The activities and priorities of the National Park Service (NPS) Social Science Branch are guided by Usable Knowledge: A Plan for Furthering Social Science and the National Parks (PDF - 82KB summary). Current activities of the Social Science Branch include the following. For more information, please use our contact form and select Social Science as the message category.
The Social Science Branch provides technical assistance to parks, regions, the Department of the Interior, and NPS partners. Assistance focuses on helping parks find appropriate technical support for their social science needs.
The Social Science Branch is responsible for working with scientists and managers to help them obtain OMB approval for NPS-sponsored surveys (Paperwork Reduction Act requirements). The NPS (with DOI and OMB) developed a program to streamline the survey approval process. The program—"Expedited Approval for NPS-Sponsored Public Surveys"—was launched in 1998 and was renewed and expanded in 2001. This program significantly reduces the approval period for most NPS-sponsored public surveys, saving time and money.
Research to Meet National Needs
The NPS social science needs range in scale from individual parks and partnership programs to the system-wide and interagency level. The Social Science Branch supports and sponsors key research relevant to system-wide national needs.
The Money Generation Model (MGM2)
MGM2 is a set of Microsoft Excel workbooks for estimating the economic impacts of NPS visitor spending on a local region. MGM2 is an update of the NPS Money Generation Model as originally developed by Ken Hornback. Daniel Stynes and Dennis Propst at Michigan State University have developed the new version, called MGM2. Like the original Money Generation Model, MGM2 estimates the impacts that park visitors have on the local economy in terms of their contribution to sales, income, and jobs in the area. The Money Generation Model produces quantifiable measures of park economic benefits that can be used for planning, concessions management, budget justifications, policy analysis, and marketing. Refinements to the MGM make MGM2 more readily applicable to evaluating management, policy, and marketing alternatives, both inside and outside the park. Economic impact information has proven quite helpful in fostering partnerships within the community and garnering support for park policies and interests. The economic analysis also helps to identify the roles the park, local community, and tourism businesses play in attracting and serving visitors. For further information, visit the MGM2 Web site.
The Money Generation Model is applied to selected Visitor Services Project (VSP) studies each year. Special reports are prepared for those parks choosing to incorporate the Economic Impact Analysis Module in the VSP study. Visit the Products page for copies of those reports.
Social Science Research Review Series
Each review paper in the Social Science Research Review series focuses on a specific issue critical to the management of the National Park System. The purpose of these reviews is to provide a basis for scientific understanding of the issue. Experts are commissioned to write the review papers, and each paper undergoes peer-review. Several research reviews have been published and widely distributed throughout the NPS. Visit the Products page for copies of these reports.
Social Science Studies Collection
As part of the effort 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 the public, the Social Science Branch has established the Social Science Studies Collection. This collection reflects a growing demand by park managers for information on the relationship between people and parks. Currently, it includes more than 260 records including study reports, images, and other documents produced by or for the NPS from disciplines such as recreation resource management, economics, geography, psychology, political science, and sociology. The electronic version of the collection is now available on the NPS Focus Digital Library & Research Station Web site. A list of documents (PDF - 79KB) is available. A full catalog (PDF - 531KB) including abstracts is also available.
Visitor Services Project
The Visitor Services Project (VSP) provides NPS managers with scientific information about visitors that can be used to improve services and protect resources. The VSP has conducted over 150 in-depth visitor studies in units of the National Park System, offered technical assistance to parks, developed new evaluation tools, and provided training throughout the NPS. A brochure (PDF - 184KB) describing the VSP is available for download. For more information, visit the VSP Web site.
Visitor Survey Card
In Fiscal Year 1998, the Social Science Branch implemented a mail-back customer satisfaction card similar to surveys successfully used by major U.S. corporations. The survey is used annually by all NPS units to systematically measure and report performance related to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) goals IIa1 (visitor satisfaction) and IIb1 (visitor understanding and appreciation). Results for 13 indicators (including park facilities, visitor services, and recreational opportunities) are reported at the park, cluster, regional, and national levels. For more information, visit the VSC Web site. The FY07 Systemwide Reports (PDF - 225KB) are also available.
Public Use Statistics Office
The Public Use Statistics Office, based in Denver, Colorado, coordinates visitor counting protocols Systemwide and provides visitation statistics and forecasts for areas administered by the NPS. For more information, visit the Public Use Statistics Office Web site. The NPS Statistical Abstract 2010 (PDF - 927KB) is also available.
Last Updated: April 22, 2013