WP#1: Behaviour Change (ការផ្លាស់ប្តូរឥរិយាបថ)

WP#1 in a nutshell

We focus our research on main constraints and motives for pro-environmental everyday behaviour and the perception of quality of life of people in Phnom Penh. The standardized measurement of environmental behaviours as well as associated predictors targets a deeper understanding of conditions for environmental behaviour in Cambodia. Furthermore, we focus our research on the measurement of Urban Quality of Life from a people-centered perspective. The main objective is the development of theory-driven, tailored intervention techniques that can foster sustainable behaviours and a notion of a sustainable livability of the urban context in Phnom Penh.

Rationale & Background

Cambodia has been witnessing widespread changes in the economic and societal situation in the recent past. With the availability of more goods and the increasing purchasing power of the emerging middle class (the so-called „new consumers“; Myers, & Kent, 2004), the lifestyle of the Cambodian society changes in regard to environmental issues.

Despite the increasing electricity prices and environmental concerns, the new buildings erected as part of Cambodia’s ongoing construction boom are neither energy-efficient nor adapted to the tropical climate. 

Our research focusses on understanding specific constraints and changing life styles and demands for housing and urban structure of citizens of Phnom Penh.

Theoretical Framework

Our work group focusses on main constraints and motives for pro-environmental behaviour of people in Phnom Penh and cognitive and moral factors that influence the behaviour. The standardized measures of environmental relevant constructs are based on theoretical models as the Theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen, 1991; see figure below) and the Norm-activation model (Schwartz, 1977).

Figure: Adapted Theory of Planned Behaviour
(Source: Adapted from: Bamberg & Schmidt, 2003)

Urban quality of life incorporates different constructs concerning psychological basic needs, psychological stress, coping mechanisms and resilience (Antonovsky, 1987). 

Figure: Urban Quality of Life as a Dynamic Process
(Source: Own Design)

Furthermore, our approach takes social dynamics and local culture into account. We consider the influence of neighbourhood and community activities on the individual life experiences and how the perception of urban quality of life reflects those experiences (Marans, 2012).

Figure: Cross-Cultural Perspective
(Source: Adapted from: Tam & Chan, 2017)
Figure: Framework of people-led strategies to enhance Urban Quality of Life
(Source: Modified after: Jaeger-Erben & Matthies, 2014)

The figure depicts two spheres of the context of UQoL: the sphere of the human (people), and the sphere of the environment that surrounds him/her. The manifestation of UQoL depends on the balance between generalized resistance resources and resistance deficits. This balance will determine whether a factor will decrease, is neutral or increase Urban Quality of Life. The sphere of people includes human traits like capabilities, needs and coping strategies. The sphere of the environment includes the designed urban environment (buildings, streets), urban green infrastructures (public parks, recreation areas), and urban governance structures. Furthermore, the impact of climate change will affect Urban Quality of Life as well.

Main Research Question

  • What determines the behaviour of Phnom Penh’s urban population in regard to environmentally relevant domains and how can this be used as a starting point to foster sustainable behaviours and sustainable living in accordance with the overall aim to enhance Urban Quality of Life (UQoL)?

Research Sub-Questions

  • What are the main drivers and barriers for sustainable behaviours of the middle-class (so-called “new consumers”) in Phnom Penh, and how to address possible contradictions between individual lifestyle preferences and sustainable lifestyles?
  • What kind of intervention techniques will be effective in order to foster sustainable behaviours of the new consumers in Phnom Penh?
  • What are the main factors (subjective as well as objective factors) that influence Urban Quality of Life in Phnom Penh and how do they interact?
  • How to address the mindset of people living in Phnom Penh in order to foster a social norm of sustainable lifestyles?

Insights from the Build4People Definition Phase 

Understanding the Cambodian Context 

Our interviews (as a preparation for our survey) and the first pre-test of the survey gave manifold insights into the contextual factors, the environmental conditions as well as perceptions and experiences of citizens of Phnom Penh. An important insight for us according to the environmental awareness of people in Phnom Penh was the difference between local and global environmental issues. Many local environmental problems such as air pollution were often reported but the connection of one’s own individual behaviour with global environmental problems is usually not considered.

Environmentally relevant behaviours for the daily life in Phnom Penh

After having conducted interviews and workshops during our first research stay, the following environmentally relevant (private sphere) behaviours were identified for the daily life in Phnom Penh: modes and means of transportation, electricity consumption (with a special focus on air conditioning), waste management and the use of plastic.

The Cambodian Concept of Urban Quality of Life and its determinants

Furthermore, the concept of Urban Quality of Life (UQoL) could be set in the Cambodian Context. “Walkability” is one of the determinants within our interdisciplinary approach to the concept of UQoL. Since pathways are also used for shops, as parking spaces, or are in no good condition, walking is not easily possible for citizens in most of the city of Phnom Penh. Another determinant of UQoL is “Urban Green”. By the help of our cooperation with WP#4 on Urban Green, our first insight during the Definition Phase shows that there is a decrease of urban green spaces, in the way that the available green space per person decreases and less people have access to green spaces or are not able to reach them. 

Application of the survey instrument

According to the methodology that we apply within our research design, important insights were gained according to the application of the survey instrument. We discussed for example specificities about the Khmer language with our local partners. During the preparation and translation process of our questionnaire, it became clear that many words used in our research field, especially technical terms, could not be translated unambiguously.

Participation Concepts in Cambodia 

According to the experiences gained from the Build4People Ecocity Transition Lab process the impression arose that participation concepts are rather unknown in the statutory urban planning practice and political context of Cambodia. Architecture and urban planning do not seem to be much people-orientated but with a focus on design.

Development of a curriculum of Environmental Psychology at the RUPP

We had a highly motivated exchange with our cooperation partners at the RUPP (Royal University of Phnom Penh). At RUPP, psychology can be attended as a bachelor’s degree. We are aiming to develop suitable seminar programs on environmental psychology topics such as human-environment interactions or intervention techniques for behavior change within the bachelor curriculum of psychology. Furthermore, by the help of our cooperation with WP#5 on Urban Climate, we will develop a curriculum input to the master of Climate Change.

The three spheres of the Build4People Research and Development Phase

  1. The societal and scientific problem-based research sphere
  2. The transdisciplinary action research sphere
  3. The reflection, refinement & re-integration of created knowledge sphere

WP#1 will contribute to different transdisciplinary Build4People processes and products by feeding in theory-driven and data-based knowledge from the field of Environmental Psychology during all three spheres of the R&D Phase.


Main Aims of the RD Phase

The main aim of the Research and Development Phase is to foster sustainable behaviours and sustainable living for people in Phnom Penh. This has to be realized in accordance with the overall aim to enhance Urban Quality of Life (UQoL) for all citizens of Phnom Penh through sustainable urban transformation.


  • Understanding and analyzing problem awareness, environmental concern and environmental behaviours in Phnom Penh.
  • Analyzing the main drivers/barriers for sustainable behaviours of the middle-class (so-called “new consumers”) in Phnom Penh.
  • Understanding possible contradictions between individual lifestyle preferences and sustainable lifestyles; and developing solutions for reducing these conflicts.
  • Development and testing of theory-driven and data-based intervention techniques to foster sustainable behaviours in Phnom Penh.
  • Transferring a people-centered psychological understanding of (Urban) Quality of life into a transdisciplinary Model of Urban Quality of Life.

WP#1 is implemented by the Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg and the Department of Psychology, Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).

Build4People RD Phase Milestone WP#1 R1: Updated bibliographic research and literature

Otto-von-Guericke-University • Division of Environmental Psychology • Universitätsplatz 2 • 39106 Magdeburg • Germany
WP#1 Leader: Dr. Anke Blöbaum (anke.bloebaum@ovgu.de)
WP#1 Leader: Prof. Dr. Ellen Matthies (ellen.matthies@ovgu.de)
WP#1 Research Associate: Ramune Pansa (ramune.pansa@ovgu.de)