A Community Needs Assessment to Explore the Feasibility of Expanding Environmental Education Programming
Swatek, Carly J.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
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Education programs are often conceived with a phone call, an idea, or a conversation. Even popular programs that are initiated without a defined purpose or problem are difficult to defend. Conducting a needs assessment allows project managers to take a step back and systematically consider whether or not there is a gap in existing services or materials, and if so, the nature of the gap. Due to an increase in requests for programming, this study uses Schmeeckle Reserve, a natural area in Wisconsin, to explore the feasibility of expanding educational programs beyond existing efforts. Data were collected in three major ways and complemented a three-phased planning framework commonly proposed in needs assessment research. To understand existing programs, semi-structured interviews were conducted with key targeted education program coordinators. A series of three surveys were sent to target audiences: teachers, youth and adult program leaders, and homeowners to determine the unique interests, barriers, and needs for educational programming. A final report was given to reserve decision makers and identified perceived critical needs and determined potential strategies to move forward. Results of the three phases showed that there is a perceived gap in educational programming among non-formal youth and adult program leaders within the community. Education program coordinators (phase one) indicated youth are an audience that is underserved currently (n = 14, 82.2%). Additionally, when asked, “what is your level of interest for educational programming at Schmeeckle Reserve” (phase two), the strongest interest was reported among youth and adult program leaders (n = 19, 82.6%). Lastly, during the group process decision meeting (phase three), decision makers indicated that Schmeeckle Reserve is interested in allocating resources to fill the gap in providing educational programs and services to non-formal youth audiences. The findings of this research are locally important for determining the role that Schmeeckle Reserve can play. Broadly, there is implication for replicating this study among informal learning centers experiencing similar concerns for new or expanded program efforts.