A Green Minds Living Lab sensor on a pole in Plymouth's Central Park
Funded by: Urban Innovative Actions (UIA)
Duration: March 2020 – August 2023
Location: Plymouth, UK
Project partners: University of Plymouth, Plymouth City Council, National Trust, Wildlife Trust, Real Ideas Organisation CIC, The Data Place Ltd, Plymouth College of Art 
University of Plymouth staff: Professor Katharine Willis, Ashita Gupta, Marcin Roszkowski 

Green Minds living nature data lab

The project intends to redefine the future of green space in Plymouth through the development of a series of site-specific digital experiments across the city. This series aims to create a better model of civic engagement and governance within the urban green space. It uses scientific and creative digital tools to make nature in the city much more visible and exciting to people.
The Green Minds team have been co-designing these tools with the local stakeholders and communities, ensuring they have the skills to be able to use them long-term to foster engagement with green space. By bringing the data alive to people in creative ways, the project aims to understand and adapt the way we care for, use and manage our urban natural spaces in ways that benefit people and wildlife, while also engaging the community to help share the data in meaningful and accessible ways.

Project methodology

The project involves the co-creation of a series of toolkits and an open data platform that develop and test the Nature, People, Place nexus. It treats non-human, natural inhabitants as equal participants and stakeholders in the project – wildlife, trees, marine and river.
To address the challenges and opportunities for greenspace governance and engagement, the project included an initial stage of stakeholder conversations to co-produce the briefs for managing differently, and testing in pilot sites across Plymouth. The project team have worked with a range of stakeholders to identify and refine the challenges to be addressed, which have been mapped against measures of nature connectedness to create a path to impact.
The second stage involves a series of prototyping workshops that will take place in various pilot sites across the city that represent a range of green spaces. The Green Minds toolkit is being tested in these pilot sites and linked to the evaluation model of health and well-being measures.
To draw together the city-wide data experiments, the project team will develop and implement an open data platform that explores ways in which nature itself can identify and map those things it finds important. This includes creating new ways to interact, use and contribute to the open data resource that links to the social impact measures.
Community engagement for Green Minds Project
Community engagement with school children for Green Minds Living Nature Lab project

Living Lab co-design and engagement activities

Working over a period of two years with local schoolchildren, park visitors and stakeholders to deliver surveys and hands-on workshops in the park, the team have identified the challenges to be addressed. This has led to the development of a 'nature data probe toolkit' to test the Nature, People, Place nexus.
Living lab nature data probe toolkit

City-wide digital experiments

Data is an important tool to help us understand what is happening in our natural environment and the impact of human activity. Using digital technologies such as live sensors in the parks in Plymouth we can monitor wildlife activity, air quality, temperature, humidity and the number of visitors.
The team have installed a series of low-cost and low-power sensors using a technology platform called Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN). This low-power wireless network platform allows sensors to send and receive data without power or an internet connection, enabling the sensors to be placed in remote locations.
A living lab approach to facilitate nature-connection in greenspaces

The EU Urban Innovation Actions Green Minds project

The Green Minds project aims to put nature at the heart of decision-making and inspire a new wave of city-wide investment in nature-based solutions. This means fundamentally challenging existing attitudes and behaviours towards nature: how we think about it, engage with it, and work with it. 
It is led by Plymouth City Council’s Strategic Planning and Infrastructure Department in collaboration with a range of civic partners. Green Minds is funded by the ERDF Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) programme, which provides urban areas with resources to test innovative solutions to address urban challenges, see how these work in practice and respond to the complexity of real life.  
Plymouth is a waterfront city with more than 30% green space. Increased pressure on local government budgets has reduced the amount of funding and investment into green space, which has led to a decline in green space quality. Currently, 50% of Plymouth's green spaces do not meet quality thresholds. In addition, Plymouth's green/blue infrastructure is owned and managed by multiple organisations that have traditionally not worked in partnership.
As part of the city's growth, there is a need to plan high-quality green and blue infrastructure for Plymouth communities that maximise the benefits for health and well-being, social value, biodiversity, the local economy, and climate resilience.
Green Minds aims to deliver a more integrated planning and management system for urban nature and help maximise the social value created through sustainable land-use management and nature-based solutions. Changing attitudes and behaviours to give natural infrastructure higher priority and foster a management approach that works with (rather than against) nature calls for a significant campaign to change minds. The project plans to combine approaches to urban development and governance that are entirely new or in their infancy: creating green mindsets; urban rewilding; and complexity management. 
National and international research shows that these challenges are common to other geographical areas, and the learning from Green Minds aims to provide solutions, tools and techniques that can be used more widely beyond Plymouth.

APSE award for Green Minds digital innovation

The Green Minds project was recognised at the Association for Public Service Excellence Awards with the Parks Innovation Award 2022 for the use of digital technology to support communities connecting with nature and driving its recovery across Plymouth. 
With the active engagement of the local community through creative working with schoolchildren, park visitors and stakeholders, the project has helped to identify ways of using and managing the city's urban spaces to benefit both the local residents and wildlife. 
Central Park, Plymouth