Integrating Social Science into Urban Sustainability Metrics (2017)

Client Organization: 
City of Ann Arbor
Project Location : 
Ann Arbor, MI
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives:
This project will develop and test a set of social science instruments to support city sustainability metrics. The STAR Community Rating System – Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities - ( is a new set of metrics to measure city progress on sustainability. To date 40 cities have been certified. However, the metrics are not supported by social science research that would lend insight into how community values and behavior change play a role in making progress on sustainability. Ann Arbor and Dearborn are proposed clients. Other cities may be considered in addition.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance:
This research is important because there is currently little application of social science in decision-making related to sustainability at the local government level. Cities are not investing in it and neither are key national foundation funders. This project can build on the SCIP work underway at the university ( to explore how this tool might be used or augmented to support data collection in a city and the role/impact of sustainability on a local government. Ideally, this instrument would be used in several cities so that comparisons can be made across cities. It is highly likely that cities would invest in this data collection, if they knew they could make comparisons with peer cities and understand the value of the comparisons.

Specific Activities & Duration:
We are seeking a team of students to 1) understand the STAR Community Rating System, 2) recommend an instrument that cities could use to collect social science data based on the existing SCIP project, and 3) test data collection methods to obtain a representative sample of city residents as cost effectively as possible, and 4) identify (or create) and recommend an instrument, collection method, and data collection frequency and budget. This recommendation would likely go to the city Environmental Commission and/or City Council. A key component is ensuring that the data collection is truly representative and includes information from underserved residents and groups that may not typically participate in public processes.

Integrative Approach:
This project requires a set of disparate skills including understanding complex city systems, the state of urban sustainability metrics, city budgets to explore funding options, social science research, survey instrument development, data collection, statistics and quantitative analysis. Ann Arbor participates in the Urban Sustainability Directors Network so there is an opportunity to engage with other cities on possible uses of this tool and data collection. There may be significant issues with language and data collection in both Ann Arbor and Dearborn.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Maria Carmen Lemos
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Angey Wilson, MS Behavior, Education and Communication/Environmental Policy and Planning 
Project Status: 
Past Project