Topic Areas within the Scope of the Programmatic Review

To qualify for the programmatic review, all questions in a survey must fit within one or more of the approved topic areas and must be approved by the NPS and OMB. Researchers have flexibility, within accepted standards of good survey design and OMB regulations, to develop specific questions within the topic areas. The twelve topic areas are identified below. A description of the scope of each topic area follows.

Topic Area 1: Respondent Characteristics
The questions in this section will be used to characterize the population of respondents participating in each sample. Individual characteristics collected will be attributes of individual park visitors or visitor groups, potential visitors or groups, and residents of communities near parks. Individual characteristics collected will be relevant and limited to the mission, management, and/or operations of National Park System units. The scope of the information will be limited to those that are germane to the topic being studied and relevant to the park and its management. This information will be used to check the representativeness of each sample against the population. Variables such as age, education, and knowledge are often good predictors of demand and visitation behavior.

Topic Area 2: Trip Planning
The section on Trip Planning includes aspects of travel which affect a trip or decisions which individuals make prior to, during, or following their trips to parks, related areas, and nearby communities. Trip characteristics will be relevant to the mission, management, and/or operations of National Park System units that are included in the scope of this topic area. The scope of the information collected will be limited to those that are germane to the topic being studied and relevant to the park and its management.

Topic Area 3: Transportation
The question in this section will be used to fulfill management goals needed to develop strategies to meet transportation needs. These strategies address current and future land use, economic development, traffic demand, public safety, health, and social needs.

Topic Area 4: Trip Characteristics
This topic area will address five high level questions: (1) who travels to National Parks (2) what information sources are used during visits to National Parks (3) when is technology used during a visit (4) how is transportation used by visitors at their destination, and (5) length of stay, number of people in the travel party, and travel mode.

Topic Area 5: Recreation History
Individuals participate in many activities during their visits to parks, related areas and nearby communities. The questions in this section will be used to identify individual activities, behaviors, or uses of natural and cultural resources which are relevant to the mission, management, and/or operations of National Park System units. Understanding the current and future uses and purposes of park visitors will be helpful to managers when considering updating park management plans and educational efforts.

Topic Area 6: Visitor Experiences
Crowding and conflict are among the most intractable problems faced by recreation mangers. Concern over rising visitation in parks, and accompanying impacts on resources and on visitor experience, has led the National Park Service to focus increasing attention on the concept of crowding and carrying capacity. Crowding and conflict arise from the social encounters and interactions among recreationists ranging from basic competition for space (e.g., crowding) to conflicts between forms of activity and related expressions of acceptable or appropriate use. Research on crowding norms and conflict has been particularly helpful in establishing guidelines for Limits of Acceptable Change planning efforts by identifying key social impact indicators and the data required to monitor them. The questions in this topic area will help managers understand the factors associated with the acceptability of crowding and visitor carrying capacity. Researchers should note that there may be scenarios were local visitors, who visit a site more frequently and spend less overall in the local tourism economy, have different perceptions on crowding than visitors traveling from afar. Those interpreting survey results should be aware of such patterns when making management decisions or recommendation. Therefore, questions on crowding should be paired with questions on the trip origination point of the respondent and perhaps at least a coarse sense of expenditures.

Topic Area 7: Evaluation of Services and Programs
Public opinion of the services and facilities helps management teams understand the values people hold in relation to park resources and the visitor experience and is critical to creating plans that can be successfully implemented. Underlying all fundamental planning decisions are competing values, which must be resolved by a decision as to which value is of greater importance in a particular situation. A planning decision is the compromise between competing values at a given point in time. Understanding public values enables the management teams to make informed planning decisions. The questions in this topic area will be used to help managers learn about public concerns, issues, expectations, and values.

Topic Area 8: Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
Questions in this topic area will be used to collect information concerning the public's awareness and observations of the natural and social environments in the parks. Preferences, motives and attitudes will be measured to determine how individual observations influence overall experiences. For purposes of the programmatic review process, perception questions will be limited to topics the park or the NPS can manage and control as well as current or potential goods and services. The questions in this topic area could be used to provide information that will provide resource managers with an understanding of the public’s values, perceptions and beliefs as well as the social consequences of management actions.

Topic Area 9: Natural/Cultural Resource Management
Questions in this topic area will be used to collect information concerning natural and cultural resource management. This will offer individual opinions on use and conservation of natural resources, protection of habitats and control of hazards, spanning the field of environmental management without regard to traditional disciplinary boundaries. The questions in the section will aim to identify factors affected by conflicts that rise between meeting visitor/public needs and protecting resources.

Topic Area 10: Expenditures
Visitor expenditure and income information is needed to calculate the economic impact and benefit of park visitation. Economic impact measures how much the money people spend visiting parks and surrounding areas contributes to the local economy in terms of jobs and income. Economic benefit measures how much visitors value a park above what they spend, or the increase in social welfare a park provides. Accurate impact assessment requires identification of those portions of expenditures that occur in the local region and inside the park. Questions will be used to develop average spending estimates for visitors to the park and local region. Income and income forgone questions provide information about the value, or economic benefit, of a visit to the park. The use of Contingent Valuation (CVM) or Willingness to pay (WTP) questions to estimate consumer surplus values and non-market values associated with park visitation is outside the scope of this approval.

Topic Area 11: Constraints and Barriers for Non-Visitors
Over the years, the NPS has used the programmatic clearance process to develop an understanding of current visitors which continues to build a detailed picture of its core users. In order to underpin and complement this knowledge, research is necessary to develop a better understanding of the non-visitor market, including lapsed and invisible visitors. Specifically, the research was required to identify the demographic and regional profile of these groups, and to clarify the relationship between perceptions of the National Parks, key influences and the decision making process. In order to optimize the usefulness of this topic area, surveys should include non-visitors that also include virtual visitors, underserved communities and stakeholders so that comparisons can be made and insight drawn as appropriate.

Topic Area 12: Safety and Injury Prevention
This is a brand new topic area that will be used to explore visitor awareness, knowledge and perception of safety and injury prevention measures: Questions are tailored to cover aspects of individual activities and behaviors, and the acceptability of current safety practices. Understanding the factors associated with visitor behavior and perceptions for public risk management are critical to enforcement, education and emergency services that can be successfully implemented to reduce injury in parks.

Surveys outside these topic areas and the scope of the programmatic review will require clearance through the normal or regular information collection review process outlined in the Paperwork Reduction Act. The scope of the information collected must limited to those that are germane to the topic being studied and relevancy to the park mission, management, and/or operations of National Park System sites.

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Last updated: September 26, 2016

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