EPE TIG Week: Rupu Gupta on Purposeful Partnerships to Create Equitable Connections with Nature

Hi, I’m Rupu Gupta, Co-Chair of AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group and Researcher at New Knowledge Organization Ltd., an interdisciplinary research and evaluation think tank.

Every year, Earth Day reminds us of the global movement to protect our planet’s environment and all the ways we as individuals can make a difference. But what makes us want to take care of nature, and what prevents us? The field of conservation psychology is deeply interested in answering this question by studying the complex, reciprocal relationship humans have with nature.

People enjoy a multitude of benefits from close interaction with the natural environment impacting our attention restoration, physical and mental health, as well as our social capital. However, there are disparities in affording these benefits, since not everyone has equal access to nature. Low-income groups especially have limited green spaces where they live as a result of systemic social, economic, and political barriers that dictate where they live and the amenities available (including parks and green spaces) there.

To create more equitable access and engagement with nature, programs need to address the societal scale of the problem, making efforts to address the lived experiences of people while simultaneously changing policy, practice, and discourse. The Children and Nature Network did just that in their Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities Initiative. The Initiative aimed to advocate for areas in or around schools to include flora, fauna and intentionally built features so that communities could access and use these green spaces.

Lesson Learned:

So what helped to advance this ambitious goal? Purposeful partnerships were at the heart of the shifts observed on the ground in communities as well as in the field among professionals.

  1. Partnerships at different scales helped shift national discourse
  • In a set of pilot cities, cross-sector collaborations including school administrations, city officials, local parks departments, and community members, developed inclusive efforts to create green schoolyards that met the needs of the residents (e.g.., youth were an integral part of the team contributing as equals with the adults).
  • A network of multidisciplinary professionals was fostered who would champion green schoolyards nationally with the help of an Action Agenda covering funding, research, policy, and outreach for them.
  1. Culturally responsive approaches facilitated productive dialogue and action

In both types of partnerships, openness towards and respect of diverse approaches to shape a shared vision (i.e., promoting green schoolyards) led to change in realistic ways. For example, on-the-ground teams were attentive to the constraints within the specific urban setting, and the network professionals started their advocacy efforts by applying it to their specific work context.

Rad Resources:

Check out the following: The Action Agenda creating through the Green Schoolyards Initiative and a more detailed account of the evaluation findings!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “EPE TIG Week: Rupu Gupta on Purposeful Partnerships to Create Equitable Connections with Nature”

  1. Rachelle Smith

    Hi Rupu,

    Thank you for your insightful post. Your question ‘But what makes us want to take care of nature, and what prevents us?’ resonated with me. My guess is that both research in the field of conservation psychology and common sense would have a hard time arguing with early exposure to nature as being highly beneficial for developing environmental stewardship. Since I am an elementary teacher and a new mom, I am particularly invested in connecting young children with the natural world. The school I teach at has an on-sight forest-garden which lends itself wonderfully to place-based learning outdoors through its “flora, fauna and intentionally built features” (Gupta, 2019).

    You raise many good points on the logistical and cultural barriers faced when immersing people in the outdoors, for instance when you describe the lack of green space in many low socioeconomic neighbourhoods. Along this vein, my question for you is: how much nature is enough? It may sound like an odd question, but understanding this may pave the way for innovation in connecting these families with the natural world in a feasible manner. For example, I wonder about a very small herb garden in a window sill or balcony, or creating a nature table by bringing in some simple elements from a walk outdoors–fallen leaves, pine cones and rocks–and observing what changes from season to season. If it is indeed true that even these small connections and invitations to connect with nature can plant the seed (pun intended) for a strong foundation of environmental stewardship, program developers could focus their efforts here, as well as on larger scale initiatives, to bring the great outdoors to more children.

    I look forward to your insight. Thank you!

    Rachelle Smith

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