Social Research Case Study

Type of Research

Social Research – Face to Face interviewing


Mackman Research was commissioned by a Borough Council in Essex to research the use of parks and gardens.  In particular the Borough Council wanted to explore the use of parks and gardens by families on low incomes and minority groups.  The research process was split into two phases.  The first phase sought to audit all Borough Council run parks and gardens in a bid to discover who was using the parks, how frequently and for what purpose they were using the parks.  The results of the first phase informed the second phase of the research; this gave way to direct targeting of unemployed (in receipt of benefits) residents.


During the research process a mixed methodology approach combined quantitative statistical representation (of the local population) with qualitative data gathering methods.  This mixed methodology approach enabled the researchers to approach all respondents on a face-to-face basis whilst interviewing a total of 816 respondents.

The data gathering process was split into 2 phases.  The 1st phase aimed to audit the parks and gardens.  This phase set out to record who was using each park and test the theory of low-income non-users.  Phase 1 would direct data gathering in phase 2 and enable the research team to directly target those who are not using parks and gardens.

Phase 1 – Parks Audit (Identifying non-users)

Mackman Research designed a structured questionnaire in consultation with our client.  The questionnaire asked questions about the respondents park use and included a section that would record demographic information.  The researchers were able to record observations about general park use and record spontaneous comments from respondents. A total of 19 parks and gardens in the borough were audited during this 1st phase.

All respondents were approached and introduced to the purpose of the survey by the researcher.  Respondents were selected for no other reason than being present in the park.  The research team made every effort to interview all park users in each location at the time of our visit.  Parks were visited on one weekday and one weekend day.

Phase 2 – Non-user Interviews / Barriers to Use Research

Data gathering commenced face-to-face and door-to-door with unemployed residents (The unemployed and elderly being non-users of the parks).

A structured questionnaire was designed in consultation with our client.  The questionnaire was based upon the same questionnaire used during phase 1.

During this stage, data collection was targeted to specific geographical areas of deprivation with high numbers of unemployed residents.  It was evident a specific ward had been under-represented in the parks audit phase; therefore our data gathering efforts were focused on this ward.  The Borough Council identified specific areas and streets within which contained high frequencies of our target non-park using respondent.

Simple random sampling was employed in order to select streets to target for door-to-door interviewing.  Homes were to be targeted for interviews using systematic random sampling, however, this method was not used in specific streets as many residents were not at home, therefore random sampling naturally occurred.

All surveys were anonymous and respondents were notified of this.

Sample Size and Confidence Interval

The phase 1 survey population contained 445 respondents.  This figure achieved a 95% confidence level and a +/- 4.64% confidence interval, based upon a total  population of 162,000.

371 respondents completed the phase 2 questionnaire, achieving a confidence level of 95% and a confidence interval of +/-5%, of a low-income population of 9,500.

The phase 1 survey consisted of 20 closed questions and one open ended question and the phase 2 survey consisted of 29 closed questions.


The project team delivered a great piece of research. Based on our experience the following qualities were apparent:  1) Flexible: Especially since we adapted the methodology to reach target audience.  2) Question development: The team was positive and constructive in questionnaire design, integrating our local knowledge with their expertise.  3) Approachable: team adopted a collaborative and can do approach.  4) Reporting: was clear and in-depth.

Fiona Foskett – Marketing Officer


It was evidently clear during the phase one data analysis that it was worth exploring other barriers to park and garden use besides low income groups, as there was a high percentage of respondents with a weekly disposable income of less than £100. The unsteady economic climate was also thought to have some influence here.

In 2009, according to the ONS (Office of National Statistics) unemployment had reached the highest rate since 1999, with the number of “workless” households rising to 3.3 million in April – June 2009.  Although the East of England was thought to be least affected by this, the recession and unemployment had touched this region too.  With 1 in 6 households being “workless” in the UK, unemployment is a key factor in activities of daily life and is therefore thought to directly impact upon recreational activities and leisure time.

“…dropping out of the rhythm of activity that is centred around holding a job leaves people psychologically incapable of maintaining the orientations necessary to utilise the opportunities which becomes available for recreation.”  (Roberts: 1970)

The data analysis of the information gathered during the 2nd phase of the research considered many barriers to park use, specifically unemployment, education, background, leisure pursuits, age and disability and security.  Minority groups and persons with a disability were found to be proportionately representative of the population.

The parks research has been invaluable to the Borough Council and is thought to be one of a kind. The research has helped identify areas for improvement and informed marketing to help raise awareness of the  parks and gardens.