IV. Skills for Selecting a Social Assessment Tool: Table 4

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


D. How can a natural resource professional select a social assessment tool?


Guidelines for selection: Recommended skills.

To decide whether you or colleagues have the skills to conduct a social assessment initiative, check below for required skills. You may be surprised about what you can do. If you believe that you do not have the skill you need, identify someone with that skill to add to your team.


Table 4: Skills recommended for effective use of social assessment tools

Background Research

Any experience in conducting library and/or internet research, and interpreting secondary data are helpful in effectively completing background research about a particular community.

Census Data Research

Any experience in accessing and interpreting census data (quantitative/statistical) is useful in conducting census data research.

Focus Groups

Good facilitation and organization skills are required to organize and conduct an effective focus group event. The use of a skilled, moderator is sometimes recommended and can help to reduce biases that might arise as a result of a researcher’s often unintended “alliance” with a particular faction of the community of interest.

Informal Interviews with Key-Informants

Good listening and note-taking skills are helpful in conducting informal interviews with key-informants.


Minimal expertise is required to conduct basic observation-oriented research. More systematic observations-oriented research, however, may require a researcher with heightened observational skills as well as good descriptive writing (note taking) abilities.

Public meeting

Ability to conduct a pre-meeting assessment of potential group interests and needs. Skills for building support and interest among participants prior to the meeting. Capacity to provide an authentic process – potential meeting impacts are known and understood by participants. Expertise at managing and maintaining group process during the meeting, including engaging participants in determining a fair process. Flexibility, humor, and creativity.

Participatory Action Research

Implementing participatory action research requires skills to: develop an investigation plan; train participants; track plan implementation progress; collect information to evaluate the project; ensure transparency and build trust by collaborating on decision-making; enhance data credibility with documented protocols and plans. Skills for working with groups include: building understanding among user groups, building cohesion through group learning, reducing conflict, supporting community development, addressing public concerns, and incorporating local and traditional knowledge into investigation designs.

Rapid Appraisal

Conducting a rapid appraisal may require expert assistance for design, data collection, and analysis depending on the complexity and level of analysis desired. When available, however, rapid appraisals can be conducted entirely with the help and active participation of outside experts and members from the community of interest.


The greatest challenges in conducting surveys involve 1) asking the right questions and 2) getting community members to invest their time and energy into thoughtfully completing and returning the survey(s). One effective way of generating useful and relevant questions, as well as building community buy-in entails sharing the results of an initial survey with members of the community through 1) pre-existing local communication networks, 2) the staging of public meetings, and/or 3) holding more specific focus group(s). Feedback gained in the contexts of a public meeting or focus group can be used in turn to develop more appropriate and relevant questions in additional surveys as required. Last, technical assistance from an individual skilled in designing, conducting, and analyzing surveys is often recommended.


The information in Table 4 has been drawn in part from 1) personal communication with Lorna M. Butler (Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Cultural Anthropology, Iowa State University), Barbara McDonald (Ph.D, Education Specialist, USDA Forest Service), and Theresa Trainor (M.A., Program Analyst, US EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds) and 2) a variety of publications/websites/online PDF files that are listed in Table 3: Specific assessment tools and references.