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Research Guide

How do I get Research & Evaluation Going in My Outdoor Education Organization?

James Neill
Last updated:
30 Jul 2004

Introduction

Here are some basic models for implementing a Research and Evaluation program (or Research and Development program) in an outdoor education organization.  Any one of these can work if well managed, or some combination of the options below can also be effective.

Know What The Organization Wants and Values

The hardest part of conducting research is working out what is to be studied.  Literally any facet of an organization, program, experience can be researched, so its a question of narrowing in and selecting some areas of focus.  The two most common research questions that interest outdoor education organizations are:

  • Are our outdoor education programs effect in enhancing personal, social, and/or academic or bottom-line outcomes?

  • What are the most important elements of an outdoor education program in determine the effects of an outdoor education program?

Internal Promotion

Train up a promising, interested staff member.  Preferably the person would already have a bachelor's degree in a field such as psychology or education.  If you're organization could support the person through a one or two year post-graduate research degree, then they could become a real asset because they know the organization's needs and can apply their new research skills.  Downsides are potential up-front cost and lack of suitable interest or potential within the staff.

External Appointment (Consultancy)

Employ someone who can dedicate time/energy/expertise to setting up and conducting research and evaluation for the organization.  The strength of this approach is being able to employ the 'right' person for the job.  Downsides are that there are a lack of suitable candidates at the moment and upfront and ongoing wage costs.  One option is to make a part-time appointment or, my preference would be to have someone who is 50% in the field and 50% working on an organization's research and evaluation.

Academic Partnership

Partner your organization with a university or consultant to conduct research and evaluation.  Finding a local university or local area consultant with these skills is not possible in most areas, so you may need to expect creating a long-distance relationship, possibly even an international one.  An example is that at the University of New Hampshire, we partner with outdoor education organizations around the world and ask them each to sponsor the tuition fees for a graduate student.  In return UNH provides the professional research and evaluation services for those organizations. 

Organizational Partnership

Form an alliance with other organizations and share both the costs of benefits of having a common research and evaluation program.

Grants

Seek research or philanthropic grant funding for establishing a research and evaluation program in your organization.

Students

Establish a list of desired research and development projects and market these to your local universities for graduate students to take them on.