The Social Dynamics of Turbine Tourism and Recreation: Introducing a mixed-method approach to the study of the First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm
Understanding the complex dynamics that influence energy transitions requires mixed methods and collaborations among researchers, resource managers, and communities. This essay details how an interdisciplinary team of researchers used a mixed-method approach to study the social dimensions of tourism and recreation as they relate to the first offshore wind farm in the United States, the Block Island Wind Farm. Although impacts to tourism from wind energy systems are widely cited as a concern by communities and policymakers, little work has sought to define what constitutes tourism and recreation impacts or provided empirical evidence of impacts from operating projects. Researchers adopted an iterative approach to research that combined discrete studies using media content analysis, ethnographic participant observation, and stakeholder focus groups, to understand the social effects of the wind farm on the tourism and recreation experience and the quality of life in Block Island and coastal Rhode Island. We detail key insights from our experimentation with an iterative mixed-method approach at Block Island and offer lessons for future studies using collaborative approaches to understand both the tangible and the intangible social dynamics of energy system transitions.