Publication - Research and analysis

Outdoor recreation - understanding the drivers of participation: research

This report presents findings from research into participation in outdoor recreation among adults in Scotland. The research explores drivers behind the observed increases in participation, as well variations across population groups, with a view to widening participation.

Outdoor recreation - understanding the drivers of participation: research
6. Guiding principles for sustaining positive behaviours and widening participation

6. Guiding principles for sustaining positive behaviours and widening participation

This section pulls together the research findings to address the following objectives:

  • utilise this understanding to make recommendations on how any positive changes in behaviour and attitudes can be sustained over the long-term, and
  • highlight opportunities to widen participation among lower participation groups.

There are many factors influencing an individual's participation in outdoor activities in Scotland – and these factors are often very specific to that person's personal situation. There are also differing motivations, enablers and barriers for different activities. For example, relatively few barriers to recreational walking were identified whereas other activities such as cycling, hillwalking and running were less widely undertaken for a number of reasons. The behavioural influences on participation in outdoor activities in Scotland are, therefore, multifaceted and cover several behavioural dimensions.

Using behaviour change models to devise specific, detailed, recommendations works best when the behaviour in question is also very specific - a relevant example here could be an attempt to increase recreational walking in Scotland. In the current study, however, the aims are very broad. We are looking to behaviour change theory to help us make recommendations to sustain participation in a number of different activities and across different population groups – and, as discussed above, the influencing factors are wide-ranging across both of these.

For these reasons, this section takes a more holistic approach, recognising that there will not be a single intervention – or even a small number of interventions – that will achieve the aims. Instead of providing detailed recommendations, what follows is a series of guiding principles, underpinned by the behavioural influences identified in the research, which should be adhered to when designing any future interventions. These principles are based on analysis of the research findings using the MAPPS behaviour change framework and are not a definitive list. Of course, these principles are linked and should not be considered in isolation but rather in a co-ordinated way whereby more than one principle may be incorporated into a single intervention, if appropriate. Thinking in terms of behaviour change programmes rather than single intervention activities means that it is possible to create a 'virtuous spiral' of improved behaviours, with simple behaviour changes in one area leading to something more significant and holistic.

A further consideration in setting out these guiding principles is a greater focus in this study on the enabling factors at play than would be typical in behaviour change research. The research was with people who were already undertaking the desired behaviour - rather than with those who were not - and sought to understand the main drivers of their participation. While, of course, barriers were identified and have been considered, the guiding principles below have been primarily informed by what is already working for people – and is therefore likely to continue to work for them (and others). Each guiding principle is an example of something that has enabled – or is likely to enable – sustained and/or wider participation in outdoor activities.

The MAPPS behaviour change framework sets out the five key dimensions that are important for behaviour change: Motivational ('do I want to do it?'), Ability ('am I able to do it?'), Processing ('how do I think about it?'), Physical ('does the context encourage it?') and Social ('what do other people do and value?'). For this research we have used MAPPS for diagnosis, providing a rigorous understanding of the mechanisms underlying the behaviours of interest (those relating to participation in outdoor activities in Scotland).

We have grouped the guiding principles under the primary MAPPS dimension to which they relate:[15]

  • Motivational;
  • Ability;
  • Physical; and
  • Social.

The Processing dimension, which refers to how mental shortcuts, biases and behavioural regulation guide decisions and behaviour, cuts across all of these).

Within each principle, we lead with the principle itself and then go on to use MAPPS to describe why it is working i.e. what are the behavioural dimensions and building blocks leading to this. This provides a means to identify how the guiding principle is operating, which can be used to inform future intervention development. We then give an example from the research of the guiding principle playing out in practice. Where a guiding principle particularly relates to a lower participation group, this is noted.

Given the research was qualitative in nature and was not measuring the prevalence of enablers or barriers, we have not assigned any relative importance to the guiding principles.

Table 2 summarises the guiding principles and how these relate to the MAPPS behaviour change framework. Each principle is then discussed in more detail in turn.

Table 2. Summary of guiding principles for future intervention design

MAPPS Dimension: Motivation

Key Question: Do people want to do the behaviour?

Guiding Principle:

1.1: Health professionals play an important role in prescribing outdoor exercise – particularly for minority ethnic groups where the benefits are not as well known

1.2: There may be scope to further advocate the mental health benefits of outdoor activities – these play a key role in sustaining participation but are not currently a main driver to starting activities

1.3: Strengthening the sense of identity people feel with an activity can help sustain and deepen participation

1.4: In designing interventions to encourage families to take part in outdoor recreation, there is scope to build on the view that doing outdoor activities with children is part of being a 'good parent'

1.5: Challenges and goals (e.g. walking 10,000 steps a day, running a 10k) act as useful ways of sustaining motivation. The use of technology, such as apps and fitness watches, can support these goals

MAPPS Dimension: Ability

Key Question: Are people able to do the behaviour?

Guiding Principle:

2.1: There is a role for greater information provision and communication of the benefits of outdoor activities, particularly among minority ethnic groups

2.2: Emphasise the range of activities that can be enjoyed, including by people who are less physically mobile

2.3: Childhood experiences can strongly influence sustained participation in outdoor activities in adulthood

2.4: Encouraging the development of new or adapted routines can help to build motivation for participation in outdoor recreation

MAPPS Dimension: Physical

Key Question: Does the context encourage the behaviour?

Guiding Principle:

3.1: Availability of good quality, easy to access local spaces helps to facilitate regular participation, while a lack of these can be a barrier in more deprived areas

3.2: The physical infrastructure and maintenance of outdoor spaces affects their accessibility, appeal and usage

3.3: Improvements to cycling infrastructure, and ways to help people build their cycling confidence and manage challenging cycling situations, may address some of the barriers to this activity

3.4: Available resources (financial, transport, equipment) affect both the range of activities people can do and the extent to which they can engage with them

3.5: The role played by life stage and personal and family circumstances should be borne in mind when considering opportunities to encourage participation. For example, parenthood/ retirement

MAPPS Dimension: Social

Key Question: What do other people do and value, that may act either as an enabler or a barrier to doing the behaviour?

Guiding Principle: 4.1: Activity groups and organised trips can help both to initiate and to sustain participation

4.2: More informal social meetings for outdoor activities can also help to initiate and sustain participation

4.3: Cultural norms strongly influence knowledge, attitudes and behaviours, acting as both an enabler and a barrier

6.1. Motivational ('do I want to do it?')

Guiding principle 1.1: Health professionals play an important role in prescribing outdoor exercise – particularly for minority ethnic groups where the benefits are not as well known.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Outcome expectation – desire to improve health/fitness
  • Self-efficacy – health professionals can act as a facilitator of self-efficacy by helping people feel able to do it
  • Capability – lack of knowledge of benefits

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Build understanding (of the benefits of outdoor activities, helping people see the relevance and importance to them)
  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)
  • Connect (allowing connections to be formed or making these available as informational sources)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A participant had been advised by their GP that they needed to lose weight or risk becoming diabetic. This acted as a trigger to begin outdoor exercise. Experiencing the physical benefits motivated them to keep going.

Feedback and encouragement from the GP on the participant's weight loss and associated diabetes risk could further motivate this person to sustain their participation in outdoor recreation.

Guiding principle 1.2: There may be scope to further advocate the mental health benefits of outdoor activities – these play a key role in sustaining participation but are not currently a main driver to starting activities.

It is unclear whether this is simply because these benefits are less well known or whether they need to be personally experienced to become a significant motivator.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Outcome expectation – desire to maintain improvements experienced
  • Emotion – enhancing the positive emotions experienced
  • Capability – lack of knowledge of benefits prior to starting outdoor activities

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Build understanding (of the benefits of outdoor activities, helping people see the relevance and importance to them)
  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A participant wanted to lose weight and decided to start running. She downloaded the Couch to 5k running app to get herself started. She found that she didn't enjoy running but did enjoy walking. She reached her target weight. However, she continued regular walking as she found that it helped her feel better mentally. When walking, she put music on and enjoyed not thinking about anything for a while.

The positive effects on her wellbeing became particularly apparent when she couldn't walk for a few months due to an ankle injury - she felt more anxious and wasn't sleeping as well.

Guiding principle 1.3: Strengthening the sense of identity people feel with an activity can help sustain and deepen participation.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Identity – aligning activities with a salient personal identity
  • Emotion – feelings of pride and self-worth due to the level of participation in the activity

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Build understanding (of the benefits of outdoor activities, helping people see the relevance and importance to them)
  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)
  • Connect (allowing connections to be formed or making these available as informational sources)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A participant had been a keen hillwalker and runner for a number of years. Because of this she identified as an 'outdoorsy' person. She also had a strong identity of being a 'bubbly' person and felt that her outdoor exercise contributed to this, helping her to remain upbeat.

She felt that others also viewed her in this way, and this helped motivate her to keep hillwalking and running.

Guiding principle 1.4: In designing interventions to encourage families to take part in outdoor recreation, there is scope to build on the view that doing outdoor activities with children is part of being a 'good parent'.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Identity – part of being a 'good parent'
  • Emotion – importance and enjoyment of family time
  • Capability – knowledge of the benefits to children
  • Social – 'good parents' do outdoor activities with their children

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Build understanding (of the benefits of outdoor activities, helping people see the relevance and importance to them)
  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)
  • Connect (allowing connections to be formed or making these available as informational sources)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A lone parent with a health condition which limited her physical ability felt strongly that this should not prevent her child from being active outdoors. She knew this was important for her child and that the time together would also be good for their relationship. She pushed herself to get outdoors with him and felt they both enjoyed and benefited from their time spent being active outdoors.

Guiding principle 1.5: Challenges and goals (e.g. walking 10,000 steps a day, running a 10k) act as useful ways of sustaining motivation. The use of technology, such as apps and fitness watches, can support these goals.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Self-efficacy – provide opportunities to build confidence and mastery by allowing for gradual learning of skills
  • Internalisation – help people set personally-relevant goals and participate in meaningful challenges

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Build understanding (of the benefits of outdoor activities, helping people see the relevance and importance to them)
  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)
  • Connect (allowing connections to be formed or making these available as informational sources)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

To sustain her motivation to exercise regularly, a parent put aside an hour a day for exercise and her goal was to walk 10,000 steps every day. She tracked her activity using her watch.

6.2. Ability ('am I able to do it?')

Guiding principle 2.1: There is a role for greater information provision and communication of the benefits of outdoor activities, particularly among minority ethnic groups.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Capability – lack of knowledge of a range of activities, where to do them and the benefits

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Build understanding (of the benefits of outdoor activities, helping people see the relevance and importance to them)
  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

One participant from a minority ethnic group described a lack of knowledge of the benefits of outdoor activities within her community. She also felt that members of her community, who did want to take up outdoor activities, would not know where to go or be aware of the options available to them. Personally, she had experienced the benefits of walking and expanded her knowledge of places to go through her walking group.

Guiding principle 2.2: Emphasise the range of activities that can be enjoyed, including by people who are less physically mobile.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Capability – knowledge of a range of activities and the benefits, physical ability to participate
  • Emotion – allowing for enjoyment to be experienced across a range of different participation levels

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Build understanding (of the benefits of outdoor activities, helping people see the relevance and importance to them)
  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A retired participant was no longer able to walk far as a result of knee problems. Instead, she visited parks with others, who were able to help her get there. On these visits she had a short walk, before sitting and chatting to her companion. Although she was constrained in what she could do, she still really enjoyed her outings and felt she benefited mentally.

Guiding principle 2.3: Childhood experiences can strongly influence sustained participation in outdoor activities in adulthood.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Routines – habits formed in childhood become embedded and the behaviours continue into adulthood

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)
  • Planning (new skills and intentions to take part in an activity are developed and maintained)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A young participant who was highly active and regularly walked, cycled and played golf talked about having done these activities with her parents and grandparents when she was growing up. She described them as a very active family and credits them with her love for outdoor activities.

Guiding principle 2.4: Encouraging the development of new or adapted routines can help to build motivation for participation in outdoor recreation.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Routines – making an activity part of a daily/weekly routine
  • Self-efficacy – experience enacting behaviours through routines can help build confidence and sense of mastery
  • Internalisation – routines can reflect commitment to others making more personally meaningful

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)
  • Planning (new skills and intentions to take part in an activity are developed and maintained)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A participant who had moved to working at home during the pandemic had increased his participation in outdoor activities as he had started to go for lunchtime walks - and this quickly became part of his daily routine.

6.3. Physical ('does the context encourage it?')

Guiding principle 3.1: Availability of good quality, easy to access local spaces helps to facilitate regular participation, while a lack of these can be a barrier in more deprived areas.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Environmental factors – quality of spaces, proximity to home

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Restructuring (changing environment to enhance or remove influences)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A single parent living in a deprived area felt there was a lack of suitable places locally to take her children, describing the parks as vandalised and full of litter. As a result, she would not go to any of the local parks and chose to drive to ones further afield instead.

Guiding principle 3.2: The physical infrastructure and maintenance of outdoor spaces affects their accessibility, appeal and usage.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Environmental factors – accessibility, infrastructure and maintenance of places

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Restructuring (changing environment to enhance or remove influences)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A participant described the many positive features of a space that led to her visiting it weekly with her nephews – away from busy roads (peaceful), having a mix of hard paths, landscaped grass, trees and plants as well as a playpark, tennis courts and a bird sanctuary. A small improvement she would like to see is a greater number of benches.

Guiding principle 3.3: Improvements to cycling infrastructure, and ways to help people build their cycling confidence and manage challenging cycling situations, may address some of the barriers to this activity.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Environmental factors – concerns about the safety of cycling on roads, particularly with children
  • Self-efficacy – lack of confidence in cycling abilities

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Understanding (providing people with opportunities to develop their cycling abilities in safe spaces)
  • Feedback (ensuring cycling is a positive experience, reducing negative emotions, or helping people manage these)
  • Restructuring (changing environment to enhance or remove influences)
  • Connect (facilitating learning from others to identify safe routes and cycling practices)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A minority ethnic participant who had not cycled in childhood had heard that cycling was a good form of exercise and wanted to take it up. She was able to do this through a local authority scheme which provided both lessons and bike rental. She wanted to continue cycling but her course had been put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions and she hadn't had use of a bike.

Guiding principle 3.4: Available resources (financial, transport, equipment) affect both the range of activities people can do and the extent to which they can engage with them.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Environmental factors – personal resources

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Restructuring (provide opportunities to share resources so that participation isn't reliant on personal means)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A participant, who was not currently working, did not have a car and felt this restricted him to walking close to home. He would like to engage in mountain biking and camping in the future but he wasn't able to afford the equipment.

Interventions such as equipment rental schemes and organised groups may be ways of facilitating these activities.

Guiding principle 3.5: The role played by life stage and personal and family circumstances should be borne in mind when considering opportunities to encourage participation. For example, parents typically have a focus on activities they can do with their children and retirement can present an opportunity for instigating or renewing participation in outdoors activities.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Environmental – leisure time available to participate in outdoor activities
  • Social – caring responsibilities create constraints on what activities people can participate in
  • Capability – abilities and skills change across life stages, influencing what activities people can participate in

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Build understanding (of the benefits of outdoor activities, helping people see the relevance and importance to them)
  • Feedback (positive benefits of the activity are experienced, and feedback and encouragement provided)
  • Restructure (identify moments of changing environmental influences to align activities with these)
  • Connect (help people form connections with others at similar life stages to provide learning opportunities)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A participant took up walking when he retired. He suddenly found he had a lot more spare time and also realised how important this was for his health in later life. He walked five times a week, mostly with his wife and felt it had benefitted him in several ways – he had lost weight, felt better mentally, enjoyed the time with his wife and enjoyed the nature, scenery and fresh air.

6.4. Social ('what do other people do and value?')

Guiding principle 4.1: Activity groups and organised trips can help both to initiate and to sustain participation.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Social norms – group creates and reinforces normative expectations and behaviours, these can further build:
  • Identity – identifying as being part of a group helps motivation
  • Self-efficacy – confidence increased through being with others/learning from others
  • Ability – social group supports learning new skills, finding places to visit
  • Routines – regular activities organised by groups can become part of a routine
  • Physical environment – can provide transport (and therefore access to further afield places), planning/organisational help.

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Understanding (social learning can be supported, making learning relevant and experiential)
  • Feedback (guidance can be provided as part of the group experience)
  • Planning (responsibility for planning becomes part of the group, so less of an individual responsibility)
  • Restructure (individual can benefit from resources of the group)
  • Connect (group connections support learning and reinforce normative behaviours)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A retired minority ethnic participant had concerns about his health and wanted to be fitter. He had not taken part in many outdoor activities when he was working as: this wasn't something that was typically done in his culture; he hadn't realised Scotland had so much to offer in terms of scenery; and he had little time available for leisure activities when he was working.

He had seen a friend's photos on social media of him hillwalking with an Asian men's group. He thought it looked fun and asked him if he could join. He tried it and really enjoyed it and has since been on a number of trips with both this group and a group not exclusively for people of his ethnicity.

Since taking up walking, he had felt better both physically and mentally. He hoped the hill walking groups would restart once lockdown restrictions eased as they brought the added benefits of social interaction, satisfaction of climbing a hill, and seeing the more scenic, remote parts of Scotland. He was determined to keep walking as long as he was physically able and hoped to reverse his diabetes.

Guiding principle 4.2: More informal social meetings for outdoor activities can also help to initiate and sustain participation.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Social norms: meetings with close social connections can help to build and reinforce behaviours, this can be further supported by:
  • Outcome expectation – experience social benefits
  • Emotion – enhance enjoyment of the activity
  • Routine – having a commitment to meeting someone

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Connect (allowing connections to be formed or making these available as informational sources)
  • Understanding (learning and experiencing the additional social benefits that accompany doing activities with others)
  • Feedback (positive experience of social enjoyment can bolster the enjoyment of the activity)
  • Planning (commitment to others can help to develop and maintain intentions to enact the activities)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

A retired participant, who lived alone, played golf with friends three times a week. While he enjoyed the activity itself, and knew that keeping active was important, the social interaction was his main reason for doing it.

Guiding principle 4.3: Cultural norms strongly influence knowledge, attitudes and behaviours, acting as both an enabler and a barrier.

Behavioural dimensions involved:

  • Cultural – values and behaviours shaped by the role of outdoor activities in wider culture

Building blocks that can be used to develop interventions:

  • Connect (allowing connections to be formed or making these available as informational sources)

Example of how this has worked in practice:

positive associations with the outdoors and awareness of the ways in which it is used for outdoor activities were normalised in Scottish culture. However, this was not always the case for participants from other cultures. One participant from a minority ethnic group described how outdoor activities were not something her parents' generation participated in.


Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot