seminars which are usually less effective tactics but commonly liked

I completed both objectives of the project. With the engineer, I created a proof-of-concept for an individual calculator that also generated a group Footprint. I also linked the outcomes of the group Footprint to recommendations for individual and group behaviour change.

Future research questions:

  • How do we make the numbers generated by a few relevant for the whole group?

  • How do we get others engaged beyond the initially interested group?

  • What is an effective educational initiative for carbon offsets and where is this most relevant?

  • What additional data could be collected, such as life and work satisfaction, to encourage people to reflect on desirable ends to maximize by reducing their footprint?

Final thoughts and reflections

This project was a really exciting opportunity for me because group behaviour change is continuously identified as an integral part of environmental change. Yet, most environmental policy and research focuses on individuals or city levels, rarely on people being together in communities.

It was my role to bring together research from environmental behaviour change, sociology, and psychology to ask the right questions and then produce a list of group goals and challenges to spur collective action. I played the role of both UX Researcher and Manager with a team of engineers ready to implement my findings.

Fully satisfied users
Follow-up funding
User group requests
"This was an interesting questionnaire with an excellent format that provided me with a surprising opportunity for deep and easy reflection on life choices and how that relates to environmental sustainability."
- Research Participant