IV. Linking to pre-existing information


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


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


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. This information can range from statistical data relating to community demographics, occupational patterns, and ethnic diversity to qualitative data about the history of the community, its capacity for organization, and degree of environmental awareness and/or activism. These kinds of information can be sought via existing published documents (books, journal articles, newspaper articles, magazine articles, archival photos, historical documents), local governmental and non-governmental records (technical reports, unpublished documents), websites, and CD-ROMs (a Compact Disc that contains data accessible by a computer) (McDermaid & Barnstable, 2001).

It can also be very useful to identify and contact any outside researchers and/or agencies that have conducted research or outreach efforts in the community. They may be able to provide you with information that will be useful in conducting effective outreach work within the community. Last, if you are able to identify multiple sources relating to similar characteristics of the community then each of these sources can be compared to each other in order to identify any biases associated with individual sources and check on the validity of each source – a method known as triangulation.

A suggested minimum data set includes:

  • Who lives in the watershed or geographic area of interest?
  • What businesses operate in the watershed or geographic area of interest?
  • How do residents or businesses earn their livelihood?
  • How do residents or businesses use and impact the natural resources of the geographic area?
  • How do the conditions of the natural resources impact residents or businesses?
  • What vision do residents or businesses have for the geographic area?
  • What is important to residents or businesses?
  • What are residents’ opinions about the proposed management plan?

Sources of resources providing pre-existing information

The type of resources you can access to find previously existing information are listed below. You are encouraged to first investigate information available through local, county and state government offices, as well as records kept by nongovernmental groups. Table 2 lists other common and potential sources of background information.

  • American Farmland Trust
  • Census of agriculture
  • Census of population – especially economic and social details
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • City Clerk
  • County Clerk
  • County maps and GIS data
  • County and Municipal Directories
  • County Plat Book
  • Critical Trends Assessment
  • Highway Department
  • Historic Preservation Commission
  • Internet data bases
  • Natural Areas Inventory
  • Newspaper archives
  • Phone Book
  • Planning Commission
  • Soil and water conservation district
  • State Natural Resources Agency
  • Statistical abstracts
  • United Way
  • USDA FSA (state office)
  • US FEMA (state office)
  • USGS (state office)
  • US NRCS (state office)
  • Water Utility
  • Zoning Commission
Adapted from: McDermaid & Barnstable, 2001; US EPA, 2002

NEXT: 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, the next step involves the following considerations: What kinds of existing information need to be confirmed in relation to the contemporary context of the community? What new information needs to be obtained via the application of social assessment tools?

Additional sources

For detailed suggestions for what to include and guidance for locating, identifying, and integrating background information into your outreach efforts see McDermaid (2001); NOAA Coastal Service Center resources, and US EPA (2002). Each provides suggested background questions and resources.

  1. Community Culture and the Environment. A Guide to Understanding a Sense of Place, 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 PlanningDepartment of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. pp.13-19.
  3. NOAA Coastal Services Center and the National Marine Protected Area Center. Social Science for Marine Protected Areas.