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Realising the value of outdoor education: Responding to social and environmental change
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Realising the value of outdoor education: Responding to social and environmental change

We know that educational experiences in natural, outdoor settings can have multiple, powerful outcomes; we also know that the value of these outcomes can be perceived very differently by a broad array of user or customer groups: children, parents, teachers, apprentices, employers all seek different kinds of valuable outcomes, and all evaluate the performance of the experience in different ways. In some cases, evaluation is an important, integrated part of the overall ‘product’, whilst in other cases the strength of the values and beliefs of those organising the experience means that no formal evaluations are needed to justify the value of the experience.

As society changes and what constitutes ‘educational value’ evolves, we suggest that it is time to look closely at the alignment between the values, and value embedded in outdoor ‘products’, the people who deliver them, and the array of individuals and organisations who attend, purchase or organise these experiences on behalf of young people.

The goal of this project is ambitious: it aims to develop a new understanding of how the UK Outdoor Education Sector is valued and explore the possibility of enhancing that value by attaching it to contemporary issues and priorities. A particular focus of interest for this project is the role of education in shaping pro-environmental behaviours, concern for climate change, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is an issue that has become increasingly important to governments, businesses, educationalists and individuals. It must be noted that this is a non-exclusive interest, and researchers will be led by the evidence of what is valuable, built up through the research.

Key objectives

This project will deliver its goals through three interlinked objectives:

1) To identify the markets for new interventions. As society shifts and priorities change, multiple users of outdoor education programmes may need to draw on new products that deliver different outcomes. We will seek to understand these shifting needs and how they are evaluated. This includes studying the potential to enable pro-environmental culture change through outdoor educational experiences for young people.

2) To develop and evaluate the products. Drawing on Brathay Trust’s and The Outward Bound Trust’s 140 years of combined programme delivery experience, the project will build these new products and link them to specific delivery and evaluation expertise.

3) To develop sector-wide mechanisms for delivery, data collection and accounting. The aim here is to enable sector-wide collaboration to create new, compelling evidence of the impact of outdoor education across a range of metrics, potentially with a focus on environmental awareness and behaviour change. These accounts offer access to new markets and new streams of revenue as key stakeholders - be they individuals, schools, regional bodies or national funders – can more clearly value the roles being played by outdoor educators.


Research Team

This research project will be led by Lancaster University, and a team of three researchers from Lancaster University Management School working in conjunction with the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation. The team is as follows:

Project Lead: Matt Healey (PhD student)

Supervisory Lead: Dr Chris Ford

Second Supervisor: Professor Katy Mason

This team will draw in additional academic resources as required by the project, and connect this research up with other business and environmental projects if this can support the work being done.


The three organisations working with the research team are as follows:

The Outward Bound Trust

Brathay Trust

Institute for Outdoor Learning

Combined, these organisations have over 140 years of experience in delivering powerful outcomes for individuals, businesses and society through outdoor education. With significant in-house skills in product and project evaluation, these partners are ideally positioned to co-create the research as it continues, and to benefit from the insights and opportunities that emerge.


Download the announcement here.

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