IV. Methodologies and Technologies

CPB Self-Study Module
STEP 4. Collect audience information relevant to the environmental practice and specific behaviors


C. What methodologies or technologies are available for exploring the social dimensions of a particular environmental concern?



There are a variety of social assessment tools that can help you learn more about the communities with which you work (Table 1). But you need to know which tools are helpful for what circumstances. Use social assessment tools only after you have determined that there are important social dimensions to the identified environmental problem. (Is there a social dimension to a particular environmental concern?)

Steps for developing a community profile relevant to the environmental concern include (McDermaid & Barnstable, 2001):

  • Determine purpose and scope
  • Select indicators
  • Select data collection methods
  • Collect data
  • Analyze data
  • Report findings

Social assessment tools are most appropriately used after you have worked to identify all pre-existing sources of information about the community.

Consider the following issues prior to the selection of a particular tool or tools. Each of these considerations will help you determine the feasibility of conducting a social assessment in the first place and then to select an appropriate social assessment tool.

Consider in advance:

  1. The kinds of information you are looking for (the purpose of conducting the social assessment)
    See Background: Environmentally Significant Behavior and
    Step 3: Determine specific practices that people can carry out
  2. The amount of time you have to conduct the assessment
    See What support do natural resource professionals need and what options are available?
  3. Your financial resources
    See What support do natural resource professionals need and what options are available?
  4. The skills you currently possess (self assessment rubric)
  5. The geographical distribution of members of the community of interest (how close or far apart do members of this group live?)

Specific data collection methods or tools are best geared towards accessing certain kinds of information about a community. Each tool also requires different amounts of time, money, and expertise in order to be applied in an accurate and effective manner. Some tools are more geared towards gaining information from target audiences that live in close proximity to each other while others can be used to gain information from audiences more geographically distributed. The ability to work with others who may have more experience in conducting social assessments and/or using particular tools will also make the process of deciding upon which tools to use and applying them to the outreach context much easier. Your collaborators can help you learn valuable skills that you can then independently apply in future outreach efforts. Remember that it is important to know when and how to ask for help and where to find it.

Factors that influence the quality of your effort

Regardless of the tool or combination of tools that are chosen for conducting community assessments, the following issues are important to your selection (Alexander, 2000):

Accuracy in social assessments requires a holistic description of the problem, context, local circumstances, and any relevant programs and services. Will the research findings be valid to all involved stakeholders?  Will the findings be generalizable to other communities of interest?

Utility refers to the idea that findings and recommendations should be useful and relevant to the stakeholders. Will the research findings be timely, constructive, and informative towards the issues as hand? Will the research findings be both qualitative and quantitative in nature – different stakeholders may require different kinds of supporting data?

Propriety involves asking whether or not the research procedures and findings are ethical and fair towards all involved stakeholders. Will the study be designed in a way that protects the rights of participants to anonymity and confidentiality? Will you obtain informed consent from all research participants prior to their involvement? See more about Ethics Considerations (PDF).

NEXT: Linking to pre-existing information

The most efficient way to begin learning about the characteristics of a particular community is by searching for sources of information that contain qualitative and/or quantitative data about the community of interest and that has already been gathered by someone else.


For step-by-step guides and worksheets helpful in developing a community profile see:

  1. Community Culture and the Environment. A Guide to Understanding a Sense of Placelace, 2002, U.S. EPA (EPA 842-B-01-003), Office of Water, Washington, D.C. pp. 86-89.
  2. McDermaid, Karyn K. and Daniel C. Barnstable. 2001. Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting a Social Profile for Watershed Planning. Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. pp.13-19.