For the more information about the geologic resources of the National Park Service, please visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/.


Frequently Asked Questions

Deer at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
HD inquiry can help understand why deer are seen as an important park resource and a nuisance in the same place.

What are the human dimensions of biological resource management?

The human dimensions of biological resource management are people's values and desires for biological resources and their management. Resources can be valued for ecological, health and safety, recreational, economic, and/or aesthetic/emotional reasons. Culture, personal experience, socio-economics and politics often affect the way that resources are valued by individuals in a specific context.

The field of human dimensions utilizes social science to understand how people value natural resources, how they want resources to be managed, and how they affect or are affected by resource management decisions. Human dimensions covers a broad set of ideas and practices, including: measurement of recreational, economic and social values; understanding individual and social behavior; public involvement in management decision-making; strategic communication; and building cooperative partnerships. These ideas and practices play a role in almost all biological resource management issues.

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Integration of Dimensions
Conservation requires integration of human, resource, and institutional dimensions

What are the other dimensions of biological resource management?

For NPS, there are three fundamental dimensions that affect biological resource goals and management:

  1. Resource Dimensions: the resource itself, resource condition descriptions, data, models, concepts and working knowledge of the resource.
  2. Institutional Dimensions: laws and policies that guide agency responsibilities and activities, ranging from park specific to service-wide.
  3. Human Dimensions: other factors that are considered in determining the goals of management, including stakeholder values, interests, and perspectives, and managers' professional judgment.

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Why do the human dimensions matter for NPS?

The National Park Service is a public land management agency, meaning that resources are managed by the agency in trust for the public. Specifically, the NPS mission is to conserve resources unimpaired for the enjoyment of current and future generations (NPS Organic Act). The laws and policies related to NPS resource protection reflect one set of public values; public involvement and stakeholder research can reveal additional insight about the public for whom we manage.

To effectively preserve the value of parks for society, NPS needs to apply theory, empirical data, and insight from the various social science disciplines to biological resource issues. This will enable NPS to better understand how human values, attitudes, interests, and priorities shape stakeholder and manager perceptions of: resource condition, recreation and other experiences, and management actions.

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Integration of Dimensions
Different kinds of science help us understand the complexity of each dimension. The institutional and human dimensions place value on the resource dimensions.

Why do the human dimensions matter for conservation?

Conservation strives to protect resources valued by people. Biological resource management activities often focus on better understanding the complex relationships between the biotic and abiotic elements that comprise the resource dimensions. Yet, simply understanding this complexity does not tell a manager which resources or attributes of resources are more important to conserve. The human and institutional dimensions places value on resource dimensions and delineate the portion of the resource dimension that is important to society and fits within agency purview. Identifying the scope and overlap of these dimensions can assist managers in determining which aspects of resource dimensions should be the focus of NPS biological resource management.

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Why are human dimensions often associated with stakeholder conflict?

Biological resource management issues in the 21st century are more than just complex, they also involve competing ideas about the importance of environmental resources and perceptions of risks and benefits associated with them. While inherently complex, these types of problems may be defined differently by different individuals, depending on the values they associate with the resources. They often involve social conflict over goals, and therefore, problem resolution. In many situations, attention to value differences may be more effective in resolving conservation issues than improved understanding of resource complexity. Human dimensions inquiry is one way to assess and address value differences expressed as stakeholder conflict, but that may otherwise be left unresolved.

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Is human dimensions a science?

The human dimensions of an issue are the societally-driven aspects of an issue. Social science can be used to gain a systematic and empirical understanding of people's attitudes, beliefs, values, and motivations related to that issue. The field of human dimensions draws from many foundational social science disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, sociology, communications, and political science to examine how people perceive and value biological resources and their management. The theoretical framework and methodology used depend on the research question and type of information that is being sought. Increasingly, humanities such as philosophy, ethics, and comparative history are being included as disciplines to inform our understanding of the human dimensions of an issue.

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What is human dimensions research?

Human dimensions research is: "the acquisition of sound information that explains human thought and action regarding biological resources, using the concepts and methods of social science." Specifically, human dimensions research can help explain:

  • How and why people value biological resources
  • What benefits people seek and derive from biological resources
  • How people affect and are affected by biological resources and biological resource management

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What kinds of questions can human dimensions research answer?

Some sample questions include:

  • How do stakeholders perceive ecological conditions of parks? Perceive risks related to resources (e.g., human-wildlife interactions)?
  • Where do people get information about park resources and management actions, and what are the best means to communicate with them?
  • What motivates visitor behavior that impacts resources? What do they perceive as the benefits and barriers to changing their behavior?
  • Why are some potential management actions more acceptable to the public?

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What concepts and methods of social science are applied?

Depending on the question, human dimensions research may draw on theory and practice from a wide array of social science disciplines and, increasingly, the humanities. Theoretical frameworks range from governance models, to conflict resolution and transformation, to public participation, to risk perception and communication, and behavior change. Methods can range from qualitative (e.g., semi-structured interviews, focus groups, participant observation, oral histories) to quantitative (e.g., mail and telephone surveys, structured face to face interviews, content analysis), but usually involve a combination of both.

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Where can this type of systematic social science be helpful?

Human dimensions insight can be applied anywhere that better understanding the public might improve management decisions or facilitate program development, for example in: situation analysis, planning, decision making, program/intervention implementation, policy development, informative communication, education, audience research, and evaluation.

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What is the difference between the public and stakeholders?

NPS defines the public as: "...all of the individuals, organizations and other entities who have an interest in or knowledge about, are served by, or serve in, the parks and programs administered by the NPS. They include (but are not limited to) recreational user groups, the tourism industry, Tribes and Alaska Natives, environmental leaders, members of the media, permittees, concessioners, property owners within a park, members of gateway communities, and special interest groups...all visitors-domestic and international; those who come in person and those who access our information on the World Wide Web; those who do not actually visit, but value, the national parks; and those who participate and collaborate with the NPS on a longer-term basis...[as well as] NPS employees" (Director's Order #75A: Civic Engagement and Public Involvement). For this program, stakeholders are anyone who affects or is affected by NPS biological resource management, which is synonymous with the way the NPS uses the term "the public."

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How is this program different from the NPS Social Science Program?

The objectives of the Social Science Program are to conduct and promote state-of-the-art social science related to the mission of the National Park Service and deliver usable knowledge to NPS managers and to the public.

The Social Science Program is broader in scope and examines visitor experience and visitor statisfaction. The Human Dimensions of Biological Resource Management Program has a more specific focus on the interactions between people and biological resources. The two programs strive to work together where there is overlap in a synergistic relationship.

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What is the relationship to public involvement requirements of NEPA?

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) requires federal agencies to include public input whenever any action is considered that may have significant impacts on the environment or may be controversial. While public input is required, the specific format is not dictated. Rather, the DO-12 Handbook for Environmental Impact Analysis states that managers should "Be diligent and creative in your efforts to involve the public in your NEPA procedures and resource planning" (p. 63). Human dimensions inquiry can help assure that public processes are designed to be most effective, not only from a procedural standpoint (i.e., fulfilling process criteria of NEPA Section 102) but also from an outcome standpoint (i.e., fulfilling NEPA Section 101, productive harmony between humans and the environment). Tailoring the process to the specific management context can result in wiser, fairer, more sustainable, and implementable alternatives. Consultants who design public engagement initiatives for Environmental Impact Statements often utilize this type of research.

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What is the relationship to DO #75A: Civic Engagement and Public Participation?

While NEPA outlines legal requirements for public involvement, DO-75A describes civic engagement and public participation as a continuous, dynamic conversation with the public that helps ensure the relevance of NPS resources and programs to people, as well as ensure NPS responsiveness to diverse public viewpoints, values, and concerns. Human dimensions inquiry can assist managers in understanding these diverse viewpoints and can provide guidance for engaging stakeholders in dialogue. Informal, qualitative approaches to inquiry also may develop relationships and trust, building a foundation for productive future dialogue about specific management concerns.

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Last Updated: March 10, 2014