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Values and Experiences on the Kenai Survey

by Sarah Wandersee

Published May 13, 2014

I am a postdoctoral fellow contributing to the Alaska EPSCoR Southcentral test case. My position involves working on several major tasks, one of which is working on analysis of social-ecological relationships from social surveys and remote sensing. A large part of that work has involved developing and implementing a mailout survey for residents of the Kenai Peninsula. This has been a major collaborative effort, including input from a range of researchers and practitioners. Before developing the survey instrument, I had the opportunity to participate in the facilitation of focus groups on the Kenai Peninsula. It was a fun and enlightening introduction to the area and gave me the chance to improve my social survey skills and to gain firsthand knowledge of Kenai Peninsula area dynamics and concerns.

For the questionnaire, I collaborated with other members of our research team to determine and refine questions and to test the survey instrument. Although it was a challenge, we included questions that would inform multiple aspects of our project. Since our overall project is looking at adaptive capacity and understanding how communities might respond to change, we are covering a range of topics. Our questions look at demographics, information sources, environmental perceptions, institutions, and values. This increased the overall length of the survey instrument, but we have the advantage of completing one survey, instead of sending out multiple surveys and increasing the chance of survey fatigue. Part of the survey involves a mapping activity, in which we tried to mirror the activities done in a 2001 landscape values survey led by Dr. Greg Brown. This gives us the opportunity to do temporal comparisons, which is a major plus. As a final step in the survey instrument development, we were able to test the survey with a group of students on campus, thanks to another collaborator. This provided us with valuable information about the length of time and clarity of questions.

The mailout survey has involved a lot of planning and attention to detail. I’ve welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the process of a new survey mode, as my past survey experience has involved in-person questionnaires in China and online survey work in Southern California. I’ve been glad to be working with the friendly and experienced folks over at the UAA Copy & Print Center. They have been phenomenally helpful in providing suggestions on details like postage and formatting. We originally had hoped to send out the survey this past fall, but delays led to our target date getting too close to the holidays. For this reason, we moved the send-out date to after the New Year. We’ve been receiving a great response so far. I have been very impressed by the interest in the survey and survey process, having received several phone calls with questions and comments. The results of the survey will be used to inform multiple parts of our project. I will be using the results in a demographics analysis, working with other professors and undergraduate students. Additionally, I’ll be doing a temporal values and land change analysis and, in the long-term, an agent-based model. The results will also be used for our project overall, with the goal of better understanding adaptive capacity on the Kenai Peninsula. The intent is to use the results to highlight areas of potential concern and to provide information to the community for decision support. I am dedicated to making sure the survey results get out to the public and plan to do so through an online portal and public presentations.

For more information on the survey, you can visit the site ( and see the survey instrument and FAQs.

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