Chapter 1: Public value
User engagement and public value
1.1 Natural England introduced the People and Nature Survey for England (PaNS) in 2020, building on its Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey which ran from 2009 to 2019. PaNS gathers data on people’s use and enjoyment of the natural environment and its impact on wellbeing.
1.2 Statistics and data from the PaNS are used widely within Natural England and by other government departments, researchers, and academics to help understand people’s use and enjoyment of the natural environment and its impact on wellbeing. They also contribute to Natural England’s delivery of statutory duties, inform Defra policy and natural capital accounting, and contribute to the outcome indicator framework for the 25 Year Environment Plan.
1.3 The PaNS went live in April 2020 and with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PaNS team at Natural England adapted the survey to collect additional information on the impact of COVID-19 and publish timelier monthly data. These monthly indicators stopped in March 2022 and currently the statistics are published on a quarterly and annual basis.
1.4 Our Rapid Regulatory Review carried out in June 2020 found that user engagement around these interim monthly indicators was exemplary. We welcome that this has been built on through the user engagement exercise carried out over summer 2022 which led to over 90 responses via a survey, follow up interviews and workshops. Initial feedback from the exercise has led to refinement of the annual bulletin to reflect how users make use of the annual data.
1.5 A key part of the assessment was talking to people who use the statistics, to help us to understand the current value of the statistics, and where there is the potential to increase this. Our engagement gave us some insight into the extent to which the statistics meet different users’ needs and into which users feel that the statistics producers engage with them.
1.6 Users we spoke to during the assessment recognise the value of PaNS. However, users suggested that the survey could be promoted more as they felt the statistics it do not have the broad audience they deserve. We heard, as an example, of some smaller organisations who work on improving access to the outdoors were not aware of PaNS and so could be missing out on the opportunity to add greater public value.
1.7 The PaNS team also has a lot of further development ideas in the pipeline to add further value and insight to the current outputs. These proposals include adding visualisations to the quarterly datasets and making the data available on the UK Data Service (UKDS), including making additional data available to those who are accredited to UKDS for advanced modelling and analysis. This echoes what we heard from some users who said that they would like to see more analysis and infographics. If the data were to be made available on the UKDS this should also help increase the use of PANS and therefore increase its profile. Natural England has not published any plans for these developments. Having a clear plan that is also transparent about improvements that are not currently feasible, will help manage users’ expectations.This plan should be user-led and a result of engagement to understand what developments would be most valuable to users.
Requirement 1: To enhance the public value of PaNS statistics, Natural England should:
- publish development plans with timescales and share with its newly expanded user base,
- ensure that users have opportunities to contribute to development planning, are aware in advance of developments being launched, and have opportunities to contribute their views on new developments once published.
- enable wider access to the data by continuing with plans to make it available through the UK Data Service or equivalent platforms.
- This will help ensure that users’ needs are fully understood, and their use of the statistics is supported.
1.8 There is an established PaNS Research user group, and a stakeholder group where planned work is discussed, and users are able to give feedback. Publishing a summary of relevant minutes and actions from these group meetings would demonstrate transparency about the team’s approach to engaging with users and to help foster wider user engagement, which may in turn lead to further improvements in the statistics. We welcome that the team has committed to publishing these minutes and actions.
1.9 The team responds to ad-hoc data requests and is working to identify common requests that will shape future thematic reports to improve the equality of access to data and insights to more users.
1.10 Users we spoke to during the assessment process expressed an interest in having detailed spatial data about where people go when engaging with the outdoors and more-granular data for example down to local authority level. However, users do acknowledge that the data could become less robust when presented at a lower level and this may not be resolved without increasing the sample size.
1.11 User feedback also suggested a need to be able to see a UK-wide picture of people’s views on engaging with nature. There are equivalent People and Nature Surveys for Wales and Scotland, and the respective teams meet a couple of times a year to discuss the potential for alignment and adding value through collaboration. This potential is limited by the differing interests of the organisations that fund each of the surveys. However, the Natural England team is interested in exploring the feasibility of using data from England, Scotland, and Wales to create a composite indicator for engagement with the natural environment in collaboration with the Office for National Statistics (ONS). We have also heard that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland is investigating setting up its own equivalent survey on people, nature, and the outdoors, and so we suggest reaching out to the team and involving it in any UK-wide discussions. While we understand that the PaNS team has not had the resource to fully assess the key similarities and differences with the other UK countries People and Nature Surveys, we welcome that the Natural England team has agreed to reference them in its outputs so that users can access them more easily and draw their own comparisons as appropriate.
Requirement 2: To help users develop a coherent understanding of people and nature across the UK, Natural England should assess the similarities and differences between each country’s surveys and explain these to users.
1.12 Natural England has published a wealth of documentation and material to support the PaNS statistics on its main web page. These include the welcome addition of the new data dashboard as well as further useful material on the People and Nature User hub such as an informative video and a link to the survey questionnaire.
1.13 The majority of users we spoke to during the assessment process tended to be ‘expert’ users and mainly use the published data tables, but those who did make use of the statistical bulletin and other supporting material were generally happy with the presentation and content of the statistics. However, navigation between the different outputs and supporting material is not straightforward.
1.14 Presenting the material in a more coherent and joined-up way with clearer signposting would make navigation to the most relevant data and guidance for particular uses easier. The PaNS web page itself contains a mixture of current and discontinued material and there is some inconsistency in the naming conventions of the annual reports. Natural England has committed to refreshing the PaNS webpage which should help to address these issues. We appreciate that at the same time this has to be balanced with some of the limitations of the capability of the gov.uk webpage.
1.15 As mentioned in para 1.7 Natural England plans to introduce infographics or other visual tools alongside the quarterly data releases, similar to the one produced to accompany the Year 1 report. We have highlighted to the team the need to follow accessibility legislation, (see Government Analysis Function guidance here) as while this infographic was produced using Natural England branding and followed Natural England guidelines, the infographic may not be as accessible to all users as it could be.
1.16 The team agreed it would be beneficial to users to re-instate the glossary that was removed from the latest annual publication in 2022 and to expand it to include other technical terms that some users may not be familiar with.Back to top