The challenge is that young people spend a lot of their time on social media, and are very connected through technology, but they seem to visit nature less than previous generations.
The Goal Create an opportunity that contributes to young people’s sense of agency that they can bring about change.
The (re)Generation Project at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) was developed to contribute to the IUCN World Parks Congress imperative to increase the proportion of the younger generations visiting nature, with the hope that positive experiences would translate into people valuing nature, support its conservation, and influence pro-environmental behaviour.
The project was based on the premise that if we want to know what connects with young people – why not ask them?
Our approach was to ask young people (15-25 years old) for their ideas to inspire other young people to visit and value nature.
The (re)Generation Project asked:
- Would young people (15-25 year olds) come up with ideas to inspire others to visit and value nature?
- What strategy and means of communication or persuasion would they use?
- Would peer to peer communication amongst 15-25 year olds inspire other young people to visit nature?
- What motivates 15-25 year olds to visit nature?
The project provided opportunities for young people to volunteer to work on their own projects to engage their peers in nature. We ran two approaches:
- mentoring youth-led ideas for projects to engage their peers;
- digital storytelling about a connection with nature.
We explored if the projects could inject some conversations into social media about visiting and valuing nature.
We were able to engage 37 school and mostly university students in taking part in this volunteer project to completion.
We undertook two phases of activity.
- In phase one, 9 individual projects were developed that explored how to motivate young people to visit and value nature. While three groups proposed Facebook pages to inform young people about nature or arrange ‘naturally social’ events, the rest were not social media oriented as we had assumed. Other projects included organising congresses of young people (some with several schools in their area) to educate and engage others on the environment and pass the leadership baton on from older students to younger ones to run environment clubs. One group organised a ‘festival for nature’, others arranged an art installation on nature, composed a song and posted it to YouTube, and worked with a school and community to upgrade a food garden.
- In phase two, eleven short films were made to tell a story about ‘a connection with nature’, either their own or someone else’s. Storytelling provides the viewer with the material to find their own connection rather than telling them what to do. This approach may have particular value in environmental communication where messages of ‘loss’ are often delivered and action demanded, rather than stories of love or connection told. There were twoimportant components of the film making project:
a. A very structured short time frame for the project (2 months) with regular inputs of training in digital storytelling
b. Holding three public screenings of the films, and involving the young people in a Q&A about their stories;
c. Online campaign to promote the stories different audiences (e.g. schools were notified of the stories for a screening).
Surveys of those who watched the films reported they were reminded of how good a nature experience is and expressed the view that they should visit nature more often. We estimate that online views of films on Facebook Video and YouTube for all 11 films equaled 4922 views. Other screenings by schools and universities of the 11 films added a further 906 views. Recorded live views of the films at screenings totaled: 10,471 views. In total, the social media reach from shares for the 11 films amounted to 85,653 people from shares on our Facebook page, the young participants’ personal Facebook pages, and through shares from our various partners.
The young participants who were engaged in the projects benefited from a capacity building process including mentoring in project planning and research, training in digital storytelling, and presenting and reflecting on their projects. Many participants used social media to promote their projects to reach hundreds of their peers through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
From our surveys of the participants who created the films, participants felt a strengthened personal connection with nature; and confidence and capability to communicate their own love and care for nature. Additionally, participants felt they learned to effectively communicate inspiring and informative messages through ‘storytelling’ and the medium of film. The participants also identified having a sense of achievement in managing a project and adapting the approach according to practical constraints which contributed to sense of agency to take the initiative, run a project, and to reflect on their work. We found that participants felt a sense of agency and a desire to continue to inspire other young people to engage with nature.
- Provide opportunities for young people to develop their skills as change makers by mentoring them to lead their own projects to engage their peers in nature.
- Young people can model behaviors that effectively influence others and advocacy ‘for nature’ becomes part of their identity.
- Providing young people with activities that give them a sense of agency can bring about change.
- Capacity development is required in project conception and management, communication, and digital storytelling.
- Structured programs of inputs and delivery dates are more likely to succeed as time management is required, plus a rewarding public show of the projects.
- Five minute digital stories are probably too long for most social media followers!
This project was funded by NSW Environmental Trust and supported by Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia