The research process is not linear. This is a challenge that I hadn’t expected, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that is a bad thing. The looped and curving nature of research brought me from studying compost in the frame of zero-waste goals, to community gardens, to organizational networks, and finally to niche networks of residents in the city. All of those steps were integral to getting me to the conclusions I’ve drawn now.
The question I ended up answering (at least in part) in my research was ultimately “What drives the urban composter to compost?”. In more developed terms, what does background, experience, and learning mean to the person who composts? Some of the major conclusions were as follows:
(1) Contrary to the “Education > Self-Efficacy > Composting” framework I originally conceived of, the data supports a framework that looks more like “Composting > Self-Efficacy > Education”.
(2) There is a network of peer-to-peer education that occurs when composers feel self- efficacy in (proud of and confident in), their composting abilities and are compelled to share that information.
(3) Experience and background is extremely individual, and there is no one passage to composting. As such, environmental education can not be seen as a blanket process.
The research experience has taught me many things about knowledge, work ethic, collaboration and myself. The expectations and realities of designing and conducting a research project overlap in some areas, and differ completely in others. Through my research, I learned that knowledge exists in many capacities. It is not just the articles I found sifting through Google scholar, but the stories, backgrounds, and perspectives of the public that propel us towards more holistic understandings of the world. I was challenged to abandon some of my ineffective work routines in favor of more labor intensive, yet ultimately more productive styles of working to get the job done. Additionally, I learned that working with a mentor is essential. Concepts can become more well-rounded in just one brainstorming session. And finally, I opened the door for myself to explore topics and issues that I didn’t realize I cared about. Overall, I feel enriched by the experience, and more developed as a knowledge seeker and environmentalist.