ACCESS - Advancing Capacity for Climate  and Environment Social Science
ACCESS - Advancing Capacity for Climate  and Environment Social Science
School girls in class at a desk writing with leaves on the table

Can a novel knowledge co-production approach advance community organisations’ ability to harness the social sciences in urban biodiversity renewal?

Project team

Bethan Stagg

Dr Bethan Stagg
Postdoctoral Fellow
School of Education, University of Exeter

Lindsay Hetherington

Dr Lindsay Hetherington
Associate Professor
Science Education, University of Exeter

The Project

We will test and develop a novel knowledge co-production approach with schools, families and organisations for increasing biodiversity and nature connectedness in an urban area of multiple disadvantage in Plymouth.

Families represent an important target for biodiversity renewal since childhood experiences and family values influence pro-nature behaviours across the life span more than any other factors. Families living in areas of multiple disadvantage are particularly important since they have the fewest opportunities to access nature.

There have been longstanding attempts by environmental organisations to address this issue, but progress has been limited. A key problem is that current initiatives tend to either focus on working exclusively with schools or targeting families outside of school. The focus on schools has limited impact on the families themselves, whilst a “family only” focus tends to only attract people that are already nature connected, thus widening the gap.

Map showing the community venues where the family engagement work be based in the Plymouth area


We draw on Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), a process for mapping and mobilising participants’ assets (e.g., knowledge, networks, skills, land, buildings) to address a specific social challenge.
The project objectives:

  1. Develop a delivery/advisory partnership and produce and capture the learning and insights in a shared ‘theory of change’ (see below for partners)
  2. Deliver a programme of biodiversity learning in schools, coupled with safer opportunities for families to engage, using a ‘stepping stone’ approach of progressive engagement
  3. Organise ABCD workshops to identify assets and produce an action plan for increasing biodiversity and pro-nature behaviours in these neighbourhoods
  4. Communicate the action plan through a creative asset (e.g. animation, art installation) to the wider neighbourhood, with opportunities for feedback and contribution of ideas.
  5. Communicate ‘lessons learnt’ and capture emerging good practice in a written report and online webinar for environmental practitioners
Mapping exercise at school with children and a parent.
School boys looking for insects

Guiding Principles

Knowledge co-production is at the heart of this project proposal and we will strive to be context-based, pluralistic, goal-oriented, and interactive (Norström et al. 2020).

We aim to be sensitive to the meanings, sense making, beliefs, priorities and aspirations of the social groups we engage with, and to support rather than hinder the agency and relational networks of our co-producers (Russell, 2020).

We are working closely with Zebra Collective, a worker co-operative based in the target community. Zebra Collective uses trauma-informed practice, an important consideration since communities in areas of multiple disadvantage are more likely to be traumatised from adverse childhood experiences and adverse environmental factors such as poverty, inequality, poor housing, discrimination and we aim to be mindful of the power dynamic that will operate from the disparities in social and cultural capital between project staff/consultants and neighbourhood residents. We have allocated a budget to address barriers to participation, for example, caregiving obligations and translation to other languages. We also believe that co-producers should be compensated for their time and have included a budget for gift vouchers for this purpose.


In December we explored invertebrates in the school grounds with children in Years 1 and 2 at St Peters C of E primary school. Our after-school drop-in sessions were an opportunity for children to show off their biodiversity discoveries to their parents and other adult carers. Families also contributed their views on greenspaces on a giant map of the neighbourhood. Our first weekend event, featuring fun nature activities and a walk around the neighbourhood looking at pavement plants, took place in early January.

We will be investigating plants and invertebrates with children in reception and Years 1 and 2 classes at Marlborough Primary Academy in January – February and inviting parents to share their discoveries. We are also developing hedge planting and wildlife gardening events for families of the school with ‘Plymouth City Council’s Green Communities Project.

School boy looking at insect collected in a pooter outside with classmaktes.


In Between the Cracks – a talk about pavement plants

Children’s perceptions about biodiversity in the city

Discovering the biodiversity in my neighbourhood

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