Project highlights

  • Ethically-informed research exploring the role of community walking groups in promoting access to nature through a combination of ecological and geological fieldwork, and social research methods;
  • Engaged research to identify need and then co-produce resources with environmental scientists, community walking groups and other relevant ‘publics’ to engage different communities with the natural world;
  • Training in interdisciplinary scientific and social research techniques.


This PhD project builds on a Natural Environment Research Council-funded project, called ‘Walking the walk’ (Figure 1). Drawing on the findings and network developed through ‘Walking the walk’, this PhD project brings together environmental scientists, grassroot community groups (e.g. Black Girls Hike, Dadimas and Mosaic Outdoors) and other relevant interested and affected parties, to identify barriers, and co-develop solutions, in order to diversify participation in Earth and environmental science education and citizenship.

In the UK, much of the natural world is perceived as ‘white’, hostile, unfamiliar and unwelcoming to people from non-white backgrounds (Dowey et al., 2021). The lack of diversity among high-profile environmental scientists further fuels this diversity problem (Dowey et al., 2021; NERC, 2021). Office of National Statistics’ data shows non-white people are less likely to visit and engage with the natural environment (ONS, 2017).

This is a major problem for natural history and conservation, and for wider society, as environmental impacts such as those driven by climate change affect everyone. Financial, cultural and opportunity barriers to accessing the outdoors are recognised by both environmental organisations and grassroots community groups.

A core aim will be to conduct ethically-informed engaged research with, rather than to conduct research on, environmental scientists, grassroot community groups, and other relevant ‘publics’ (Holliman et al. 2022) to promote ‘epistemic justice’ (Fricker, 2007). In so doing, the successful candidate will draw on a mix of relevant knowledge, experience and expertise. This will include: 1) ‘established’ and ‘cutting-edge’ NERC-funded Earth and environmental science, including natural history and conservation (e.g. Badger, 2021; Araya, 2021; Araya et al, 2017; Jay and Badger, 2016); 2) expertise in the communication of Earth and environmental science to diverse audiences (e.g. Khatwa, 2019; Holliman et al. 2022); 3) local knowledge and expertise (Irwin and Michael, 2003) from community walking groups and other relevant ‘publics’.

Picture of The Dadimas Community Walking Group

Figure 1: The Dadimas Community Walking Group and members of the ‘Walking the Walk’ team. Photo: Geeta Ludhra.


The Open University


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Dynamic Earth


Project investigator

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University ([email protected])


How to apply


The candidate will draw on and extend the map of relevant ‘publics’ produced during the ‘Walking the walk’ project to recruit research participants.

Data collection will draw on a mixed methods methodology (Jensen and Holliman, 2009), involving:

  1. A ‘systematic review’ (Miljand, 2020) of relevant research literature and other public documents.
  2. Semi-structured interviews with research participants*, exploring their perspectives and identifying resources that support walking in nature.
  3. Identification and co-development of new approaches and resources with environmental scientists, communication experts and research participants*.

Research participants* will ‘test, learn and revise’ approaches co-developed under point 3 to bring environmental science directly to those trying to make the UK countryside a more inclusive space.

*For each of the activities, we expect to recruit community group walk leaders, community group walkers, ecologists and environmental and Earth scientists and other relevant publics (e.g. representatives from tourist and leisure outlets) as ‘research participants’.

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

Training in research design, methods and analysis will be provided. Depending on the student, specific training in aspects of geology, ecosystems and/or the social aspects of researching community walking groups will be provided. It is not expected that applicants would have experience in all of these methods prior to starting the PhD.

The student will join a thriving postgraduate community. Our students can gain teaching experience (e.g. Bradley Neil), alongside skills in engagement through training (e.g. Holliman and Warren, 2017), placements and internships (e.g. Kate Hand), and by contributing to a range of media (e.g. Katrina Nilsson-Kerr).

Further details

If you wish to apply to the project, applications should include:

  • A CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three and who can comment on your academic abilities)

Applications to be received by the end of the day on Wednesday 11th January 2023.

Possible timeline

Year 1

Revise and extend the existing ‘Walking the walk’ map of relevant ‘public’s; select initial list of research participants to interview. Conduct and analyse interviews. Develop a framework and select initial guided walk to feature geology and/or ecology. Identify existing resources to support the guided walk; co-produce new resources. Present preliminary project outline/results to the School. Pass probation upgrade.

Year 2

Select further sample of research participants to interview. Conduct and analyse interviews. Re-use framework to select at least two further guided walks to feature geology and/or ecology. Identify existing resources to support the guided walks; co-produce new resources. Present preliminary results at a national conference.

Year 3

In years 3-4, finalise analytical work on data collected in Year 2, return to existing guided walks to validate resources with new community walking groups. Present results at an international conference. Write thesis, prepare articles for publication.

Further reading

Araya, Y. (2021). ‘Wangari Maathai: standing up for women and the environment’. OpenLearn, Milton Keynes, The Open University,

Araya, Y., Bartelheimer, M., Valle, C., Crujeiras, R., and García-Baquero, G. (2017). ‘Does functional soil microbial diversity contribute to explain within-site plant beta-diversity in an alpine grassland and a dehesa meadow in Spain?’ Journal of Vegetation Science, 28(5), 1018–27,

Badger, M. (2021). ‘Alkenone isotopes show evidence of active carbon concentrating mechanisms in coccolithophores as aqueous carbon dioxide concentrations fall below 7 μmol L−1’. Biogeosciences, 18(3) pp. 1149–60,

Dowey, N., Barclay, J., Fernando, B., Giles, S., Houghton, J., Jackson, C., Khatwa, A., et al. (2021) ‘A UK perspective on tackling the geoscience racial diversity crisis in the Global North’, Nature Geoscience, 14, pp. 256–59,

Fricker, M. (2007) Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holliman, R., Marino, A., Grand, A., Berardi, A., Mistry, J., Jafferally, D., Thomas, R., Roberts, G., Marcus, C.-A., Roopsind I. and Roberts A. (2022) ‘A case study from Guyana of adapting engaged research design to promote ‘fairness in knowing’’, Research for All, 6 (1), 1-17,

Holliman R. and Warren C. (2017). ‘Supporting future scholars of engaged research’. Research for All, 1(1) pp. 168–84,

Irwin, A. and Michael, M. (2003) Science, Social Theory and Public Knowledge. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Jay, A. and Badger, M. (2016). ‘An introduction to geology’. OpenLearn, Milton Keynes, The Open University,

Jensen, E. and Holliman R. (2009) ‘Investigating science communication to inform science outreach and public engagement’. In: Holliman, R., et al., (Eds.) Investigating science communication in the information age: Implications for public engagement and popular media. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 55–71.

Khatwa, A. (2019) ‘Resonance in rocks: Building a sustainable learning and engagement programme for the Jurassic Coast’, Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 130, 3–4, pp. 507-21,

Miljand, M. (2020) ‘Using systematic review methods to evaluate environmental public policy: methodological challenges and potential usefulness’, Environmental Science and Policy, 105, pp. 47-55,

NERC (2021) Advancing equity, diversity and inclusivity in the environmental sciences. NERC: Swindon,

Office of National Statistics (ONS) (2017) Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment: 2015 to 2016. Natural England: Worcester,


All fieldwork will be in the UK and will follow current Government (and/or devolved nation) Guidelines on Covid-19 restrictions. The fieldwork can be conducted at any time of the year and specific fieldwork sites can be changed if local regulations change. Access to online archive/library resources will be facilitated as required. Interviews, supervisions and discussions can be conducted online if required. The Open University has working Covid-19-safe working and operating procedures in place.