This is case study for Principle V4: Innovation and improvement.

Background

Natural England runs the People and Nature Survey for England, which collects valuable data on how people in England experience and think about the environment. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the analytical team published timelier data and adapted the survey to collect additional information on the impact of the pandemic.

Adding insight on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

The restrictions imposed by the UK government to manage the pandemic impacted people’s experience of nature in England. During the most severe restrictions in early 2020 it was illegal “for a person to leave the place where they are living without a reasonable excuse” (see the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020). Recognising the value of the People and Nature Survey data, and responding to strong stakeholder demand for relevant, timely insight, the analytical team developed a set of monthly early (interim) indicators. These were published a month after the first data were collected. (The team also publishes a fuller quarterly dataset.) To measure the impact of COVID-19, new questions were added to survey from May 2020 to gather information on topics like the amount of time spent in gardens and changes in behaviour and well-being under lockdown.

Statistics in development

All statistics and data from the People & Nature Survey are being released as experimental statistics and are developed under the guidance of the Head of Profession for Statistics, in line with the Code.

User engagement was a critical part of the development process. The team selected the set of interim indicators and developed the new COVID-19 questions in consultation with stakeholders from across government, academia and non-governmental organisations. It gathered comments and feedback in a range of ways, for example, by presenting the proposed indicators to a stakeholder group across the conservation sector convened by Natural England policy teams. The team had to start thinking early about the case for going live with the survey (before the pandemic) and had many conversations with academic users, among others, about the survey in that context. Ideas for new COVID-19 questions also came out of those discussions. Some testing of the indicators was done with users before the first results were published in June 2020.

As a result of this proactive engagement the team strengthened links with known users, such as analysts in the Office for National Statistics who peer reviewed the interim indicators statistics bulletin and provided advice on dissemination. But the team also established links with new academic users who they had not previously heard from.

The team is clear with stakeholders that the interim indicators are a work in progress and continues to invite user feedback on the statistics. The statistics landing page and bulletins are transparent about the experimental status of the statistics and the benefits of the ‘statistics in development’ approach, for example: “The Experimental Statistic status allows for the noteworthy change in data collection methodology between MENE (face to face interviews) and the People and Nature Survey (online panel) to be fully evaluated before a planned transition to National Statistics designation.” (MENE is the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment, the People & Nature Survey’s predecessor.)

The interim indicators provide users with additional opportunities to collaborate on the ongoing development of the People and Nature Survey experimental statistics. For instance, there is a newly formed group of academic researchers who wish to collaborate on the use of People and Nature Survey data, including for COVID-19 research. This widens the scope for cross-analysis of data and delivering greater insight into people’s engagement with the natural environment.

Summary

This case study demonstrates how the analytical team has successfully developed new experimental statistics and adapted existing processes to deliver timely data and insight. It highlights the benefits of creating opportunities for collaboration with users and involving users in the ongoing development of the statistics.

Find out more

For additional information on how the Natural England analytical team engages with users, see the companion case study V1: Involving users in the production and development of statistics.