The Community Panels Project: Citizens' Groups for Social Science Research and Monitoring

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Abstract

A collaborative project in the Northeast region of the United States explored the potential for community-based data collection and analysis to help address the scarcity of social science data on the fishing industry and fishing communities. Community panels were established in six fishing ports in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Each panel was comprised of 10 to 12 individuals, a cross section of harvesters, processors, shoreside business owners, and other members of the fishing communities. The panels identified issues of concern to their ports, and with the help of coordinators and the principal investigators, gathered data through interviews and focus group meetings, then drafted and reviewed reports. The project was successful in addressing topics of immediate concern in the region such as the impacts of changes in fishery management plans, particularly on fishing industry infrastructure. Although more time consuming than data collection by a sole applied anthropologist, the collaboration between social scientists and community stakeholders led to the incorporation of local knowledge that might otherwise have been missed. Furthermore, participants in the project learned about each other's values and goals. Such information is significant, an important aspect in negotiating decisions that will affect the future.

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