Our impact and the evidence to support our approach

British Exploring works at very high intensity with relatively small groups of young people to deliver transformational youth development in the wilderness. We are supported by well-trained, high calibre volunteers from a range of professions (including the medical, engineering, armed forces, scientific, media, academic and adventure leadership sectors).

We create unique expeditions to challenge and transform the expectations and future lives of the young people we work with. The profile of our explorers extends to young people from communities with around double the national average for joblessness and other key indicators of economic deprivation facing multiple personal, emotional and social challenges, to those with high expectations of personal and professional success who may already be at a Russell Group University. Our work is transformational for everyone who participates (leaders as well as explorers) and we believe that society benefits considerably, over many years, from the impact of what we do.

Capturing impact – now and in future

As a high impact organisation working through intensive programmes, understanding and capturing the long-term effectiveness of what we do is critical – but challenging.  We are interested in the benefits of our expeditions 20, 30 and 40 years on. Very few charities were collecting this kind of evidence of longitudinal impact even 20 years ago - and British Exploring is still a modestly sized organisation.  But we have significant ambitions to grow and create greater impact, having established the benefit our work for young people from diverse communities and starting points, so we are focusing on our ability to demonstrate the societal benefits of our work.

There is already substantial academic research and programme assessment to underpin our approach – some of the most significant of which is cited here.  But to further support our ambitions for growth, we are developing a charity-wide approach to assessing our impact - an outcomes framework which allows us to drive our own performance, and which will make sense to a number of important external partners, including schools.  This outcomes framework will allow partner organisations to make good judgements about who will benefit most from engaging in our work – and will allow us to advocate more effectively for the impact of what we do.

We are also starting  a piece of research to look at the impact of what we have done working with our Members – those who went on expedition with us 20, 30 and 40 years ago – to see what impact their experiences with us have had on their adult lives.

This summer we are trialling Supported Self assessment using the Outcomes Star for Success in Life: Designed specifically to measure the impact of youth interventions on young people the Outcomes Star is a widely recognised tool which promotes growth by giving young people a language with which to articulate and pursue their goals and measures the impact of a programme against those goals. Participants will be invited to complete an assessment using the Outcomes Star model at crucial stages during their programmes. The Outcomes Star for Success in Life articulates progress in 6 key areas: aspiration, contribution, confidence, communication, learning, understanding people and support. In the meantime, what follows should give a clear sense of the value of our approach, and of the wider positive impact of what we do beyond the experience of the individual explorer.

In the meantime, what follows should give a clear sense of the value of our approach, and of the wider positive impact of what we do beyond the experience of the individual explorer.

Outputs - What have we actually been doing?  

What are the headline  ‘numbers’ associated with what we do?

Up until 2015:

  • £250,000 of professional hours are donated by approximately 75 volunteer leaders each year  - a gift of professional support worth around £1000 per explorer
  • 900 training days are delivered to provide c. 920 weeks of exploration
  • Science projects have been a key feature of our work since we were founded.  We have conducted over 500 projects, and been cited in over 57 peer-reviewed papers and produced in excess of 300 reports.
  • We have sent out 183 expeditions so far
  • We have worked with 2208 volunteer leaders, 106 Assistant Leaders
  • We have supported 87 Trainee Leaders
  • We have despatched 8192 and 24 senior explorers into the wilderness on expedition

Who does our work impact on?

A 1992 study in Liverpool (7) following a Saharan expedition with young people from a deprived part of the city concluded that expedition experiences could contribute to individual expedition members, to the school or organisation which led the expedition and to the wider community in a variety of positive ways – largely relating to moral understanding and positive behaviours.

Our work has impacted permanently on around 11,000 individuals directly – not including employed staff, council members, patrons, the families, schools or wider communities where our explorers return, those communities where we travel, external partners or funders. 

Outcomes  -  what is the psychological impact of a British Exploring expedition? 

’During expeditions people live in close quarters 24 hours a day and generally lose their taken for granted privacy…options to check out from the group, sometimes even briefly, are greatly reduced and frequently impossible.’’ (2)

That a British Exploring expedition produces profound emotional responses has been concluded from a number of studies conducted by P. Allison in 1999 (3) 2000 (4) and 2005 (5) which all indicate a period of post-expedition adjustment for participants which is synonymous with  ‘changes or examination of values during the expedition experience’.

British Exploring is most interested, for its primary audiences, in the following areas of psychological impact which could loosely be defined as those which underpin our ability to take control of our lives, identify,  and achieve our ambitions:

o   Positive inspiration

o   Self-reflection/development of decision-making & values/leadership

o   Resilience/mental toughness/GRIT

o   Challenging high risk behaviours

GRIT can be defined as consistency of effort, perseverance

Mental toughness can be defined as challenge, commitment, confidence, control

A major empirical survey (9) of 9 British Exploring expeditions completed in 2015 showed statistically significant improvements and positive effects in mental toughness, leadership skills and GRIT.  The research used pre-, post- and  3-month delayed quantitative and qualitative methods of collecting data.   415 surveys were collected over the period of the research.  There were no significant variations for age, expedition type,  gender or cohort except for GRIT which appears to ‘last’ best for females.  The benefits of leadership development show less statistical significance for the youngest cohorts of explorers.

"Overall it is reasonable to conclude from the evidence that the expedition experiences offered by the Society are consistent – it does not matter which year you go and where you go – the benefits reported are consistent." (9)

What is our wider impact on values and behaviours? How do we support transition to adulthood?

A study of a British Exploring expedition in 2003 (8) demonstrated significant changes pre- and post-expedition in key positive behaviours: setting priorities, achieving goals, solving problems efficiently, being enthusiastic and leading through consultation with others.   These behaviours remain critical desired outcomes for our expeditions.

Further research findings (6) indicate the development not just of a sense of autonomy,  self-confidence and empowerment or agency, but of changes to the way in which explorers interact with others – demonstrating improved judgement and greater tolerance.  Most importantly, explorers repeatedly articulate the ability to apply the experiences of their expedition to their lives subsequently.

"Expedition participants frequently talked about using their experience on the expedition to direct their lives as they adapted to post-expedition life. This often translated into important decisions about future careers and education." (6)

Explorers may well change their mind about previously accepted life plans – but the expeditionary experience is often clarifying, as well as liberating,  in the sense that it allows young people to be clear about what they genuinely feel motivated to do – and also gives them the courage to proceed with those ambitions.

Allison, Davis-Berman and Berman’s work indicates that one of the most challenging transition periods for young people – into adulthood – is eased through the expeditionary experience and that it facilitates clear thinking and reflection, self-awareness,  and a focus on ‘what really matters’ for the individual at a crucial developmental point in life for them.   The expeditionary experience becomes a ‘compass point’ for the life that follows.

How do we support the ‘permanence’ and wider impact  of the expeditionary experience?

What makes our expeditionary experience special is the combination of:

o   Opportunities to understand and develop personal capacity –including through facing/overcoming increasing challenges

o   Time and support to reflect on personal values

o   The gaining of confidence and resilience to act on what has been learned

We want to be sure that this combination continues to support each explorer’s actions and strength of mind throughout their lives - and that this has much wider impact within their communities of influence.

How do we do embed the expeditionary experience, and widen the impact of what we do?

o   All our expeditions have pre-expedition training and follow-up programmes to amplify and embed the learning of the expedition itself, and to consider what the next steps for each explorer might be.   Our expedition model can be found at the end of this document.

o   British Exploring Society Membership is a key vehicle and movement to support our explorers – and has been in place since we were founded.  Membership is offered to each explorer on their return from ‘the field’ and after follow-up programmes have been completed.  We have around 1700 active members at the moment.

o   Our explorers are good self-organisers and have been very active on social media in recent years,  happily arranging  get-togethers without our intervention to stay in touch, revisit and reinforce their profound expeditionary experiences.  Many remain friends for life.

o   Explorers often come back as trainee leaders, or to volunteer or take on internships with British Exploring to continue their learning journey with us.  On some of our expeditionary programmes explorers can also return as peers, acting as vital role models for those starting on their exploring  journey with us.

o   The recent launch of our Explorer Miles programme significantly increases our community impact: any young explorer signing up for the Explorer miles programme participates in accredited social action in order to secure explorer miles – credits towards their expedition. Ultimately we wish to extend the fund to make participation in the programme mandatory.  We want to encourage as many young explorers as possible to participate in at least 100 hours of community volunteering.

It's a critical part of our ambition for the future to enable all our alumni to become more of a movement for change and a network of support for each other, anf for those starting out on their expeditionary journey of personal development.

Other areas of Impact of the British Exploring expeditionary approach: 

We are a training organisation as well as a youth development organisation. We provide extensive training to support our volunteer leaders and our explorers -  these skills don’t just benefit our explorers – our leaders use them widely in other contexts to support young people and their own professional development.  We currently provide 900 training days per year, including in first aid skills and in a variety of other technical and youth development areas.

We are a networking organisation.  Our explorers and leaders find many other opportunities to develop expeditions, support youth development and further their careers through engagement with British Exploring.

Programme assessment from Individual expeditionary approaches

Dangoor Next Generation (DNG)

This expeditionary programme works with young people who need most support to develop the skills and behaviours we want all young people to be able to enjoy.  It is also the programme for which we have most evidence of impact.  Explorers join this programme through referrals from youth workers and undergo extensive screening and UK training in preparation for overseas expedition.  DNG explorers are extremely vulnerable, and face very particular and often high risk behavioural challenges which put them beyond the reach of many UK-based programmes. 74% have declared mental health issues and 1 in 10 are receiving intensive support from drugs workers. Our record of success with these young people is particularly strong. 

96% move immediately into employment, education or further training. 

Each stage of the programme is valuable, and reaches a considerably larger number of young people than eventually progress to expedition itself.

We have worked with 500 young people so far, taking 200 on life-changing journeys.  

Our key outcomes for this expeditionary programme which are critical for the successful progression of DNG explorers are statistically significant increases in, broadly:

o   Motivation

o   Happiness

o   Self-esteem

o   Confidence, self-confidence

o   Communication skills

o   Resilience/mental toughness

In 2014 just under 81.5% of our DNG explorers experienced an overall increase in their outcomes.  100% showed positive development in at least one key area. The average largest increases were in how proud they felt about themselves, and how confident they were about themselves – both about 30%.

The responses to the programme were captured through repeat questionnaires using a psychometric scale. The questions were: (with final percentage increases shown in brackets afterwards)

How confident would you say you are?                                                                              (22.84%)

How motivated would you say you are?                                                                              (20.99%)

How happy would you say you are?                                                                                   (20.55%)

How good do you feel about yourself?                                                                                (29.96%)

How proud do you feel of yourself?                                                                                    (29.54%)

How easy do you find communicating with other people in one-to-one situations?            (22.84%)

How easy do you find it to communicate with other people in a group situation?               (18.22%)

How confident do you feel about yourself?                                                                         (27.02%)

The profound impact on one participant can quickly start to spread – Ben’s case study shows how positive the experience was ultimately not just for him, but for his care workers/youth support network, his family and friends, for other young people and for society more broadly:

"I took part in Next Generation 2012 but only completed the UK Phase 1. I wasn’t invited to cross the Sinai Desert because of my attitude. During the UK Phase I didn’t participate, kept walking off and I was rude to everyone.  I was really upset that I didn’t go to the Sinai Desert and it made me reflect on my actions….I realised that I really wanted to go to Iceland and with the help of my key worker, I successfully completed Phase 1 last year, received an award for the Best Member of the Team and got invited to Iceland! I was really happy and proud of myself!

After successfully completing last year’s programme, I applied for the role of a Senior Adventurer on this year’s programme and got invited to Iceland again! This time however I was helping other young people get through challenging situations as I could relate to them.

Since completing the programme my parents and friends noticed that I became calmer and a lot more patient. I also got a job as a career for people with various disabilities and the fact that I’ve completed the programme helped me in securing the job.

I’m really grateful for having this opportunity. It helped me reflect on my own behaviour and take responsibility for my own life." Ben, now 22

The following findings relate to the development of resilience though the programme. They indicate that our DNG programme has a significant positive impact on the Mental Toughness scores of participants.  This research was conducted by AQR in 2015.

What is a reasonable expectation of change from a program of targeted interventions?

A shift in average sten score of 0.5 over a group is very significant. These are the kind of results usually achieved from programmes of deliberate interventions over 6 and 10 week periods. Although this programme was shorter, it was still a continuous 3 week program.  This may have contributed to the improvements in MT scores.  On almost all components, scores shifted towards the ‘Mentally Tough’ end of the scale with some differences exceeding 0.5.

DNG explorers can be seen to be more likely to be a little more Mentally Sensitive than most - and different from most student populations. One potential consequence of this level of score is that participants are often more likely to be cautious about participating in events outside of their comfort zone.

Development programs do not tend to increase the Mental Toughness scores of the Mentally Sensitive as much as they do for those who are mid-range or mentally tough. This means that someone who originally scored a six would be more likely to increase their score to a seven than someone originally scoring a three increasing their score to a four. In the case of DNG participants the average shift in overall Mental Toughness is + 0.44, which is significant.

Range

Before

Min

Before

Max

Before

Mean

Before

Range

After

Min

After

Max

After

Mean

After

Shift

Commitment

7

1

8

4.09

8

1

9

4.48

0.39

Control

7

1

8

4.06

7

1

8

4.49

0.43

Emotional Control

7

2

9

5.39

8

1

9

5.24

-0.15

Life Control

8

1

9

3.2

6

1

7

3.77

0.57

Confidence

7

1

8

3.92

9

1

10

4.44

0.52

Confidence in Abilities

7

1

8

3.84

9

1

10

4.52

0.68

Interpersonal Confidence

7

1

8

4.08

7

1

8

4.32

0.24

Challenge

7

1

8

4.24

9

1

10

4.15

-0.09

Total Mental Toughness

6

1

7

3.96

8

1

9

4.40

0.44

Greater changes occurred in the scores for Commitment, Control and Confidence. Commitment scores have shifted by 0.39. Commitment is thought to be an important aspect of resilience. Resilience can be described as an individual’s ability to ‘survive’ in challenging situations. 

Control is also considered as an aspect of resilience; if we look at how control scores have shifted, we see a difference of 0.43 which again is significant.

 In particular, we see that one of the group’s most significant changes is in their Life Control, with a difference of 0.57. This could mean that the expedition has helped them to feel more in control of their own lives, this may enable them to learn to take more responsibility for their own situations and actions.  Overall the indication is that resilience of group members has improved significantly.

One of the most significant shifts is observed in the Confidence component, and particularly in the group’s Confidence in Abilities scores which shows a difference of 0.68. It could be that by successfully completing the expedition, group members now feel more able to successfully manage life’s every day challenges. This area was an important goal for the programme and the data indicates that it was largely achieved for the group as a whole.

Interpersonal Confidence shifted by 0.24, which could reflect the team-building nature of the expedition.  Challenge and Confidence are components of Mental Toughness which are linked to Positive Psychology, which can be described as an individual’s ability to ‘thrive’ in challenging situations - to enjoy, rather than endure them.

When looking at the group’s Challenge scores, we see a shift of - 0.09 towards the Mentally Sensitive end of the scale. This is not as significant as other components, however it is still important to note.

These findings indicate that the expedition served to significantly shift most components towards the ‘Mentally Tough’ end of the scale.


Stellar; Leadership for Good

"Stellar has truly been the most life changing experience I have ever had the privilege of being involved in" (participant, Norway, 2015)

This expeditionary programme is designed to support the confidence of participants in their readiness and ability to advocate and demonstrate ethical leadership ‘for good’ by facilitating a better understanding of individual values; the notions of integrity & authenticity, and an orientation towards the well-being and development of others.   The expeditionary experience helps participants develop the stamina, independence of mind and strategies to help them ‘stand by’ and live by those values – this is critical for on-going personal development in potentially challenging environments.  

Participants also work on their self-awareness - gaining an understanding of their strengths and areas for development, exploring limiting attitudes and coming to be more aware of how they might impact on others.

"Stellar made me aware of the fascinating complexity and incredible value of people and their ideas, and the amazing things that can be accomplished in a few days" (participant, Norway, 2015)

The programme shifts the understanding of participants from the notion of  ‘personal’ values to those of leadership – of responsibility for others, of the impact that decision-making can have on others – even when integrity makes you unpopular.  It considers strategies to support decision-making in those circumstances. It moves the understanding of participants from being motivated by the simple achievement of targets to an understanding that taking responsibility for the purpose and values behind each goal is equally important.  

Each participant inevitably expresses a very different developmental journey on this kind of programme – it is by definitely intensely personal.  However, using  a psychometric scale to assess responses to the programme in 2015, participants responded very positively to key questions relating to their personal development:

Has Stellar helped you?

Average

Median

Max

Min

Develop self-awareness

5.88

6

7

3

Consider your values

5.38

6

7

2

Consider your leadership style

5.06

5

7

2

Gain confidence – ability to work in a team

5.44

6

7

3

Gain confidence – ability to communicate/present

5.56

6

7

3

Gain confidence – ability to motivate/influence

5.31

6

7

2

Our focus is always on the permanence of our impact. 

There is a particularly strong self-organising and self-managing alumni group around the Stellar programme.  Stellar reunions and regular communications reinforce the positive learning of the Stellar expedition and act as a support network for those progressing on their personal development and leadership journeys.


BRITISH EXPLORING SOCIETY – OUR THEORY OF CHANGE

The 15 – point expedition model

1. A period of engagement sufficient to develop lasting trust, and an aspiration to a long-term bond though membership.

2. A clear understanding of the needs of our Young Explorers before they depart on expedition. This includes an understanding of the context from which they come, and to which they will be returning.  How do we ensure that their expeditionary experience is 'relatable' when they leave? How do we ensure that they can 'build' on what they have learned with us?

3. Provision of information to help support desired outcomes. Those who recognise the opportunity, who are open to, and engage with the expeditionary experience, will get most from it and learn most.

4. Carefully selected groups/fires to facilitate the most productive expeditionary experience.

5. Delivered in wild, remote, challenging locations. We believe in the profound benefits of experiential learning in wild, remote and beautiful locations. We want to increase understanding of, and accountability for, the future of our planet though the expeditionary experience and believe that improved engagement with the natural world directly contributes to the positive outcomes we seek.

6. Facilitated with outstanding Team Leadership and high ratios of leadership. Through great team leadership we provide incrementally more challenging, positive learning experiences.  Our leaders act as exceptional role models for the positive behaviours we advocate for our explorers. (See (9).

7. Exposure to positive stress in order to mature risk-taking behaviours. The significant positive impact of being stretched, and learning how to deal appropriately with risk and challenge through carefully controlled expeditionary experiences is central to what we have always done.

8. Removal of distractions and 'norms' which frustrate the developmental journey.  We provide all appropriate kit for an exciting and safe expedition – but wish to remove/avoid all distractions.

9. Development of positive behaviours: the pre, post and immersive expeditionary experience provide significant opportunities for the development of transferable, positive behaviours: teamwork, improved accountability, leadership and self-reflection. We aim to see evidence of greater resilience and determination & self-efficacy, greater self-control, greater self-confidence and the maturity of improved judgement.

10. Development of Specific Skills: depending on the expedition but as part of an integrated 'package': expedition skills, adventure, academic/research skills/professional skills

11. Increased physical resilience and agility: an end in their own right, also advantageous to manage some behavioural issues: better serotonin levels support more positive responses to a range of expeditionary challenges.

12. Social time, shared participation in fun; establishing new social dynamics, becoming confident with leaders and respected figures on expedition, demonstrating other 'skills' and dispersing tension through good humour and relaxed activities.

13. Preparation, reflection, progression.  We support explorers on each step of their journey. The more open to, and ready for, the experience they are, the more they will get out of it.  We help them understand for themselves what their expedition will, and has meant, to them. We help them apply and link their learning to 'life' and make the benefits of their expedition most beneficial and permanent. 

14. Application to adulthood: Becoming a Young Explorer should be an intensely positive part of a young person's development towards adulthood and one of the strongest statements of employability

15. Membership: we develop a relationship through membership to support our explorers.  We make it clear that we have become part of each explorer's journey, will continue to support them, and remain interested in their future.   Our members should also support each other. 

References

(1)     P. Allison, S. Beames  The changing Geographies of Overseas Expeditions International Journal of Wilderness.  December 2010 Volume 16, Number 3

(2)     T. G. Potter  Human dimensions of expeditions:Deeply rooted, branching out. 1998

(3)     P. Allison Post Residential Syndrome – research from the Ground Up. 1999 Brathay Hall Trust

(4)     P. Allison Post Residential Adjustment – research from the Ground Up. 2000 Brathay Hall Trust

(5)     P. Allison  Post-expedition Adjustment – What Empirical Data Suggests? 2005

(6)     P.Allison, J. D. Davis-Berman Changes in Latitude, changes in attitude: analysis of the effects of reverse culture shock – a study of students returning from youth expeditions.  2011 Routledge

(7)     A.Kennedy  The expedition experience as a vehicle for change in the Inner City. Penrith: 1992 Adventure Education

(8)     T.Stott, N.Hall  Changes in Aspects of students’ self-reported personal, social and technical skills during a six week wilderness expedition in arctic Greenland.  2003 Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning

(9)     P.Allison, R.Martindale, T.Stott, C. Nash, S. Gray, J.Wang Personal Development through Expeditions Final Report 2015