Applying the Nominal Group Technique to Recreation Planning on Public Natural Areas

Clark, Julie K.; Stein, Taylor V.
March 2004
Journal of Park & Recreation Administration;Spring2004, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p1
Academic Journal
Throughout the United States, there is a general consensus that public land management agencies need to involve their constituents and stakeholders in the planning and management of public natural areas (Schuett, Selin, & Carr, 2001; Webler, Tuler, & Krueger, 2001). However, exactly what that role should be and how to best involve the public remain controversial (Webler et al., 2001). Despite the uncertainty, there are a variety of approaches available to public land planners and managers to help incorporate stakeholders into recreation decision-making; and depending on the planning objectives, different techniques are appropriate at different times. The purpose of this paper is to describe and demonstrate the value of the nominal group technique as a means to effectively and efficiently incorporate stakeholders into a public land management agency's recreation planning process. The technique is especially useful for idea generation and is often applied during exploratory phases of research, helping planners, managers, and researchers engage selected stakeholders in productive dialogue (Meffe, Nielsen, Knight, & Schenborn, 2002) to generate ideas to help guide future recreation management decisions and program development (Delbecq, Van de Ven, & Gustafson, 1975). Similar in format to a focus group, the nominal group technique is essentially an organized discussion with a small group of participants (9-12) designed to generate and prioritize ideas about a particular topic (Siemer, Connelly, Brown, & Decker, 2001). However, the meeting results in a prioritized list of meeting participants' preferred alternatives. Compared with other stakeholder involvement methods (e.g., focus groups, surveys), the nominal group technique requires little financial and staff resources. It also allows planners to work with a larger, more diverse group of stakeholders than focus groups. However, as with other qualitative methods, one of the biggest limitations of the technique is that it is not designed to be representative of a larger community or population (Delbecq et al., 1975; Siemer et al., 2001). Furthermore, due to the meeting's rather rigid structure, a trained and competent facilitator is needed to effectively implement the technique (Delbecq et al., 1975). To provide public land planners and managers with a practical example of implementing nominal groups in a recreation planning process, the paper details the use of the nominal group technique as an aid in recreation planning for public lands in Florida. In an attempt to better integrate recreation into its planning process, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wanted input from community stakeholders, and the nominal group technique was used to gather this input. Stakeholders included both traditional and potential user and interest groups of seven wildlife management areas across the state. Results from each of the seven nominal group meetings were used to help establish a direction for planning and identify potential recreation opportunities stakeholders desired and believed were appropriate for the area. As an example, results from an individual meeting are discussed to show how individual land managers can obtain specific information about their stakeholders' recreation priorities. Also, the results of the seven meetings were combined, and those results are discussed to highlight how nominal group meetings can be used to provide an overall direction for agency planning.


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