Social Research Review to Inform Natural Environment Policy

Funded by: Defra


November 2009 to November 2010

PSI researchers:

Robin Vanner

Background, summary and aims

Background, Scope and Aims

This proposal is intended to deliver a rapid overview of the social science relevant to Defra’s Environment and Rural Group (ERG) policy areas; explore two or three policy challenges (either within a specific ERG policy area or cutting across many areas) in greater depth; and report the project findings in a concise and usable form relevant to policy-makers working in natural environment policy, both generally and in the specific areas the project will focus on.

The key policy areas of interest include: wildlife issues and biodiversity; the ecosystem approach; land management and soil; flood risk management; water availability and quality; people and landscapes; outdoor recreation; rural affairs; and, marine and fisheries. There are numerous examples where social research is helping (and could help in the future) to address challenges within and across these policy areas.

The challenge for this study will be to draw together relevant social research findings from a broad and diverse evidence base and to present them in a way that is informative, relevant and accessible to Defra’s ERG policy-makers. This will require rigorous review, concise synthesis and engagement with policy-makers to understand their needs and the constraints they operate under, and to ensure the social research evidence is reviewed and interpreted within the context of a policy framework.

Project Design

This project will draw on the wide-ranging expertise and knowledge of three project partners – Policy Studies Institute, the Centre for Rural Economy, and Land Use Consultants. The project adopts a three-stage approach:

  • Stage 1 aims to provide a rapid overview of the social science research relevant to the ERG policy areas of interest (primarily using web-based and database searches) and an assessment of which two or three policy challenges – whether within or cutting across different policy areas – to take forward for more in-depth review and analysis.
  • Stage 2 seeks to explore in greater depth the areas most pertinent to natural environment policy. It will include an in-depth review of two or three policy challenges identified in Stage 1 involving a workshop and a systematic review of the literature in each case.
  • Stage 3 aims to bring together and disseminate the material identified and developed in Stage 1 and 2 in policy-relevant formats. It will analyse and synthesise the outcomes of the previous stages and present them in high quality formats relevant and usable by policy-makers, including full reports, executive summaries and policy briefings.

Importance of Research

There is increasing recognition within both policy and academic communities that many natural environment-related policy issues cannot be framed, explored and addressed solely through evidence from natural science research, but require more interdisciplinary research that embraces both social and natural science (amongst other disciplines).

Through the three stages outlined above, this project will provide a reliable assessment of the robustness of the existing social research evidence base in these natural environment policy areas, highlight how social research may help frame natural environment policy problems and solutions in new and beneficial ways, and identify the social research gaps that need to be filled to assist Defra in tackling emerging and future policy challenges in this area.

Related publications / project outputs

Social Research Evidence Review to Inform Natural Environment Policy: Reports and Annex

The Big Society Concept in a Natural Environment Setting