Scottish Natural Heritage outdoor environment engagement technology challenge

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Using tech to enhance engagement with the outdoor environment in Scotland

Spending time in nature has enormous benefits for health and well being, educational attainment and personal development.

Mental health, inactivity, disaffection and loneliness are or are becoming major public health problems in Scotland and across the world. This problem is particularly acute in young people.

A powerful way of combatting these problems can be found in the natural world: people who experience the outdoors, even for relatively short times, benefit hugely, and especially when that experience has context and meaning. This ‘natural health service’ has never been so important, in that it can significantly reduce the pressure on the NHS, education and social services.

So how can we use tech to enhance the experience of the outdoors, in a way that will deliver its benefits to young people?

Proposed solutions must factor in the needs of education, connecting both students and educators to nature. Solutions should encourage people to explore Scotland's outdoors in a more meaningful way, wherever they are located. And by providing a more exciting experience of Scotland, a truly great solution would not only maximise the educational, health and wellbeing benefits, but also be a real asset to Scotland's tourism.

Why the Challenge Sponsor is focused on this

Scotland is renowned for its stunning natural heritage, which plays a crucial role in the livelihoods of people, from urban settings to our wilder landscapes. Yet many of us have little connection with nature, making it harder to appreciate the benefits we get from nature or the impact of our lives on it.

Increased use of mobile phone technology potentially separates people from nature. However a solution that harnesses young people's enthusiasm for new and emerging technology could be an excellent tool to encourage connection with nature and deliver outdoor learning.

Natural England (2016) reported “school students engaged in learning in natural environments have been found to have higher achievement in reading, mathematics, science and social studies, exhibiting enhanced progress in physical education and drama, and a greater motivation for studying science.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)(2015) found an increase in outdoor activity by schools since 2006 but provision was uneven - secondary schools showed less uptake and schools in deprived areas face greater challenges in providing for learning outdoors.

As well as attainment, health and wellbeing benefits, connecting people with nature is vital for creating a conscientious society that takes pride in and looks after its natural heritage. The Scottish Government's and Scotland's Biodiversity: A Route map to 2020’ contends that a disconnection from nature and lack of recognition of the value of nature are key pressures on Scotland’s biodiversity and climate change.

Therefore, making nature accessible, and inspiring more young people to connect with it, is crucial for safeguarding both special and everyday places for people and nature. SNH has a remit to encourage people to better connect with nature.

We pursue this in diverse ways including through the provision of nature reserves where we wish to increase visitor numbers and the range of formal and informal educational activity that takes place. We have the policy and places; but we do not have sufficient people to support individual groups and need a more efficient and effective means to support those delivering outdoor learning, and encourage people to connect with nature.

What the Challenge Sponsor would like to see from the solution

There have been many initiatives to connect young people and educators with nature, resulting in, for example, Continuing Professional Development or Career-Long Professional Learning training, education packs, teaching materials, web-based information and apps.

SNH has promoted ‘Teaching in Nature’, ‘Go Wild with your Child’, ‘Simple Pleasures’, ‘View from the Train’ and “Camera Trapping”. And there are numerous single-place apps to connect people with nature, with many focusing on species recording and nature-based play.

Similarly, there are websites and apps listing greenspaces throughout the UK and whilst these tell people where green space is, we are seeking a solution that would help people make the most of these spaces, generating meaningful experiences that engender a meaningful connection with nature. 

The goal is to go beyond other apps and websites by providing an all-inclusive, multifaceted solution that is innovative, informative, interactive and user-friendly. Instead of focusing on one element of nature, we're looking to maximise the educational potential and enhance learners ’and visitors’ time at reserves and greenspaces by encapsulating the whole nature experience in one portable platform, along with information on facilities and services. This could support interdisciplinary learning, helping to take the classroom outdoors and the outdoors back in to the classroom.

Teaching in Nature 

Simple Pleasures easily Found  

Go Wild with your Child in and around Aberdeen 

View from the Train

SNH is seeking an innovative solution to one of the greatest societal challenges of our time - how to better connect (young) people with nature. Spending time in nature has enormous benefits for health and well-being, educational attainment and personal development. We envisage a solution that increases these benefits though engaging (young) people and educators; harnessing the popularity and power of new and emerging technology; and encouraging more people to explore Scotland’s nature.

It wants a solution that builds the confidence of school teachers delivering the 3-18 curriculum to take learning outdoors where possible and provides them with access to the necessary knowledge.

Who are the end users?

Depending on the solution, it could potentially be used by a wide variety of learning groups and/or by anyone living in or visiting Scotland.

What would success look like in measurable terms? What is the one metric that matters?

SNH wants to see a significant increase in the number of self-led education groups accessing nature outdoors, whether this is local green space, parks or nature reserves.

Outdoor Learning is being given increased priority. It’s a key element of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence; and Learning for Sustainability is a vital requirement of the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s Professional Standards. Additionally, in 2017, Scottish Government published its STEM Education and Training Strategy, planning to expand and improve STEM learning in schools; develop Young STEM Leaders; and support the curriculum through science engagement. Research indicates that quality outdoor learning supports all four National Improvement Framework priorities.

Scotland's natural heritage could play a crucial role in closing the education attainment gap by stimulating learning in an inspiring, real-world environment.

Mental health, inactivity, disaffection and loneliness are or are becoming major public health challenges in Scotland, particularly for young people. The role of our ‘natural health service’ has never been so important for reducing the pressure on the NHS, education and other social services.

The stakeholders that would be involved, and the team would require access to

  • Educators invited to take part in the process by SNH.
  • Young people.
  • ENFOR partners including Forestry Commission Scotland, National Park authorities, Historic Environment Scotland, Education Scotland contacts.

What’s in it for the successful solution provider: the commercial opportunity from initial contracts to national and international potential

The outdoor learning community in Scotland is vibrant and growing. Scotland is regarded as a leader in the education and outdoor learning sector for the rest of the UK, and internationally, so any developments here could have a long reach.

The solution may also be of interest to other nature reserve managers (such as local authorities), nature (such as Forestry Commission Scotland), and those seeking to improve visitor experience to other tourist attractions (such as Historic Environment Scotland, National Park Authorities and community initiatives). In a similar manner, private sector tourism providers, of locations and tours, may find the solution attractive. Education professionals would also find the solution desirable as a tool for delivering outdoor education targets as part of the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence, and endorsement for Learning for Sustainability Vision 2030+.

The deadline for this challenge is 2 July 2018.

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