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ParkIndex: Using Key Informant Interviews to Inform the Development of a New Park Access Evaluation Tool

Elizabeth L. Oliphant, S. Morgan Hughey, Ellen W. Stowe, Andrew T. Kaczynski, Jasper Schipperijn, J. Aaron Hipp


The relationship between park availability, physical activity, and positive health outcomes has been documented across the globe. However, studying how people access parks and why they use the parks is difficult due to a lack of consensus with respect to measurement approaches and assessment of park environments. Establishing a parsimonious method and tool for quantifying both park availability and park quality represents a major step that could advance park and physical activity research and practice. This paper describes phase one of the effort to develop such a measurement tool, known as ParkIndex. ParkIndex is a two-year National Institutes of Health (NIH)- funded study to create an evidence-based tool that will assist citizens and professionals in understanding and using information regarding community park access and use. Phase one consisted of key informant interviews conducted with research and practice leaders to inform development and provide insight on the essential foundations of ParkIndex. Twelve professionals from practice and academia, including parks and recreation, landscape design, and public health sectors, were interviewed in fall 2016. Key informants were interviewed on four topics concerning the content, value, feasibility, and dissemination of ParkIndex. Trained research assistants employed double, emergent, open, and axial coding methods to develop key themes and concepts to guide phase 2 and further development of ParkIndex. Key themes throughout the interviews included measures for park use, including distance, safety, neighborhood characteristics, route and travel mode to park, and overall park characteristics. Park elements discussed included quality of, and availability of, amenities, activity spaces, programming, and park management, as well as the context of the park and the engagement of the local community. Respondents determined that ParkIndex could benefit park planning and community development and provide for a standardized method for evaluating park access. Interviews and themes offer parks and public health practitioners and researchers—and this specific ParkIndex development team-the opportunity to refine and evaluate measures to be included in a comprehensive park access and use tool. Key informants repeatedly referenced the need, especially within parks and recreation management, for consistent, reliable, and valid measures of park access and use, such as ParkIndex seeks to provide. We believe a well-conceived, integrated index will at the very least allow for greater comparison between parks and park systems and at best will facilitate the many park stakeholders to best design, maintain, program, research, and advocate for their local parks. 

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Community design; park access; park management; park use; parks and recreation; physical activity; public health; qualitative research

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