Innovation in the Measurement of Place: Systematic Social Observation in a Rural Setting
Barbara Entwisle, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Heather B. Edelblute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Brian Frizzelle, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Philip McDaniel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Data collection strategies to support research on neighborhoods and health in urban settings do not necessarily translate well to rural contexts. An example is systematic social observation (SSO), an approach that involves structured observations of urban blocks or block faces. What investigators might choose to observe and measure in urban areas might or might not be worth considering in rural areas (and vice versa). But the more important challenge is defining an appropriate unit of observation for rural areas. Intersection-to-intersection road segments equivalent to urban blocks are in many instances too long and heterogeneous to serve as units. This paper develops an innovative approach to the problem, combining principles of sampling and spatial analysis, and applies and tests it in a rural county in the Southeast. It also assesses the validity and reliability of indexes originally created for urban settings when applied to rural settings, e.g., physical disorder.