LARNet; The Cyber Journal of Applied Leisure and Recreation Research 

Development of a Family Recreation Research Agenda
(March 2002)
Patti A. Freeman, Ph.D.
Brian J. Hill, Ph.D.
Christy Huff, B.S.
Patti A. Freeman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Recreation Management and Youth Leadership Dept.
273 RB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT  84602

Family life is receiving a surge of attention from politicians, media, and social scientists (Kelly, 1997). While a rich heritage of family leisure research has been developed and reviewed (Freysinger, 1997; Hawks, 1991; Holman & Epperson, 1984; Kelly, 1997; Orthner & Mancini, 1990; Shaw, 1997), no systematic approach has guided this body of work or necessarily connected the divergent themes. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to develop such an agenda. To do so, a Delphi technique (Delbecq, Van de Ven, & Gustafson, 1975; Moeller & Shafer, 1987) was utilized to collect input from experts concerning the direction they felt research in family recreation should take. A list of 22 academics and professionals were identified using the Nominal Group Process. Of the 22 initially contacted, 19 agreed to participate in the study. The panel was asked to respond to the following question, “What topics, issues and specific research questions ought to be addressed and answered to build the body of knowledge in family recreation?” The initial responses were organized around themes and the panel then ranked the research topics and questions. The final round of the process asked for clarification and feedback. A list of 20 general topic areas for future research was identified, the top five were: Developing Healthy and Successful Families, Increasing Family Cohesion, Improving family functioning, Examining demands for family time, and Defining family and family structure. The top 10 research questions were also identified.
Keywords: Family leisure, family recreation, Delphi technique

Development of a Family Recreation Research Agenda
Family life is receiving increased attention from politicians, media, and social scientists (Kelly, 1997). Leisure scholars likewise recognize the importance of recreation in family life. In 1984, Leisure Today had a collection of articles focused on ways in which leisure may strengthen families (Smith, 1984). During the International Year of the Family in 1994, the role of family recreation as the “vehicle for bringing families together” was discussed in Parks and Recreation (Nelson, Capple, & Adkins, 1995, p. 46). In 1997, a special issue of the Journal of Leisure Research focused specifically on family recreation. The World Congress of Families II was held in 1999. Furthermore, recent sections of the Leisure Research Symposium have focused specifically on Leisure and Family Relationships.

Research in family recreation has a history that dates back to a 1929 study by Lynd and Lynd that revealed, among other findings, the leisure time behaviors of Midwestern American Families. A number of historical reviews carefully consider the evolution of family recreation research in America (Freysinger, 1997; Hawkes, 1991; Holman & Epperson, 1984; Kelly, 1997; Orthner & Mancini, 1990; Shaw, 1997). Although these reviews represent a substantial body of knowledge in family related recreation, a variety of divergent issues have been explored and contradictions identified (Hawkes, 1991; Shaw, 1997). Clearly, some themes have received considerable attention while others have been neglected, but no systematic approach has guided this body of work or necessarily connected the divergent themes.

Beginning in the 1960s, social scientists examined family recreation themes (Hawkes, 1991) of outdoor family recreation (Burch, 1965; Hill, 1988; West & Merriam, 1970), marital satisfaction (Holman & Jacquart, 1988; Orthner, 1975, 1976; Presvelou, 1971), recreational roles (Allen & Donnelly, 1985; Kelly, 1975, 1978), employment status and leisure adjustment (Jorgenson, 1977; Shaw,1985, 1988). Social scientists also studied family recreation and child adjustment (Hume, O’Connor, & Lowrey, 1977; Scheuch, 1960), family life cycle (Roberts, Cook, Clark, & Semeonoff, 1976; Witt & Goodale, 1982), leisure socialization (Barnett & Chick, 1986; Kelly, 1974; Yoshioka, 1981), and family cohesion (Lynn, 1983; Ragheb, 1975; Stinnett, Sanders, DeFrain, & Parkhurst, 1982). In addition, Orthner, Barnett-Morris and Mancini, (1994) identified human development as an important consideration in family recreation research. More recent research considers different family types and structures (Bialeschki & Pearce, 1997; Freysinger, 1997). Although broad topics of family leisure have been researched, a clear agenda guided by a consistent theoretical foundation does not exist.

Reviewers of the family leisure research continually call for further and better research. Their detailed recommendations identify themes that need additional attention, research questions that require examination, and call for further theory development.  Holman and Epperson (1984), based upon their review of the literature, made nine specific recommendations for future research.  While several of the nine recommendations are being addressed in current research (Mactavish & Schleien, 2000; Shaw, 1997, 2000; Zabriskie & McCormick, 1999, 2000) many are still relevant and worthy of attention.  These include: Investigations of leisure activity patterns need a more in-depth analysis; a systems approach is needed to understand the complexity of family recreation; focusing on activity type only is inadequate, activity patterns also need examination; the similarity between preferred and achieved activity needs attention; research needs to be more theoretically based; and “the use of greater conceptual clarity, better research methodologies and more sophisticated statistical techniques” (p. 291).

Hawks (1991) reviewed the research related to family recreation over a 60-year period and concluded in general that, “a major weakness of family recreation research throughout the decades reviewed has been the sparse use of theory in formulating hypotheses and interpreting results” (p. 421). Hawks did recognize, however, that by the late 1980s most studies utilized a wide variety of inferential statistical methods.  In addition, differing methodologies such as participant observation and qualitative methods, experimental and quasi-experimental designs that aid in explanation, and the use of theories related to family behavior should be employed to guide the work.

Kelly (1997) made three suggestions for guiding future research.  First, researchers should avoid a monolithic approach, instead dialectic models may serve as better guides to research efforts.  Second, researchers should recognize their “domain assumptions” in their work; that is, implicit ideologies that shape a person’s worldview should be a recognized part of research design and theory development.  Third, in family research, the “commonplace” should not be ignored.  The common activities that families participate in daily are central to family life and should have a meaningful part in theory development related to family recreation.

The reviews by Homan and Epperson (1984), Hawks (1991) and Kelly (1997) put forward pieces of a proposed research agenda to further the work in family recreation scholarship.  Given the growing interest in the family, the variety of research that does exist in family recreation, and the continual call for more, it is fitting that a systematic effort be made to develop a research agenda for family recreation.  The purpose of this study, therefore, was to develop a systematic research agenda in family recreation. The project organizes specific topics, issues, and research questions identified by scholars and professionals as significant for future research in family recreation.

To prepare a systematic research agenda, a Delphi technique (Delbecq, Van de Ven, & Gustafson, 1975; Moeller & Shafer, 1987) was utilized to collect input from experts concerning the direction research in family recreation should take. Ewert (1990) suggested the suitability of the Delphi technique as a tool in developing a consensus-based research agenda in parks and recreation.

 To begin the Delphi process, the Nominal Group Technique (Delbecq, Van de Ven, & Gustafson, 1975) was used to develop a list of experts in family studies and family recreation, as well as professionals with experience administering programs related to family recreation. Members of a Family Recreation Research Team that included 6 professors, 2 graduate students and 5 undergraduates created a list of academics and professionals identified for their perceived expertise in the areas of family science and family recreation based on their research and/or development of programs related to family recreation. The initial list was developed through successive brainstorming rounds. Each member of the team then ranked the experts according to their preferences for inclusion in the Delphi process. From the individual rankings, a prioritized list was developed.

From the developed list, 15 family recreation academicians and 7 family recreation professionals were asked to participate in the study. These individuals were first invited to participate in the study by phone. Of the 15 academics initially contacted, 12 agreed to participate; all of the professionals agreed to contribute combining for a total of 19 experts on family recreation. Upon consent they were asked to specify whether they wanted to participate through regular mail or through e-mail.
The initial round of the Delphi process asked the expert panel to respond to the question “What topics, issues, and specific research questions ought to be addressed and answered to build the body of knowledge in family recreation?” Responses were received from 15 of the 19 experts.  The returned responses were organized systematically by topics in combination with recommendations for further research from earlier literature reviews. Duplicate answers were combined.

For the second round in the Delphi process, the preliminary research agenda was returned to the panel of experts.
They were asked to review the responses, support or criticize the issues identified, rank the topics, problems and questions according to their importance, and suggest additional items for the research agenda. Responses to the second round were received from 12 of the 15 individuals who participated in the first round.

The final iteration of the Delphi process was completed by sending an initial research agenda, organized from responses to the second round to the 12 participants.  They were asked to provide additional topics, questions or suggestions that came to mind after examining the preliminary family recreation research agenda. Panel members were also asked to makes suggestions or comments about this specific research project.  Additional comments and suggestions were received from four individuals.

A logical organization of responses to the initial questionnaire identified 20 research topics. Top research questions within each topic area were also identified. Many of the suggested topics have been recommended previously for further research by various authors. Other topics are newly identified. Table 1 includes the 20 research topics with an example of a research question within the topic elicited from study panel members.

Table 1
Top 20 Family Recreation Research Topics and Questions
1. Developing healthy and successful families
Does family recreation unify or separate the family?

2. Increasing family cohesion
Are families that enjoy recreation together more cohesive?

3. Improving family functioning
What is the impact of parent/child interaction during recreation on family stability?

4. Examining demands for family time
What is the role and value of family recreation in a work-obsessed, time-starved culture?

5. Defining family and family structure
What is the influence of divorce/separation on family recreation patterns of parents and children?

6. Managing age-appropriate family activities
How can parents get involved with their children and participate in activities with them?

7. Increasing family recreation programs in the community
In what ways and with what types of programs do current recreation programs (community centers) provide for family recreation opportunities?

8. Exploring the family life cycle and its impact on family recreation
What is the role of recreation across the life cycle, especially as families experience change?

9. Expanding the work of family socialization
How are family values, behaviors, and communication patterns passed on through family recreation?

10. Determining the role of family traditions and rituals in family functioning and family life.
How do private family process such as ritual enactment, communication style, and problem solving be exposed during family recreation?

11. Parenting
What is the value of family recreation on parent well-being, development, and effectiveness?

12. Methodology
How can theories of family recreation, especially those that are more contextual that account for human and social ecology best be developed?

13. Outcomes and benefits of family recreation
What is the range of individual, relationship and family outcomes?

14. Delinquency
Does family recreation decrease divorce, involvement in gangs, immorality, drug, alcohol and tobacco use?

15. Marital satisfaction
Does support for one’s chosen leisure activity influence family leisure outcome variables?

16. Family recreation education
How do we train parents in healthy family recreation and inform them of the services and opportunities that are available?

17. Barriers/Constraints to family recreation
How does family stress influence family leisure patterns?

18. Human development through family recreation
What is the value of family recreation to child and adolescent development?

19. Types of family recreation
What are the benefits of ordinary, every-day family recreation versus organized, special, occasional family recreation activities?

20. Family Vacations
What features of family vacations are most and least effective in terms of individual and family well-being and enjoyment?

Study participants were also asked to rank the five research questions from the topic areas that should receive top research priority.  From these rankings, a list of the top ten questions was identified (see Table 2).

Table 2
Top 10 Research Questions Related to Family Recreation
1. Under what conditions is family leisure most productive for families?
2. What is the value of family recreation to child and adolescent development?
3. How does recreation contribute to family cohesiveness?
4. What is the role and value of family recreation in a work-obsessed, time-starved culture?
5. What is the role of recreation across the life cycle, especially as families experience change?
6. What are the best types of family recreational activities and what are their perceived benefits?
7. What are the differences in joint/individual/parallel leisure activities in developing family cohesion? Does this differ with couples?
8. Can theories be developed specific to family recreation that are more contextual and account for human/social ecology?
9. What is the range of individual, relationship, and family outcomes from participating in family recreation?
10. How can families best balance recreation and work?

From the third round of the Delphi process, several useful observations and comments were made from four of the panel members.  Specific to additional topics or questions one study member stated, “We really need longitudinal designs to answer many of these questions.” Another participant suggested that some of the topic areas were inter-related which would allow for them to be combined in research projects.  Comments specific to this project were also received.  One individual, a prolific author on family life stated, “The priorities look very sound to me.”  Another contributor, a well-known expert on family recreation from the social sciences wrote, “An edited book on the topics mentioned in this study would be timely.  [Focus on] what is known, how well it is known, and what is not known. What theories and methods offer the greatest utility to our quest? Recreation and leisure needs a champion funding source, foundation, or government agency who will take this very seriously.  We have been neglected too long.”

While study participants had differing opinions on the rankings of research topics and questions, it is noteworthy that the top three topics ranked by the panel members are all related to developing successful families, specifically through increasing family cohesion and improving family functioning.  Five of the top ten research questions identified are also related to improving family functioning, cohesion, and understanding the perceived benefits derived from differing types of activities.  Clearly, a top priority to guide future research needs to focus on experiences and programs that strengthen families.

The ranked list of research topics and questions generated by the expert panel supports many of the recommendations made in other’s research.  One top research question, “Can theories be developed specific to family recreation that are more contextual and account for human/social ecology?” echoed recommendations made by Kelly (1997), Holman and Epperson (1984) and Hawks (1991).  Recognizing the work of others and the perspective of panelists in this study the need to develop theory that incorporates a systems approach to guide family recreation research should take a top priority in research design and development.

Kelly (1997) suggested that researchers recognize the paradigm from which they carry out their research on the family.  It is assumed that the suggestions made by study panelists are based on their own “domain assumptions”.  This should not hinder the work in developing theory based research designed to better understand and strengthen family life.  The proposed research agenda should not be considered as representing only one perspective on family life and family recreation.  Rather, it can provide a guiding framework for all who are interested in understanding family recreation.

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