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Planning Your Environmental Education Programme

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The health and the breadth of our ecosystems is in steep decline. Species are becoming endangered and extinct at an alarming rate. And at the forefront of our battle with the degradation of nature is the environmental educator. This article is designed to help you to take the first steps towards designing your environmental education programme. This is a huge area, but don’t forget, Wild Ideas can help without cost to your organisation.

(Debs Rylands)
(Debs Rylands)

Our environmental educators are the roads to a lasting relationship with nature; building connection, understanding and affection for wildlife and biodiversity. Positive outcomes from the delivery of practical conservation and land management, our policy development and programme planning hinge upon the support of diverse groups in exploring our roots in nature and understanding the impact of our decisions.

Protecting our environment depends heavily on the buy-in of our wider communities: dedication to changing practices, purchases, challenging authority – every aspect of our lives impacts our natural resources, biodiversity and the health of our living landscapes. Beyond this, the evidence of the positive impact of nature on well-being, educational attainment and physical and mental health is overwhelming.

So where do we start?

It is easy to jump into recruiting volunteers to deliver a series of engagement activities without a firm plan for outcomes, funding and development. This is, eventually, insupportable to your organisation’s aims, budget and values. Following the key stages will help to develop a programme of environmental education which supports organisational needs while engaging your target audience.

Identify your aims

What are you trying to achieve? This could be participation in a citizen science project, lobbying, recruiting volunteers or national engagement in a campaign… By identifying the organisational outcomes and what you want from participants, you will be able to start to recognise your target audience.

You may have more than one aim, but it is important to recognise the most important of these.

Engaging your audience

(Debs Rylands)
(Debs Rylands)

Once you understand who your audience is and what you want from them, we need to know how best to engage with them. Remember that this can include some trial and error, but some research into other projects’ successes and failures is a good start.

If your programme is aimed at a certain geographic community, then community engagement is a great way to ask your audience what they want to see from your efforts. There are many ways of doing this, from online surveys, using targeting (such as Facebook ads) to leaflet drops and physical events in the community. Know what you want to ask and then choose the most appropriate method.

Your methods of engagement will also depend on your resources – funding, staff and access to property to deliver activities, for starters. Do you need partners or funding to be able to provide a programme or certain activities? Knowing your audience and outcomes will enable you to identify potential partners and develop the connections. It is undeniable that one of the most effective ways to create this connection is the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature in a space that participants can revisit independently.

This is a huge area, but you can find out more at wild-ideas.org.uk/working-together/

Designing your Evaluation

How will you know you have succeeded? Looking back to our initial aims, together with the needs of our target audience will give you the basis of your goals and targets. Your goal is the vision of what you are trying to achieve. For example: increase income through engagement events or engage more people with our organisation.

For the purpose of evaluation, you need to turn these into targets. How much money do you want to raise? By when? By setting ‘SMART’ (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) objectives, you have set the basis of your evaluation, which will help you to understand what is going well, what isn’t and what to change, based on this understanding. Find out more about setting targets at wild-ideas.org.uk/SMART

This should always happen before preparing your programme as the exercise of target planning will support your understanding of the type of activity required and when by understanding what you want to change, especially in terms of community behaviour.

We think that the most logical framework will indicate the goal first, then the changes (outcomes) that need to occur to achieve the goal and your target audience, then your outputs (what will be delivered to produce effect those changes) which will enable you to plan the activities which will deliver the required outputs. You can download an activity planner here: Wild Ideas Activity Planner

Designing your Programme

(Debs Rylands)
(Debs Rylands)

OK, so you know what you want to achieve, by when and, to some extent, how you want to achieve this. It is, of course, imperative that there is flexibility in delivery. Not only do we need to be able to revise when our programme brings unexpected outcomes, methods and topics need to be heavily influenced by the staff members and volunteers who are delivering your programme. It is their enthusiasm, their knowledge and their skills which will provide an engaging and successful package of environmental education.

Oscar, who won the Big Torbay Snail Race as part of the Torbay Green Spaces Project (Debs Rylands)
Oscar, who won the Big Torbay Snail Race as part of the Torbay Green Spaces Project (Debs Rylands)

We work on a belief that people should be empowered to improve their communities and shape the services that they receive. Any environmental education programme needs to be designed to enable participants to be able to gain understanding and affection for our natural world, in order to take action and influence their wider communities. We are building a relationship with our participants, who will be ambassadors not only for nature, but for our organisation and our partnerships.

And of course, methods and topics must be influenced by the staff members and volunteers who are delivering your programme. It is their enthusiasm, knowledge and skills which will provide an engaging and successful package of environmental education.

Activities could include:

  • Practical conservation activity
  • Identification skills
  • Survey skills
  • Craft and design
  • Creative media

Recognising Participation

All activities have the opportunity for accreditation to increase engagement and improve employability for participants. These could include: AQA Unit Awards, John Muir Conservation Award, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, NICAS and NVQs in practical conservation.

Developing, funding and delivering your programme is a huge area and we hope this has given you a few ideas. The Wild Ideas team are available to provide advice and support at every step of the way. We offer development, project management, funding and training support as well as resources to help you along the way. Our project delivery is designed to come at no cost to your organisation, so if you would like help to take your environmental education programme forward, get in touch to see how we can help: hello@wild-ideas.org.uk

First published in CJS Focus on Environmental Education & Outdoor Activities in association with the Countryside Education Trust on 11 May 2020. Read the full issue here

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