This is a case study for Principle V1: Relevance to users.
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. Users have been, and continue to be, actively involved in the development of the survey and the statistics.
The People and Nature Survey replaced the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey, which ended in 2019. In the last few years of the MENE survey, the team invested significant time and effort in building its user engagement capability and setting up user engagement activities. As a result, it developed a good understanding of the use of the statistics and established effective partnerships with a range of key users. This not only supported the development of the People and Nature Survey but also provided a strong foundation for user engagement activities for the new survey.
The analytical team employs a range of approaches to tell users about the statistics, to understand use of the statistics and to listen to users, some of which are summarised below.
Informing users and facilitating collaboration
The latest People and Nature survey statistics are announced and promoted through social media, including the Natural England Chief Scientist’s Twitter account (@NEChiefSci) and the Defra official statistics Twitter account (@DefraStats). The team informs users and other stakeholders new data releases, survey changes and publications through a stakeholder mailing list.
The team has launched a dedicated user hub for the People and Nature Survey, which provides information about the survey and brings together a number of resources for users, including links to published statistics and data, the survey questionnaire and information about MENE. Through the hub, users can sign up to the mailing list. When signing up, users must complete several basic questions about themselves, which allows the team to collect anonymised information on the background and interests of users.
The hub also provides an option for users to express interest in joining the ‘user research group’. This collaborative group provides a platform for researchers and other users of the People and Nature and the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) datasets to share ideas and tools, collaborate, disseminate work and keep up-to-date with current thinking. The aim of the user research group is to maximise the use and value of the data and also ensures Natural England is aware of how data from the People and Nature Survey and MENE is being used, and what data and outputs are most valuable to users.
Building on the success of earlier user engagement
Supporting and encouraging use of statistics
The team has supported and encouraged use of the MENE statistics in specific ways. For example, it ran training sessions for Natural England staff. Most attendees were familiar with the MENE statistics but had never done their own analysis of the raw data. The training session gave them the confidence to undertake their own analysis, increasing understanding and use of the data within the department. The team also developed new interactive tools and outputs, including a local authority dashboard which allows users to access and integrate local-level data, and a visual story map summarising and reflecting on 10 years of MENE data.
Partnerships with users outside government
The MENE statistics team collaborated with several external organisations, including a National Outdoors for All Working Group which included non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the National Trust and the University of Derby and the University of Exeter, to add new questions to the MENE survey. The questions for the Nature Connection Index were added in 2015 because of this collaboration. This ongoing partnership has boosted the visibility of the MENE statistics and has led to the publication of scientific papers in high-profile academic journals. Regular bilateral meetings with key users, including the Working Group, continue to form a core part of the team’s user engagement for the People & Nature Survey.
Promoting and raising awareness of the statistics
In September 2019, the team ran a user conference to promote the final set of MENE statistics. This was attended by 80 users from inside and outside government. The event gave Natural England the opportunity to tell users directly about the latest statistics and the event encouraged interaction between users. Feedback from users was very positive and the team made contact with several new users.
Understanding users and uses of the statistics
To meet potential users and expand its engagement, the team attended a series of external conferences. This provided insight on the extent to which the MENE statistics are used and helped them discover previously unknown uses; for example, a non-governmental organisation had used the MENE statistics to reformulate a strategy. This understanding of wider use and value strengthened the case for the new People and Nature Survey.
Learning from MENE and involving users in the development of the new survey
In the last year of MENE data collection, Natural England commissioned an independent external review of the MENE survey to ensure that the People and Nature Survey built on what it learnt from MENE and asks the right questions to meet future evidence and policy needs. The review had two parts:
- Exploring methodological approaches for the new survey (shifting from a face-to-face to an online survey); and
- Developing a better understanding the value of MENE data and statistics to users
The team held user events, workshops and bilateral meetings and carried out a survey of key users to gather views on how the MENE statistics and data are currently used and how they could be improved. It engaged with over 100 stakeholders from central government, local government, academia, and conservation organisations.
The outcome of the review fed into the requirements for the People and Nature Survey. But the team also made immediate changes to MENE reporting based on stakeholder feedback, including developing a dashboard for local authorities and a story map.
This case study demonstrates the benefits of investing resources in user engagement activities and making it a central, ongoing part of producing statistics. By engaging with users in different ways, the team was able to capture a range of feedback, which ensures that the statistics meet the needs of all types of users.
Find out more
For an example of how the analytical team involved users in the development of the People & Nature Survey to generate insight on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, see the companion case study V4: Meeting user need for timely data and insight by adapting an existing survey.