Dr Erin Sherry, a leading research economist in AFBI is collaborating with several partner organisations to establish a novel metric, the Environmental Engagement Index (EEI), for DAERA.
The EEI was initiated by DAERA to provide a measure of how engaged the public are with the natural environment, as research has shown this impacts how likely they are to look after it. Erin was an instrumental part of the development process, firstly through conducting a comprehensive literature review to guide the design team and then by enthusiastically participating with the group in developing the selected methodology.
The EEI has two complementary components based on responses from members of the public to a survey questionnaire. The first is the Nature Relatedness Scale- a series of questions used in academic research on environmental behaviour- that provides a measure of how connected we are to the natural environment generally. The second part asks respondents about their behaviour and priorities regarding environmental issues more directly.
The pilot survey used to calculate the national-EEI was carried out on a representative sample of the Northern Ireland population in March 2020 and 2021. However, everyone is encouraged to complete the survey themselves, using an easy on-line form to calculate their individual score, and compare this to the national results.
The team is also developing an application to help people become more engaged with the natural world, by linking them to events, locations, and information.
The approach to developing the index is progressive and collaborative. Different perspectives were brought together using the ‘Design Sprint’ methodology. Partners included policy makers and statisticians (DAERA), third sector representatives (Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful), science education academics (Queen’s University Belfast) as well as economists (AFBI).
“DAERA’s initiative to develop a national-level indicator of environmental engagement in Northern Ireland shows real leadership, as we are recognising the need to go beyond traditional measures, such as GDP, to gauge collective and individual welfare” explains Dr Sherry, adding “this has been an exciting project to be involved in and I’m really proud of what we have accomplished so far.” The next stage in the project involves increasing awareness and participation before analysing the responses.