Building relationships with participants in Department of Conservation programmes: effective management of experiential groups in the outdoors

In 1996 the authors spent some time in the field observing staff working with volunteers and visitors to the conservation estate. They also ran a small national workshop for conservation volunteer coordinators. On the basis of this work, this report was written to provide useful information to staff who want to build on the relationships they have with volunteers and visitors. Staff can influence

the pro-conservation behaviours of participants in their programmes by making use of the framework of experiential learning. This process involves participants in a cycle of rich experiences, fosters the expression of thoughts and feelings about the experience, enables an examination and evaluation of new ideas resulting from the activity, and leads then to new experiences. The report expands on those interpersonal behaviours that can aid this process.

These include:

Story telling - providing the buzz experience that intrigues people and makes them want to hear more.

Forming the group skills - involves setting the boundaries (with regard to the tasks, times, territories and roles to be adhered to), and getting the message across by ensuring that all the right links are made between staff, volunteers and visitors and the purpose of the group, thus ensuring that the needs of all are met.

Being responsive - by being able to listen and reflect effectively and establish trust and safety within a group.

Modelling enthusiasm and commitment - by being in touch with feelings and all aspects of your own personality.

Informing - by passing on facts.

Coaching - by passing on new skills effectively. Staff demonstrate by their own actions the behaviours that they want to foster in the volunteers and visitors. The shift from one to another - from informing to listening and from story telling to action - requires special skills, the practice of which will ensure that participants have a positive experience.

Please email us if you would like a copy of this document in a different format.

Commissioning agencies
Date of last publication
Dec 1997

Key Results

mportant skills for effective leadership of voluntary conservation programs include telling important stories about your own experience of successes and inspiring events so that participants feel linked to you and hopeful about the possibility that they too might make a difference. These stories are all the more powerful in the context of a coherent group that is formed around a clear purpose, and so your skills at forming groups are vital. Once the group is assembled and begins its tasks, the way in which you respond to issues raised in the group signals to group members how responsive you are and how much you can be trusted to respect their needs. Your ability to respond appropriately to group members is reinforced by personal modelling, where you demonstrate behaviours that you would like them to adopt. In particular, enthusiasm and commitment to the conservation ethic and to conservation tasks carries a lot of weight for participants in volunteer groups. The commitment and motivation of volunteers to work without pay is increased by your acting as a facilitator for their learning about the environment. This facilitator role requires special skills, particularly if you want to empower other group members to share their knowledge and enthusiasm. In a more practical vein, passing on timely and relevant information and skills to volunteers not only helps them to conduct conservation tasks as a part of the volunteer project, but also enables them to act in a more environmentally responsible way in other settings.

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