Operationalizing “neighborliness.”

When your neighbor smiles and waves hello, do you: a. stroll over to chew the fat, b. smile and wave, c. nod, d. ignore them, e. flip the bird, f. smile and wave, then later let your dog poop on their lawn?

This assignment required that I “operationalize” an abstract concept, in this case, “neighborliness.”  Our textbook defines “operationalization” as “the development of specific research procedures (operations) that will result in empirical observations representing those concepts in the real world.”  Though I have oversimplified for the sake of the exercise, (I am told this is supposed to be difficult, though I don’t see it) I think the point is to get from abstract concept to measurable data.  A survey might be one vehicle.  Or, in regard to neighborliness, I could rent a house in different neighborhoods, and measure my criteria through direct interaction with the neighbors.  Although, my own behavior toward the neighbors would most likely influence the results.  So a survey might work better for this topic.  Also, I wasn’t as rigorous with my definitions and measures as I would have been if I were doing actual research.

If I were going to operationalize neighborliness, I would probably start with the definition (conceptualizing):

having or showing qualities befitting a neighbor (Links to an external site.); friendly.

What are some friendly qualities befitting a neighbor?  What do neighbors do?

Lend sugar.
Shovel walks.
Take in trash cans.
Mow lawns.
Buy girl scout cookies.
Wave hello.
Maybe only nod.
Know each other’s names.
Look out for each other’s kids and/or property.
Share baked goods and/or vegetable garden extras.

Things they don’t do:

Have loud parties (without inviting neighbors).
Steal newspapers.
Let their dog poop on the neighbor’s lawn.
Ignore friendly waves.
Park in a spot someone else shoveled out.
Tell kids to get off their lawn.
Speed through the neighborhood.

So those are the things I would want to measure.  I would create a survey that asks:

How many cups of sugar have you borrowed?
How many have you lent?
How often have you shoveled your neighbor’s walk?
How often have you mowed their lawn?
How often have you taken their trash cans in?
Do you know the names of the people who live in the houses next door to you?
Do you know the names of the people who live across the street?
Do you know the names of the people who live five houses down?
Have you ever told a child to get off your lawn?
Has your dog ever pooped on someone else’s lawn?
Did you pick it up?
When was the last time you held a loud party?  Did you invite the neighbors?  Did someone call the cops?

I would assign one point for every answer that aligns with what the ideal neighbor would or wouldn’t do, and zero points for every answer that contradicts. A high score would indicate neighborliness. A low one would rule out neighborliness.

Thinking more about it, I probably should have started by determining what question I wanted my research to answer.  Why am I measuring neighborliness?  I could want to determine which part of town is the friendliest by measuring how neighborly the residents of each area are.  If I wanted to figure out how people in different parts of town understand neighborliness, or what they consider a good neighbor to be, I would ask a different set of questions with more ordinal and interval measures.

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