A recent study sheds light on the attitudes of municipal civil servants towards wooden multistory buildings. Does the limited regard for the environmental criteria of building projects create a barrier to the diffusion of wooden construction? asks Florencia Franzini.
Did you know that people can have a positive impression of something for different reasons? According to research by Fishbein and Ajzen (2010) people can form attitudes based on different criteria. For example, I like eating ice-cream only based on its flavor. My spouse, who is lactose intolerant, likes eating ice-cream based on its flavor and whether it is lactose-free. Hence, we form our attitudes towards eating ice-cream differently! In this research, Ajzen’s theory is used to study whether municipal civil servants form their attitudes towards wooden multistory buildings based on similar criteria. Spoiler alert: they don’t. And that invokes several questions!
Recent research analyses the attitudes that municipal civil servants hold towards implementing wooden multistory buildings in their municipality. The article is a forerunner in applying behavioral models to study which project outcomes shape attitudes towards the project (for example, if someone thinks a construction project is good because it is environmentally friendly). In the context of a novel phenomenon like wooden multistory construction, there are few quantitative studies informing how local public administrators view these buildings. In my own opinion, the most interesting finding was a clear difference about which project outcomes shape attitudes between respondents that self-identified as municipal planners versus those working in other municipal roles (e.g., real estate, upper senior management, building inspection).
The study elaborates two key findings. First, which types of project outcomes drive attitudes among municipal civil servants. The study showed that a wooden multistory building’s technical criteria, output efficiency* criteria, environmental development criteria, and economic development criteria are all important factors driving attitudes towards the building. Put another way, if a building is seen to fulfil these criteria, it is viewed positively. However, if the building does not fulfil criteria, it will be viewed negatively. (Note we didn’t test for other additional types of criteria, so it could be that other factors also shape attitudes!)
The pièce de résistance is the model’s ability to also quantify the relative power (or one might say, “importance”) of these criteria for the formation of attitudes. How does this work? Remember the ice-cream example? For my spouse, the taste of the ice-cream is far more important to forming his attitude about eating ice-cream than whether the ice-cream is lactose-free. In our research, not all criteria are equally important! At least, not when comparing municipal planners to other municipal administrators. The model for municipal planners is holistic, in that attitudes appear driven in equal parts by whether a project fulfils technical criteria and advances economic and environmental spatial planning goals. Thus, one might say that planners look at such attributes as whether the building is environmentally friendly, supports the municipality’s local economy, or has good indoor air quality. Observe that those criteria associated with cost are not significant towards attitude formation!
Other administrators showed a markedly less holistic model. First and foremost, attitudes are shaped by whether the project fulfils economic spatial planning goal (i.e., the economic development criteria). Then, attitudes form somewhat based on the building’s technical qualities. In the end, environmental criteria and output efficiency criteria were small towards determining attitudes. Thus, one might say that these administrators look especially at whether a project supports the municipality’s vitality and fulfils technical criteria like indoor air quality.
The findings lead to several thought provoking questions, for example, does the limited regard for the environmental criteria of building projects create a barrier to the diffusion of wooden construction? Likewise, does the holistic regard for environmental criteria exhibited by planners offer enough counterweight to colleagues who are highly economically-minded? While the study cannot answer these questions, we look forward to bold researchers willing to test the assumptions.
*This very technical term refers to when administrations peruse goals related reducing project cost and project delivery times.
Fishbein, M., and I. Ajzen. 2010. Predicting and Changing Behavior: The Reasoned Action Approach. New York: Psychology Press.
Florencia Franzini, Sami Berghäll, Anne Toppinen & Ritva Toivonen (2022) Planning for wooden multistorey construction – insights from Finland’s municipal civil servants, European Planning Studies, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2022.2116271.
Florencia Franzini is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. She has been researching the Finnish state’s role in the diffusion of wooden multistory buildings since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys painting and studying Finnish (seriously!).
Photo: Mikko Aureniitty / Puuinfo