I spent an enjoyable day in London last week at a joint meeting of two of Natural England's strategic research groups: the National Outdoors for All SRG, and the Learning in Natural Environments SRG. I am part of the latter, but it was very good to have this joint session.
The meeting began with lots of input – catchings up of all kinds – but really came to life for me (and I sensed for others, too) when a ‘life pathways’ model was set out with its “draft theory of change”.
It’s difficult to justice to this without seeing the model with its factors, stages and flows, but it began with direct experiences in natural environments and ended with behaviour change for healthy lifestyles and healthy environment.
The difficulty of setting this out in two dimensions was also clear, especially given that it was implicit that any sense of wellbeing was always going to be work in progress; that is, a state of becoming. This seems realistic as it’s going to be something to work on right to the end. Thus the model is probably a spiral one, or akin to some infinite snakes and ladders game where the ladders are something you have to work constantly on (good diet, exercise, fresh air, socialising, positive thinking, a sense of proportion, etc), but where the snakes are everywhere (sitting at a computer, processed food, that third glass of wine, driving those extra miles, air pollution, too much TV (and TV dinners), etc, etc. A point about the natural environment is that it's a great place to facilitate the climbing of ladders. In fact, when you're in the natural environment, the ladders are everywhere, but there are not quite so many snakes. I sense a board game developing ...
It was a great model to unpick and unpack and it stimulated much conversation (if not quite discussion). One trouble with all this, as I've noted before, is the slipperiness of the ideas. Just what is a 'natural' environment? And is it better for you, the higher the quality of the nature you are in? And does 'quality' here mean biodiversity, or something broader like a sense of place? I certainly know that most of my purposeful trips to the natural environment are because of place rather than biodiversity, and yet it is biodiversity that matters because of its significance to natural capital and a well-functioning biosphere.
The model was accompanied by a series of "axes of interest” which were all continua of one sort or other. They covered adventurousness / social interaction / quality of space / location / nature interaction, but it wasn't clear how they intersected with each other or hung together.
Work in progress ...