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Harnessing the Flow: A Case Study in Developing the National River Recreation Database

Zachary D. Cole


Balancing conservation with resource use reflects a longstanding mandate for park and recreation administration in the United States and elsewhere. An important aspect of park management and resource use (i.e., recreation) is communicating with the public regarding resource access and critical use variables; communication that is increasingly being mitigated through technology that allows near real-time sharing of critical data between managers and to the public (i.e., through online platforms). Sparked by discussions at a semi-annual meeting of river resource professionals, coupled with efforts at a number of public and private organizations, first steps were proposed to develop a National River Recreation Database (NRRD).  The proposed NRRD would leverage online access and create a central data repository for which river recreationists and managers could find relevant and accurate information. To create such a database, two initial action steps were identified: creating a vision for the project and addressing the critical factors for success (i.e., challenges). In the case of developing a broadly applicable database such the NRRD, the critical question became: which river recreation attributes are most important for inclusion based on the needs of expected users (i.e., river recreationists and managers)? This paper reports on the application and outcomes of a Delphi Technique that was undertaken to address these initial steps and answer the noted questions. The Delphi is a method for finding consensus amongst a variety of stakeholders regarding a particular issue, problem, or question where competing interests exist and/or little to no widely accepted information is available. Replete parks and recreation management contexts whereby tradeoff decisions must be made in the midst of weighing stakeholder interests stand to benefit from the consensus building offered by the Delphi. Using a case study approach, the resultant vision and a priori attributes are explored, including applicability of findings to river recreation provision more generally (i.e., outside NRRD development). Vision development hinged on the need for consideration of data centrality and broad-based stakeholder relevance while prioritized river recreation attributes fell into two categories based on level of agreement to the question of database inclusion. Those with complete agreement (n = 10) focused on basic identification, geographic, and management information (i.e., name, location, jurisdiction) and those with strong majority consensus (n = 19) provided data depth and reinforcement of primary attributes (e.g., whitewater classification, recreation opportunities).  The article concludes with a supplementary discussion of Delphi application in similar park and recreation administration contexts, and future considerations for study findings.

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river recreation; data sharing; Delphi; consensus; resource management

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