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Explore 2017: the value of field research

Field research can be critical to giving purpose to an expedition Field research can be critical to giving purpose to an expedition Chayanin Wongpracha
08 Nov
A selection of in-depth workshops at the RGS-IBG's Explore 2017 will underline the importance of field research as an essential component of exploration

Explore 2017, the RGS-IBG's annual fieldwork and expedition planning weekend, takes place from 10-12 November 2017 at the Society's headquarters in London. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the RGS-IBG Explore website

This weekend, explorers up and down the UK will descend on Kensington's Lowther Lodge – the home of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) – for the 41st Explore weekend. Attendees will be inspired by tales of inventive and eye-opening expeditions, reminded about the essential health and safety which they will rely on in the field, and educated by the many ways they can now communicate their expeditions with the outside world.

As part of the many workshops which will take place during a day, Sunday morning will see the Field Research/Skills workshops take place, where geographical experts from across the academic spectrum will aide aspiring expeditionaries with how to pack scientific purpose into their adventures. Encompassing both human and physical projects, alongside key elements of GIS mapping, these workshops will emphaisse the critical role which field research plays in the very best expeditions, and how expeditions can help produce the very best research.


earth & environmental sciences: Simon Carr, Senior Lecturer in Geography, Queen Mary, University of London

The Earth & Environmental Sciences encompass what many feel to be the beating heart of field research supported by the RGS-IBG, focusing on the processes operating in the physical environment. In an age of ‘big data’, remote sensing and environmental modelling, there is still a critical role for the field researcher who gathers and analyses primary field data to test, validate and revise such approaches.

The Earth & Environmental Science Workshop focuses on the academic and logistic challenges of developing overseas fieldwork expeditions, and aims to demonstrate that
you can do it, and that the experience of conducting field research can be utterly transformative.


gis, field mapping, and low cost monitoring: Mark Mulligan, Head of Geography, King's College, London

Collection of sufficient good quality data is critical to successful fieldwork. If data is geo-referenced (has an associated coordinate) then it can be more easily be managed and shared.  Moreover, all manner of spatial analysis become possible and combine your hard-won field data with a wealth of remotely sensed and crowd-sourced data, enhancing both.

In this workshop we will focus on GIS, field mapping and low cost sensors. We will provide advice on how a range of commercial and open source GIS software and data can be used to support expeditions both logistically in the field and also in the collection and analysis of field-collected data. We will also demonstrate how new low cost and open source sensors and dataloggers can be used by anyone to develop their own sensors, that can collect data during and after the period in the field.


human & social sciences: Katie Willis, Head of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, and VP for Expeditions & Fieldwork at the RGS-IBG

Exploring and understanding communities, organisations and the experiences of individuals, is a key part of field research in the social sciences. This workshop provides guidance and advice on developing a research project, choosing appropriate methods and the logistical and ethical challenges of conducting this kind of research. The panellists will draw on their own experiences of rural and urban field research, including the less successful elements, to help participants have the confidence to develop their own research projects. 

mapExplore 2017, the RGS-IBG's annual fieldwork and expedition planning weekend, takes place from 10-12 November 2017 (Image: RGS-IBG)

biological & natural sciences: Craig Turner, Ecologist/Expedition Leader

Expeditions present a great chance to better understand the less well-known elements and ecosystems of our natural environment. We are often inundated with depressing media highlighting the ongoing loss of biodiversity. Expeditions with a biological sciences focus are vital, and offer an empowering way to redress the balance, via positive actions. When done well, expeditions present the opportunity to ‘show off’ the biological wonders of our planet.

Successful biological exploration requires many key components – not all of them scientific - tailored to your specific area of interest, whether that is a particular habitat or species. It is arguably far better (for sanity, science and sponsors) to learn the lessons of others experience, rather than doing it the hard way, learning ‘live’ in the field.

The Biological Sciences workshop at Explore presents just that opportunity – with expertise at hand, in a very rich and concentrated format. Whether you are looking bounce broad ideas or scrutinise specific survey methods, you couldn’t be in a better place. 


school & educational expeditions: Phil Avery, Director of Learning and Strategy for the Bohunt Education Trust

The 2015 Peter Smith Memorial Lecture - which opens Explore - featured an inspiring group of 15 and 16 year olds from Bohunt School in Liphook, Hampshire. Following a very successful, three-week expedition to Greenland, the students argued that all of us need to do more to encourage and enable young people to go on educational expeditions. The rationale went far beyond simply enjoyment and adventure (thank goodness, as Shackleton defines adventure as ‘just bad planning’); they spoke of the development of skills, attitudes, ambition, knowledge and, most crucial of all, self-confidence.

The Education Endowment Fund suggests that non-cognitive skills, such as those mentioned by the students, are the reason why: ‘Overall, studies of adventure learning interventions consistently show positive benefits on academic learning. On average, pupils who participate in adventure learning interventions make approximately four additional months’ progress over the course of a year. The evidence suggests that the impact is greater for more vulnerable and older learners (teenagers), longer courses (more than a week), and those in a “wilderness” setting …’

The Education Projects workshop starts from the premise that expeditions - and in particular, expeditions focused on fieldwork - can develop in people a literacy that furthers the academic discipline of Geography, develops resilience and creates layers of meaning and understanding of the place you are in. The incredibly talented and experienced panel members will look at how expeditions involving young people and expeditions which produce materials for young people can have impact. They will also look at how we can unblock barriers to children/students going on meaningful expeditions. Furthermore, current research projects that aim to understand more about ensuring rigour on expeditions will be highlighted; in particular the University of Lancaster’s research in to skills acquisition and team cohesion and the University of Kent’s research in to cultural competence and the valuing of diversity.


Explore 2017, the RGS-IBG's annual fieldwork and expedition planning weekend, takes place from 10-12 November 2017 at the Society's headquarters in London. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the RGS-IBG Explore website

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