Non-Participant Observation Methods for Soundscape Design and Urban Planning

Non-Participant Observation Methods for Soundscape Design and Urban Planning

Lisa Lavia (The Noise Abatement Society, UK), Harry J. Witchel (Brighton and Sussex Medical School, UK), Francesco Aletta (University of Sheffield, UK), Jochen Steffens (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany), André Fiebig (HEAD Acoustics, Germany), Jian Kang (University of Sheffield, UK), Christine Howes (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) and Patrick G. T. Healey (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3637-6.ch004


More accurate non-participatory parameters and psychoacoustics to assess human perceptual responses to the acoustic environment are critical to inform effective urban sound planning and applied soundscape practice. Non-participatory observation methods are widely used by experts to capture animal behavior. In 2012, Lavia and Witchel applied these principles and methodologies for the first time to capturing and assessing human behavior “in the wild” to changes to the acoustic environment using added sound and music interventions in a clubbing district. Subsequent work was conducted with Aletta and Kang and Healey, Howes, Steffens, and Fiebig to begin characterizing the acoustic environment and human responses to align the perceptual and physical findings. Here, the authors report on new work and analysis and propose a preliminary predictive agile applied soundscape framework using non-participatory observation methods and psychoacoustics to be used with environmental assessment practice and evolving urban soundscape planning methods by researchers, practitioners, and policy makers.
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Numerous studies have linked noise annoyance directly to stress, illness and a variety of adverse health effects (World Health Organization [WHO], 2009). To create liveable cities in the context of rapid urbanisation, the accurate identification, data collection, analysis and interpretation of the causal links between the characteristics and quality of the acoustic environment and people’s health and wellbeing is pivotal to informing successful urban soundscape practice. Central to the success of this process is the accurate collection and assessment of people’s reactions to the acoustic environment.

Traditionally, in soundscape practice, the human response to sounds in context, as required by the soundscape standard (ISO, 2014), has been collected using recognised self-reporting methods. These include soundwalks, questionnaire surveys, narrative interviews, and jury-based listening tests (ISO, 2016). This means that current methodologies to capture human perceptual responses to the acoustic environment are primarily related to a combination of these participatory methods.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Urban Sound Planning: An emerging trans-discipline between acoustics, soundscape, and urban planning with the aim of designing holistic acoustically favourable environments suitable to the context from the perspective of the ‘users of the space’ and their expectations.

Artefacts: An effect or phenomenon found or observed in the course of a scientific investigation or experiment that occurs as a result of the preparative or investigative procedure but which may not be present otherwise.

Non-Participatory Observation: A scientific investigation or experiment in which the participants are or are not aware of the observations taking place and in which they are not taking an active part in the study.

Self-Report Method: A scientific investigation or experiment in which the participants cognisantly, consciously participate and select/provide their responses with or without a researcher present.

Soundscape: Soundscape means an acoustic environment as perceived or experienced and/or understood by a person or people, in context. The concept of soundscape considers different perceptual dimensions underlying the perception and health, wellbeing, and/or ecological value of acoustic environments in contrast to traditional environmental noise assessment practice, where sound tends to be understood and interpreted from the perspective of its likelihood of causing annoyance.

Psychoacoustics: Psychoacoustics as a branch of psychophysics describes quantitatively the relationship between an acoustical stimulus and the evoked auditory sensation. Sometimes higher cognitive processing stages of sound are also considered to belong to the discipline of psychoacoustics.

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