Identifying and Prioritizing Opportunities to Enhance Integrative Public Policy Pertaining to Protected Areas and Human Health

A recent report examining the human health and well-being benefits of Alberta’s protected areas by Lemieux et al. (2015) revealed that the perceived human health and well-being benefits that visitors received from their protected areas experiences were substantial. The most frequently reported improvements were related to psychological and emotional (90.5%), social (85%), and physical well-being (77.6%).

These research findings, in addition to a burgeoning body of research on the health benefits of nature contact and ecosystem services more broadly, substantiate the need for park agencies to begin developing policies and visitor experience programs in support of health and well-being related pursuits. Specifically, the report by Lemieux et al. (2015) recommended that Alberta Parks

  1. Develop a strategic mandate pertaining to conservation and human health and well-being and
  2. Work towards building partnerships in support of human health and well-being initiatives in support of its mandate.

These recommendations were echoed in a recent report that identified Alberta’s top 20 research needs, where some regions identified the need to establish partnerships with health providers/First Nations communities to improve services to visitors (Patriquin and Hallstrom, 2014). It has been argued that there is a critical need to re-envision land-use planning in order to more effectively situate human well-being in the biodiversity conservation agenda (Sandifer et al., 2015). In order to achieve this, a new coalition of ecologists, health and social scientists and planners will be required to conduct research and develop policies that promote human interaction with nature and biodiversity.

This project will use an interactive Policy Delphi methodology will be used to identify and prioritize integrative propositions pertaining to human health, well-being and protected areas policy and management. In its broadest sense, a Policy Delphi is an iterative group-oriented Idea Generating Strategy (IGS) that seeks to generate the strongest possible opposing views on the potential resolutions of a major policy issue.  The approach permits a diverse group of people, selected for their expertise, to interact anonymously on a defined policy issue and provides a constructive forum and a structured method for correlating views and information pertaining to a specific policy issue.  By design, participants are afforded the freedom to present and challenge alternative viewpoints, and to think reflectively and independently between iterations.  It also allows the respondents representing such views and information the opportunity to assess differing opinions.  A Policy Delphi aims to uncover and explore both consensus and disagreement surrounding policy issues through quantitative ratings and the solicitation of qualitative information (i.e., rationale, justification). Christopher Lemieux from Waterloo University is the Principle Investigator on this project.