IV. Using social assessment tools

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?


Using social assessment tools

Once you have exhausted all the sources of information about the community that have already been gathered and presented by others (pre-existing information), the next step involves the following considerations:

  1. What kinds of existing information need to be confirmed in relation to the contemporary context of the community?
  2. What new information needs to be obtained via the application of social assessment tools?

Thinking through the broad goals of your outreach effort, such as to change public behaviors in particular ways or to build community capacity, will help in making decisions about what kinds of information needs to be either further validated or accessed from the community.

  1. There is a wide range of social assessment tools to gain information that is:
  2. Quantitative and/or qualitative in nature
  3. Gathered in an interactive or non-interactive manner, and
  4. Can be generalized to the entire community of interest or specific to individual views and perceptions on particular issues.

The application of social assessment tools can provide a combination of qualitative and quantitative data about characteristics of the community. Some tools can help outreach educators learn about a community’s sense of place (perceptions of local geography, landmarks, and history) as well as community everyday practices, local customs and ways of interacting, and social structures (U.S. EPA. 2002). Other tools can allow outreach educators to develop an understanding of diversity within the community – in terms of sociocultural diversity and/or divergent views and perceptions of particular issues among community members.

Last, and most importantly, the outreach educator can use social assessment tools to begin to learn about the local culture of decision-making. How are decisions made within the community? How do things get done? Outreach educators need to work with and through existing local power structures in order to effectively promote community participation and the goals of outreach efforts.

Case Study III illustrates the use of interviews to refine a fact sheet so that it matches characteristics of the specific audience for the fact sheet, people who have varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Case Study IV describes a situation where a group began with background information about lake quality concerns and used social assessment tools, both formal and informal, to figure out what information they needed to address their outreach goal with locally-specific and acceptable recommendations.


NEXT: Tools recommended for natural resource professionals

Lists types of types with links to where to find detailed information about each on this website.