A good deal of time and energy over the last few years has gone into seeking to influence national government and policymakers with a view to expanding outdoor learning's impact on U.K. society. This has seen some tremendous progress in some areas, probably most notably in Scotland with the adoption of the curriculum for excellence and the role Outdoor Learning plays in this.
There continues to be a significant amount of effort directed towards drawing on research to influence policy and certainly much research funding relating to the outdoors has been spent in support of this. More recently though, I believe, there is an increasing recognition of the need to strengthen the 'third leg of the research, policy & practice stool'. A recognition that there is a very real need to identify and develop the use of good practice in the growing use of outdoor learning. The Natural Connections project has probably been the most significant indicator of this changing emphasis.
So what's the Institute doing to ensure that a growing focus on the use of outdoor learning, as recently recognised by the Education Select Committee, is not hampered by a lack of understanding and capability in utilising good practice? It's time to move beyond some very good sharing of good practice amongst talented practitioners and find more ways of joining up this development of good practice across the UK. Putting to one side the on-going need to influence policy the emphasis on change needs to be focused on the relationship between practice and research. What does this look like?
After some very encouraging meetings between academics and experienced practitioners at IOL's National Conference looking at regional research hubs, the model for these hubs has been developed. IOL is teaming up with Cumbria University to provide a national coordinator for a series of pilot research hubs. Initially these will be in Scotland and North West and South West England. A wide range of academics and outdoor learning providers have expressed interest in the hubs and the resultant structure will feed into Natural England's Strategic Research Group, as well as aggregating and disseminating research that might otherwise be missed. The hubs are not just about aggregation and dissemination of existing research activity but will also play an important role in identifying unanswered questions and providing forums to reduce excessive repetition in outdoor learning research. Finally and crucially, the join up between practitioners and experienced researchers in outdoor learning will provide the opportunity to increase the focus on good practice development and dissemination.
Exciting times. Do let me know by email if you'd like to be involved and haven't yet engaged with this work.