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"It's the network" - How personal connections shape land use decisions

Monday, June 21, 2010, by Megan Jones and Kristen Schipper
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In the social science lab, conveniently located above the kitchen, we are working on the "It's the Network" project. Our goal is to assess - by means of a survey - how personal connections shape decisions about private forest use. We're interested in who people talk to (neighbors, foresters, loggers, friends, etc.), what they talk about (harvesting, conservation easement, selling their land, etc.) and the various levels of involvement and helpfulness of different types of people. We will be mailing our survey to 500 Vermont landowners in Windham County, and 500 New Hampshire landowners in Cheshire County. Our hope is that we will obtain a fifty percent or greater response rate, so if you know anyone in the areas listed above, please tell them to complete our survey!

Megan Jones and Kristen Schipper

The second half of our project involves a lot less addressing of envelopes and sticking on stamps, and a lot more GIS. We'll be working on this second part at the same time as we process the returning surveys: ideally a fun and productive sort of schizophrenia. For this second part, we'll be using property records to trace the property history, over the past 50 years or so, of random points in 8-10 central Massachusetts towns. We'll be looking for trends such as increasing parcelization, rates of ownership change, and so on.

Which all goes to show that you can take the researchers out of the field and stick them in an office in front of a computer, but you can't take the awesome out of the research.

However, perhaps the word awesome works along a continuum, and there are thus different levels of awesome. The days that we hand-address one thousand envelopes tend to be on the less-awesome side of the scale. Fortunately, we've discovered This American Life Podcasts, so while our hands are developing through the early stages of carpal tunnel, our minds are still expanding. Huzzah!