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The purpose of this research is to investigate the diversity of ways members of the public can become involved in the governance and management of woods and forests, and to provide good practice guidance and case study material that supports foresters and others facilitate greater public involvement.

Research objectives

  1. Synthesise information about successful public engagement approaches useful to foresters, woodland managers and managers of urban greenspace
  2. Provide evidence describing the potential for approaches to engage different sections of society in a variety of rural and urban contexts
  3. Illustrate the suitability of engagement approaches in different areas of forestry, e.g., decision-making related to recreation and access, pests and diseases, or the development of enterprise and social enterprise

Results so far

The research to date has:

  • Produced a “toolkit” of practical techniques for involving people in forestry
  • Provided guidance on the principles of public engagement
  • Described ways to overcome the challenges of engagement in urban forests
  • Scoped the use of social media by government and forestry agencies as an emerging engagement tool
  • Investigated social media support engaging people in citizen science projects
  • Documented a range of public engagement case studies


  • This research started in 2011 and is ongoing.
  • Development of methods for public engagement in urban forestry is ongoing
  • Additional research into the impacts of social media and digital technologies on Citizen Science and Citizen Cyberscience is ongoing.



Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Funders and partners

This work is funded by the Forestry Commission

Forestry Commission policy

Public engagement is included in the Scottish Forest Strategy through a commitment to public consultation enabling the public to have input into local and national plans and strategies, and through partnership working with communities.

In England the Government’s Forestry Policy Statement recognises that civil society organisations and the wider public all have a role to play in achieving aspirations around woodland creation and management, tree health, and economic development of the forestry sector.

Public engagement in forestry toolbox and guidance

There are many ways to involve people in planning decisions connected with woods and greenspaces. The kinds of people who want to get involved, what they want to achieve through their involvement, and what people want from their woods will vary from place to place and according to the unique characteristics of the forest and woodland concerned. Although a suite of different tools and methods is needed to suit local circumstances, these will need to sit within a strategic and comprehensive public engagement process plan.

The Public Engagement in Forestry toolbox provides:


Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Social media and Citizen Science

There is a tremendous interest in citizen science, engaging the public in collection and analysis of data and information about a range of forestry issues including plant and animal biodiversity, tree pests and diseases, and climate change. Social media is becoming an important feature of many citizen science initiatives.

Scoping research examined 12 citizen science projects to synthesise key lessons about the use and design of supporting social media. Results show:

  • Social media is most often used to recruit and retain citizen scientists
  • Retaining citizen science depends on sharing the results of their efforts as well as building social networks
  • Social media support to citizen science is successful where it has a clearly defined purpose targeted at particular types of volunteers
  • The social media strategy needs to take account of the differing needs, motivations and interests of the target volunteers recognising differences between the generally interested public and skilled amateur experts such as birders
  • Collaboration between skilled amateur experts and scientists in the design, development, piloting, and evaluation of digital technologies and associated social media tools, ensures citizen scientists have tools they find useful as well as providing scientists with appropriate data
  • Third party organisations may be crucial communication partners reaching specific interest groups.

These resources were used by the Forestry Commission to improve understanding of the potential of social media to increase engagement in citizen science projects.



Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Social media in forestry

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest provide the public with a range of different ways to comment, learn, organise and manage their interactions and interests related to forests and woodlands. This has significant implications for the Forestry Commission and other stakeholders facilitating public engagement.

A rapid evidence review (Stewart, Ambrose-Oji and Morris, 2012) showed social media use by public and civil society organisations successfully improved:

  • Public engagement and democratisation processes, although significant differences exist between public engagement in government versus civil society initiatives
  • Spatial decision-making processes using data volunteered by the public
  • Technology-mediated citizen science monitoring
  • Pro-environmental and other behaviour change related to woodland management and recreation.

Public bodies continue to be challenged by social media. Issues include:

  • Quality and security of content and data
  • Processes and procedures able to accommodate new digital technologies
  • Digital literacy within organisations
  • Understanding social media use amongst different audiences
  • Resourcing and managing interactive relationships via social media.

A survey of 153 Forestry Commission staff (Stewart and Ambrose-Oji, 2013) showed that:

  • 71% used social media, and 38% did this as part of their professional role
  • The majority of respondents were generating social media content as well as passively consuming it
  • The most popular platforms were YouTube, Wiki, Facebook, photo sharing applications and LinkedIn
  • Some staff members felt uncomfortable using social media as part of their working practice because of
    • Difficulties managing personal versus professional identities
    • Risks around confidentiality and organisational reputation.

These resources were used by the Forestry Commission to improve understanding of the potential of different kinds of social media, inform the development of social media strategies to engage the public, and identify staff training support requirements.


For copies of the research reports or any additional information please contact:

Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji


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Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Science group leader