Using smartphones to understand how we interact with nature


As part of her PhD at Bangor University Rachel Dolan is understanding how people interact with nature in Wales. I asked her to tell me about how she has used smartphones to benefit her data collection.

People benefit from spending time outside in natural spaces and connecting with nature (read more here). The non-material benefits that people gain from spending time in natural spaces such as boosting their mental and physical health, feeling inspired and feeling connected to other people are known as cultural ecosystem services (read more here).

My research explores how people access natural spaces. We have termed the process of seeking out cultural ecosystem services “ecosystem service foraging” (ESF). More specifically, my research questions consider how far people travel to access cultural ecosystem services and if different social groups access natural spaces differently.

  • Does ESF vary between people living in rural vs urban areas? Do those in urban areas forage further?
  • Do those of higher socio-economic status forage further?
  • Does ESF vary depending on gender?
  • Does ESF vary depending on age?
  • Is the well-being of different groups more/less reliant on cultural ecosystem services?

I used tablets to facilitate my data collection over summer 2019. I designed a survey online in KoBoToolbox and used the KoBoCollect app to collect surveys which were carried out face-to-face on tablets in mid-Wales. As part of the surveys, I asked people to tell me about natural spaces that they had spent time in recently. Collecting data on a tablet made this much easier as people could easily select a point on a map to show where they had been.

The surveys were carried out by three researchers. Collecting data with the tools we used meant we could all collect data separately and it would all be uploaded and collated in the same place. This made managing the surveys much easier.


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