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Using focus groups for knowledge sharing: Tracking emerging pandemic impacts on USFS wildland fire operations

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In early 2020 the US Forest Service (USFS) recognized the need to gather real-time information from its wildland fire management personnel about their challenges and adaptations during the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. The USFS conducted 194 virtual focus groups to address these concerns, over 32 weeks from March 2020 to October 2020. This management effort provided an opportunity for an innovative practice-based research study. Here, we outline a novel methodological approach (weekly, iterative focus groups, with two-way communication between USFS staff and leadership), which culminated in a model for focus group coordination during extended crises. We also document the substantive challenges USFS wildfire employees discussed, including: conflicting policies and procedures; poor communication; ill-defined decision space; barriers to multi-jurisdictional resources; negative impacts on work-life balance; and disruption of pre-season training. USFS focus groups were effective for knowledge sharing among employees and elevating issues to top levels of the USFS management structure.

David Flores, Rebekah L. Fox, Jody Jahn, Craig Conley, Satoris S. Howes, Joel O. Iverson, Steven J. Venette, Emily R. Haire, Cathelijne R. Stoof

Flores, David and Fox, Rebekah L. and Jahn, Jody and Conley, Craig and Howes, Satoris S. and Iverson, Joel O. and Venette, Steven J. and Haire, Emily R. and Stoof, Cathelijne, April 2024. Using Focus Groups for Knowledge Sharing: Tracking Emerging Pandemic Impacts on USFS Wildland Fire Operations}, Volume 37, ISSN=1521-0723. Society & amp; Natural Resources. 957–975.

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