Closing the intention gap

As autumn draws in - and the mellow fruitfulness seeps in around us - it feels a good time to reflect on where the broader movement is, what part we play in that, what is working, and what we need to do more of.

Perhaps you spotted a recent and insightful blog from Jim Burt of Natural England? It discusses many of the projects and initiatives as well as the evidence base for outdoor learning.  In it he poses the question, 'Are we at a turning point for outdoor learning?'.

Like Natural England, we believe that something is certainly stirring, and the evidence is now strong and growing to prove the benefits of a childhood outdoors, in nature. But I was also drawn to an email from Jon Young, author and founder of 8 Shields, reflecting on conversations he had been having with Richard Louv. In it there was a passage that resonated strongly with us at The Wild Network

"Despite this growing awareness of the importance of nature connection and widespread enthusiasm for seeing it happen, there had been surprisingly little progress in getting people more connected to nature on a wide scale”.

He goes on to discuss the barriers that he and his colleagues believe are the reasons behind the discrepancy between awareness and action – what might be called the 'intention gap'.

We need to close the intention gap if things are to change at scale.

Every week, we see more and more evidence proving the benefits of wild time to support everything from learning outcomes and mental health benefits to cognitive development and physical wellbeing. Clearly there is always work to be done to continue to make and prove the case, but we think the urgent question now is how we might close the intention gap.

Take, for example, some of the conclusions from a survey conducted by National Trust this year. These showed that there is an overwhelming level of awareness of the importance and benefits of wild time:

  • Over 93% of respondents agreed that playing outside was incredibly important for their child.
  • 91% agreed that playing outdoors fuels their child’s creativity and imaginative play.
  • 96% agreed that they knew the importance of having a connection to nature.
  • 95% agreed that it’s important for children to connect with nature so that they can help future generations care for and protect it.

But what of action?

In the same survey, 84% of respondents agreed that they would like their child to spend more time outdoors. So my question is - if so many of us recognise that it is so important, what is stopping us all making more time for it.

Why doesn’t everyone just do it, right?

If only it were so simple... 

At The Wild Network, we have championed the need for new ways to overcome the barriers to wild time. Originally identified in the 2012 Natural Childhood Report, these are the profound and systemic drivers of disconnection, either directly or by displacement. Tackling them is of course complex. But we must tackle them if we are to close the gap between intention and long-term action.

That’s why this autumn we’re launching a new project called Wild Labs in partnership with long-term collaborators Swarm. Swarm have been a vital part of our journey so far, bringing their mix of creativity and innovation to help us launch Project Wild Thing as well as projects like the Wild Time app.

What are Wild Labs? 

Wild Labs is an innovation programme designed to explore each of the barriers that contribute to the intention gap, working with our community to create new ways to power change and transform intention into action.

We are seeking progressive partners for each of these challenges, but we plan to launch with the issue that is consistently the most challenging for everyone in our community: how can we help children find balance between screen time (time with tech) and wild time (time outside).

While the benefits of technology in our lives are many, their darker side-effects – especially with children – are starting to appear. And once you get beneath the shiny packaging, the symptoms are deeply worrying.

 Here are a few from just the last month:

At the same time when technology encourages kids to get outside, amazing things can happen.

Wild Labs is a response to this, bringing together brilliant minds from diverse sectors including technology, business, arts, research, design, outdoor play, nature connection, environment, gaming, branding, storytelling and more together with children to participate in a pioneering innovation project. 

Together we’ll explore how a combination of creativity, technology, child-centred design, and cultural and natural intelligence can develop new and inspiring ways to help get kids outdoors and better navigate and manage their technology and nature relationship.

New & inspiring ways to get kids outdoors                                  

We’re looking for pioneering brand partners and funders to collaborate and mobilise the project. They will help us design and fund the program, bringing technology innovations, prototypes, talent, issues and even corporate responsibility challenges into the mix.

In return, our partners will get to work in new, exciting, accelerated ways, participate in a dynamic creative learning community and be a part of something with the potential to create game-changing new tools and techniques to support children to thrive in a hi-tech hi-nature world.

Wild Labs will be an open project, building new networks, creating rich content and communications material for all partners. Through Wild Labs, we will create new insights and develop new ideas to help people overcome the intention gap and shift families, schools and communities from a place of awareness and concern to action.

So please, help spread the word and help us find the right partners for our journey.

See you outside, Mark.

Mark Sears is Chief Wild Officer, The Wild Network

Get in touch by email to find out more about our Wild Labs programme.


Do your kids know how to play out? We share our top tips for helping Wild Play. 

When the kids walked home alone. Read why we overcame those 20 Minutes of Terror. 

Not playing out. Two thirds of parents have outdoor play concerns.

Making the Most of Groundswell Change The issues we care about so passionately are becoming a hot-topic in board rooms across the land. 

The Wild Network: Local The Wild Network: Local is the coming together of all kinds of different people at a local level to take on some of the issues that parents and communities face daily.

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