Civic and Community Engagement | Climate | Community-Based Learning | Community-Based Research | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies

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In October 2013, Climate Central, a non-profit research organization, released Risk Finder, an online, interactive mapping tool that allows users to explore the effects of rising sea level in a specific geographic region. A research study for client Dan Rizza of Climate Central was conducted on the usability of the Risk Finder tool in an effort to identify potential system errors, improve user experience, and assess the future use of this tool based on user perception. Primary investigators Dr. Daniel Richards and Mrs. Megan McKittrick utilized an approach known as “productive usability,” which allows researchers to openly observe participants engaged in a talk-aloud protocol whereby users articulate what they are thinking and feeling as they are performing a particular task or using a particular product. Qualitative data was obtained from a group of four voluntary participants through pre-interviews, observation, and post-interviews while these users explored Risk Finder. Undergraduate students from Old Dominion University’s ENGL 231C class, an introductory Scientific and Technical writing course, were included in this study as observers and transcribers, as this service-learning project allowed students the opportunity to participate in research. During this research, it was valuable to observe the relationship between the usability of the Risk Finder tool and, based on observation of emotional and verbal reactions, how this usability affected the participants’ risk perception and affinity for the Risk Finder application, particularly during the post-interview sessions. Based on analysis of qualitative data gathered from the usability study, Risk Finder displayed a shortfall in usability. Additionally, the data analyzed strongly suggest that usability may play a role in the perception of risk associated with climate change via visual communication. A comprehensive assessment of parameters and previous research indicates that users’ emotional responses to sea-level rise may influence their perceptions of the product’s usability.