Paul Prosser, Alex Slaymaker, Sambhram Patel, and Scott Cloutier recently published a book chapter. Titled “Broadening Opportunities for Happiness with Local Knowledge,” the chapter explores the importance of integrating local knowledge systems into sustainable solutions. With this in mind, the team developed the Happiness Opportunities Spectrum (HOS), a framework used to analyze how sustainability solutions may impact the happiness of local communities.
Despite the “triple bottom line” emphasis in sustainability research and education today, creating sustainable solutions that fit the needs of the planet, the economy, and people can be extremely challenging in practice. Prosser, Slaymaker, Patel, and Cloutier decided to take a new approach to this issue.The team developed the HOS as “a foundation which can be built upon to create a more robust framework to inform policy makers and anyone trying to implement sustainability,” according to Patel. The tool is focused on people; specifically how to best ensure their happiness and well-being, a relatively new approach to creating sustainability solutions.
What started out as a white board discussion between Prosser and Cloutier has now transformed into a unique sustainability solutions tool that supports current research efforts about the importance of stakeholder engagement. For Prosser, it was this process of transformation that he enjoyed most about co-authoring the chapter. He emphasizes that “the bottom line is you have to be willing to let others challenge your idea,” an important lesson with respect to the collaborative writing and communication process
Functioning similarly to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, each dimension of the upside-down pyramid must be fulfilled before moving to the next, from technical to ecological to cognitive. The goal is for solutions to meet the conditions of every dimension in order to provide the most happiness opportunities for the group the solution is serving. Many sustainability solutions are driven by the technical or ecological dimension, with the cognitive dimension dismissed or rarely even addressed. According to their framework, the cognitive dimension is actually the key to ensuring success, and the key to fulfilling the cognitive dimension is allowing local knowledge to guide the decision-making process.
Whether it is installing more solar panels in neighborhoods to cut energy costs or implementing a community garden to bring people together and provide fresh produce, sustainability solutions are ultimately created by people for people. Every community has different needs, different wants, and different backgrounds that shape their values and beliefs. Therefore catering sustainability solutions to people, taking into account those cognitive differences, is a no-brainer. The HOS framework is a simple and easy way to ensure this happens. “We all have biases about what type of information matters and why,” states Slaymaker, “I hope readers reflect on these biases and how they can better respect and utilize the assets of communities they work with or study.”
To test the feasibility of this framework as a tool, the team analyzed four case studies using HOS as a qualitative lens. The studies include indigenous land and water rights in San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, Arizona, sustainable energy production provided by a non-governmental organization in the Ladakh region of India, design of a new Chapter House for the Tonalea Chapter of the Navajo Nation, and the impact of the environmental education nonprofit, Imago, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Each case study has a different outcome, the framework is generalized enough to work for almost any example, but is critical enough to locate areas of improvement for each specific problem and/or solution.
Cloutier is amazed at the work his students are doing to further happiness and sustainability research. He loves “supporting students in getting our collective ideas into the world through written word and practice,” and is looking forward to seeing the positive outcomes in research and application after many months of hard work and dedication to make the HOS framework come to life.
The chapter is available in the book Environmental Sustainability. Access to the publisher’s website here: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-111936180X.html