In 2017 the social scientists at Forest Research undertook an evaluation of the Mission Invertebrate programme run by The Royal Parks in London.
The aim of the evaluation was to explore what activities the programme facilitated, whether there was an increase in knowledge and understanding about invertebrates, and what the impacts were on participant’s wellbeing.
The key evaluation questions included:
- What kinds of activities has the Mission: Invertebrate programme facilitated and who took part?
- In what ways has Mission: Invertebrate contributed to participant’s understanding and knowledge of invertebrates?
- To what extent has Mission: Invertebrate enabled steps to be taken to better protect and conserve invertebrates in The Royal Parks?
- In what ways has Mission: Invertebrate had an impact on people’s wellbeing?
Findings and recommendations
Impacts on wellbeing
Pupils were able to learn new knowledge in different ways in an outdoor environment. Exploration was an important part of the learning process facilitated by the Mission: Invertebrate programme. The pupils were inquisitive and asked lots of questions about what they were doing and enjoyed using basic scientific equipment. The creative and sensory focused activities for pupils with specific educational needs and disabilities were an important and successful approach to engaging with these groups.
Being outdoors in the fresh air was enjoyed by participants, as well as spending time with family and friends and learning in a fun, enjoyable and engaging way through storytelling, and creative activities. Families with children with special educational needs and disabilities were particularly appreciative of the events targeted specifically at this group.
Being outdoors in a pleasant environment and doing something worthwhile, meaningful and making a contribution was important to those who got involved in the Citizen Science activities. They enjoyed supporting the environment and meeting new people. All of the Citizen Scientists were interested in the idea of getting involved in further activities, if the opportunity arose.
Park Managers felt that Mission: Invertebrate had provided ways to engage different groups of people with the parks. Some new collaborations and partnerships were enabled through the programme.
Challenges and future interest
Teachers and learning providers
When running outdoor learning sessions it can be difficult to instruct the children due to the many distractions around them and the excitement they can feel when being outside the classroom. A two hour school session made it difficult to go into a lot of depth. For the learning providers delivering sessions for children with special educational needs and disabilities the very different abilities were a challenge, but something they were accustomed to. There was interest for the future in running sessions for older children and adults.
Park Managers identified a few challenges. For example, public expectations were raised by the events and activities the programme was able to deliver, and future funding would be needed to carry on this delivery. There were some extra demands placed on staff to deliver some of the conservation and management activities. There were some concerns about the short, one year nature of the programme. However, a phase II of the programme has since been approved, funded and has been developed. In terms of future plans, Park Managers were interested in more public involvement to engender a sense of ownership of the parks, and also the delivery of more school sessions. There was interest in long term monitoring of invertebrates and the changes made to explore impact.
The Mission: Invertebrate programme run by The Royal Parks in 2017 was enjoyed and appreciated by all those who participated. This included: Citizen Scientists, the public - particularly families, school children, teachers, learning providers and Park Managers. Very positive comments were received from all of these groups. There were short term impacts on wellbeing for those who participated in the activities and these are similar to the findings of other studies and interventions that try to engage people with nature in creative ways. Some of these impacts may last in the medium and possibly long term, and there were qualitative descriptions of potential medium term change. Due to the success of its pilot year, People’s Postcode Lottery awarded The Royal Parks funding to continue Mission: Invertebrate in 2018.
Forest Research social scientists worked closely with the Mission:Invertebrate team to develop and carry out the evaluation.
Researchers carried out the evaluation through:
- ‘In-situ’ participant observation and short interviews at family day events (n=3 events and 34 interviews), Citizen Science activities (n=2 events and 24 interviews) and a school session (n=1 session)
- Telephone interviews with learning providers (n=5) and teachers (n=2)
- Telephone interviews with Park Managers (n=3)
- Short quantitative school evaluation forms for teachers (n=45)
- Short evaluation form for pupils (n=39)
- Short quantitative Citizen Science activity evaluation survey form (n=27), and separate training evaluation form (n=74).
If you would like to read the evaluation report please contact Alice Laughton at The Royal Parks.