Skip to main content Accesibility Help

RESEARCH ARTICLE: Three Tools for Evaluating Participation: Focus Groups, Q Method, and Surveys

  • Stentor Danielson (a1), Seth P. Tuler (a2), Susan L. Santos (a3), Thomas Webler (a2) and Caron Chess (a4)...

To enable successful public participation in environmental decision making, practitioners need to know what works, but evaluation of proposed and existing processes is often lacking. We tested three tools for evaluation—focus groups, Q method, and surveys—at two contaminated sites with extensive public participation. Each tool is evaluated based on its requirements for implementation, the information it produces, and its acceptability to stakeholders. Which tool is most appropriate depends heavily on the available resources, what is happening at the site, and the evaluator's goals.

Environmental Practice 14:101–109 (2012)

Corresponding author
Stentor Danielson, Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, 1 Morrow Way, Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, PA 16057; (phone) 724-738-2564; (fax) 724-738-4217; (e-mail)
Hide All
Bishop, G.F. 2005. The Illusion of Public Opinion: Fact and Artifact in American Public Opinion Polls. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 248 pp.
Brown, S.R. 1980. Political Subjectivity: Applications of Q Methodology in Political Science. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 369 pp.
Charnley, S., and Engelbert, B.. 2005. Evaluating Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making: EPA's Superfund Community Involvement Program. Journal of Environmental Management 77(3):165182.
Chess, C. 2000. Evaluating Environmental Public Participation: Methodological Questions. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 43(6):769784.
Connelly, N.A., Brown, T.L., and Decker, D.J.. 2003. Factors Affecting Response Rates to Natural Resource–Focused Mail Surveys: Empirical Evidence of Declining Rates over Time. Society & Natural Resources 16(6):541549.
Danielson, S. 2007. Discourses about Wildfire in New Jersey and New South Wales (unpublished PhD dissertation). Clark University, Worcester, MA, 328 pp. Available at (accessed June 8, 2010).
Dietz, T., and Stern, P.C.. 2008. Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making. National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 322 pp.
Dillman, D.A. 2000. Mail and Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method, 2nd edition. Wiley, New York, 480 pp.
Fiorino, D.J. 1989. Technical and Democratic Values in Risk Analysis. Risk Analysis 9(3):293299.
Kruger, R.A. 1988. Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research. Sage, Beverly Hills, CA, 197 pp.
Lichtenstein, S., and Slovic, P., eds. 2006. The Construction of Preference. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 808 pp.
McKeown, B., and Thomas, D.. 1988. Q Methodology. Sage, Beverly Hills, CA, 83 pp.
Morgan, D.L., and Kruger, R.L. 1998. The Focus Group Guidebook, volume 1: The Focus Group Kit. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, 103 pp.
National Research Council. 2001. A Risk Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments. National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 452 pp.
Presser, S., Rothgeb, J.M., Couper, M.P., Lessler, J.T., Martin, E., and Martin, J., eds. 2004. Methods for Testing and Evaluating Survey Questionnaires. Wiley Series in Survey Methodology. Wiley, Hoboken, NJ, 624 pp.
Renn, O., Webler, T., and Wiedemann, P.M.. 1995. Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse. Kluwer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 381 pp.
Rowe, G., and Frewer, L.. 2005. A Typology of Public Engagement Mechanisms. Science, Technology, & Human Values 30(2):251290.
Santos, S.L., Danielson, S., and Chess, C.. 2007. Guidance on the Use of Focus Groups for Evaluation of Public Involvement Programs at Contaminated Sites. Social and Environmental Research Institute, Greenfield, MA, 40 pp. Available at (accessed April 9, 2012).
US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 2001. Stakeholder Involvement & Public Participation at the U.S. EPA: Lessons Learned, Barriers, & Innovative Approaches. USEPA, Washington, DC, 31 pp. Available at (accessed June 8, 2010).
US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 2003. Public Involvement Policy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. USEPA, Washington, DC, 33 pp. Available at (accessed June 8, 2010).
US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 2009a. Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site Remediation. USEPA, Washington, DC. (accessed June 8, 2010).
US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 2009b. Waukegan Harbor River Area of Concern. USEPA, Washington, DC. (accessed June 8, 2010).
Webler, T., Danielson, S., and Tuler, S.P.. 2007. Guidance on the Use of Q Method for Evaluation of Public Involvement Programs at Contaminated Sites. Social and Environmental Research Institute, Greenfield, MA, 43 pp. (accessed April 9, 2012).
Webler, T., and Tuler, S.P.. 2006. Four Perspectives on Public Participation Process in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making: Combined Results from 10 Case Studies. Policy Studies Journal 34(4):699722.
Zawislak, M. 2007. County Holds Off on Harbor Cleanup Funds. Chicago Daily Herald, June 27, p. 4.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Environmental Practice
  • ISSN: 1466-0466
  • EISSN: 1466-0474
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-practice
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed