Sharpham Trust forest

It’s important to establish early on in your project why you are undertaking the research, what you hope to find out and how you will use your findings:

  • What do you want to know?
  • What does your organisation want to know? Are these the same?
  • Who else has an interest in the research (stakeholders? funders?) What do they want to know?

Research vs evaluation 

Many organisations are used to evaluating their work to check they meet their intended outcomes and to improve their practice. How is research different? There are many views on this and some possible differences that have been expressed during discussions between Good from Woods researchers: 

  • evaluation records what the impacts of a project are, while research goes deeper and asks how or why? e.g. while evaluation focuses on ‘what is happening’ research goes deeper and asks ‘how does this happen?’ 
  • research is more open-ended than evaluation and therefore more likely to encounter unexpected or negative findings 
  • evaluation is more closed and focused and measures things you already believe to be significant 
  • evaluation often has an objective, single focus while research is more likely to be able to detect contextual information – such as side-effects of an activity 
  • evaluation investigates impacts on the target population but research gathers factual information relevant to populations in general. 

While some people think there is a clear distinction between the two, it may be more helpful to think of the two processes sitting on a continuum. How to decide where you are on that continuum:

Example 1: my manager wants to know why owning a share in a community woodland is good for people and has given me five days to find out.

This is more of an evaluation than research. It focuses only on positives outcomes – the time scale is unrealistic for deeper research.

Example 2: my colleagues and I would like to know the wellbeing benefits and drawbacks of woodland walks compared to walks in city parks for people who are physically disabled. We want to improve our practice and have set aside two days per month to work on this.

Although focused on one type of wellbeing, this is a good motivation for doing research and allows sufficient time for deeper investigation. It also allows for research into where positive and negative wellbeing comes from rather than just looking for evidence that it exists.

Writing research questions

 Your research needs to have one or more questions that you want to answer. You may want to consider focusing on one aspect of health and wellbeing. For example, the Good from Woods wellbeing indicators are grouped under five categories of wellbeing (emotional, psychological, physical, social and biophilic). You may choose to investigate all of these or you may decide to concentrate on just one or two.
Example 1: what impact do woodland walks have on physical wellbeing?
Example 2: what is the impact on the wellbeing of families who attend a tree planting event?