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Putting people into images of National Parks – case study

By David Powell on July 25, 2022

Visuals and images are crucial to engaging audiences and telling an impactful story about your organisation: what it does, with whom, and why. Climate Visuals, a project of Climate Outreach, provides evidence-backed advice and collections of images to help advocates choose effective visuals. We partnered with the Campaign for National Parks to find out what happens when a whole organisation puts a new approach to visuals at the heart of its campaigning and communications. This case study includes a video conversation between Climate Outreach and Campaign for National Parks team members.

This case study is a result of our Climate Engagement Lab which helps charity, community and campaigning organisations in the UK to inspire people to meaningful climate action. As part of this, the Lab runs ‘innovation partnerships’, working hands-on with groups that want to try to break new ground in who they engage and how.  Innovation partnerships are all about learning and testing what happens in practice, and drawing lessons for the wider sector. Climate Outreach can help innovation partners in different ways, from conducting new research to advising on the fundamentals of engagement strategy.

In Spring 2022 the Lab partnered with the Campaign for National Parks (CNP), the independent voice for National Parks in the UK. Its new strategy focuses not only on its core mission of championing and helping people to access the Parks, but also on advocating for the protection of nature and inspiring practical action on climate change. A key part of achieving this is transforming the organisation’s approach to images: the visual story it tells about the projects that it runs and the people it works with.

 

Strategic principles for an effective visuals strategy

CNP wanted to create a new visual strategy that would reflect and better engage the diversity of people who use, love and protect National Parks, and showcase practical, people-focused action to improve the Parks and their climate resilience.

Climate Outreach and CNP’s partnership explored the six recommendations of a recent Climate Visuals report, Nature Visuals:

  1. Tell positive, identifiable stories 
  2. Create authentic representation, not tokenism 
  3. Depict diverse activities in diverse landscapes 
  4. Connect people to the wonderful diversity of natural places
  5. Include more real people in images
  6. Diversify who is behind the camera, and the message
A boy giving his cousin a piggyback while running down a hill in Northumberland.

What we did

The Lab’s innovation partnerships set and test a specific hypothesis, based on what the partner knows about its own audiences and guided by Climate Outreach’s evidence and research base. This partnership’s hypothesis was: “Implementing a platform-specific visuals strategy across all external outputs aimed at increasing the number and diversity of people and activities in CNP’s images, will increase and diversify both online and practical engagement with CNP’s campaign and promotional activity.”

To test this, the partnership focused on:

  • Practically implementing Nature Visuals aesthetic and practical recommendations to underpin the new CNP visuals strategy 
  • Developing a transparent, ethical and movement generous philosophy around how images are obtained and published
  • Conducting some initial testing of how different types of image affect engagement on social media platforms 
  • Applying the new visuals strategy to a live project: CNP’s annual Park Protector Award scheme

 

Watch this conversation about the partnership between Dave Powell (Climate Outreach), Toby Smith (Climate Outreach / Climate Visuals) and Laura Williams (Campaign for National Parks).

What we learned

Strategic refresh

The core of our partnership was an in-person ‘sprint’ day led by Climate Outreach’s Senior Programme Lead for Visuals and Media, Toby Smith, with Campaigns for National Parks’ Campaigns and Communications Manager Laura Williams. The session worked through the implications of each Nature Visuals principle for CNP’s strategy and devised tangible project ideas to test in practice (see below).

Before the partnership, CNP had no established visual strategy: with a limited in-house photo archive, photos were chosen based on their availability (often sourced on an ad hoc basis) based on the judgement of the campaigns and communications manager, mostly images of nature and landscapes – often absent of people. The new strategy puts stories of diverse people and activities at the heart of CNP’s approach to visuals – both in terms of the images themselves, and where the images are sourced from.

Digital testing

CNP conducted a series of quick tests of different images (for example, featuring landscapes or pictures of people) on its social channels and measured the levels of engagement that resulted.  

The data showed big differences in how users of different channels interact with image-led posts. A younger, more diverse Instagram demographic appeared more engaged by images featuring a breadth of people enjoying National Parks. Meanwhile traditional images of Park landscapes, or well known figures in the National Park movement, continued to be successful on Facebook – where older and less digitally active supporters are more likely to be found. As suggested by the starting hypothesis, this underlines the importance of a platform-specific approach to visuals and communications – and knowing both your audience and their values, and the platforms that they use.

It helped us understand that our Instagram audience was really responsive to diverse people images, because it’s one of our more diverse channels - we had an inkling, but this demonstrated that. We also, interestingly, found that there is an appetite for landscape images [on Facebook]… and it was actually quite useful to learn that’s OK, we don’t have to show people in every image.”

Laura Williams, Campaign for National Parks

Park Protector Awards

The partnership also applied the Nature Visuals principles to CNP’s 2022’s Park Protector Awards, which champions people who have helped to protect and improve the Parks. A New Perspectives category was introduced this year to recognise people and projects championing the voices of those less heard in National Parks. As part of gathering nominations, CNP asks for the submission of accompanying images and stories to bring Park Protectors to life. This year, it  specifically asked for photos featuring people, ideally showing practical, positive activity and referencing the Nature Visuals principles. Clear guidance was included as part of the nomination process.

This approach resulted in a noticeable increase in the overall number and diversity of people who appeared in the final suite of visualsMore than 1,000 people signed up to the organisation’s wider mailing list – a significant increase on previous years. While tracking the precise impact of new images in this increased sign up is difficult, the team has also had positive qualitative feedback from supporters and trustees about the very visible new direction. We can see how people, landscape and activities are better represented within the images than in previous years but also how there has been an increase in diversity ‘behind the camera’ – the most important of the Nature Visuals’ principles, as new stories depend first and foremost on new storytellers.

Last year there were a lot of worn-down paths with no people, but this time people and solutions were present - it was very positive, and reflects the tones of the nominations. Last year only reading the words told you the story of what these people were nominated for. This year the visuals did too… I’m feeling an immense sense of pride in how well it reflects the work going on on the ground. It really brought those written stories to life in a way it hadn’t done in previous years.”

Laura Williams, Campaign for National Parks

Woman in hijab in nature

Reflecting on the partnership

People need to see themselves in climate pictures: that includes a human element in the landscape, and positivity - be that climate, physical or community solutions. Having imagery that people can relate to is universally humanising”

Toby Smith, Climate Outreach / Climate Visuals

It was inspiring for the Lab team to work with an organisation strongly committed  to broadening the story that it tells about climate change and nature, how it represents that visually, and who it attempts to inspire to action. Engagement principles are most impactful when they are not isolated to one-off campaigns, but embedded in organisational strategy.  It’s early days for the implementation of this strategy but the initial signs are hugely encouraging.  

Climate Outreach would like to thank the Campaign for National Parks for its enthusiasm and commitment to testing and learning from the practical implementation of the Nature Visuals recommendations.

 

Read more

 

We are grateful to the Samworth Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation for their support for the Climate Engagement Lab, including this partnership.

One response to Putting people into images of National Parks – case study

  1. Maggie Lack says: says:

    I fully support the work you are doing and the serious work which underpins it but . I don’t think you should use Getty images and the like. The two used at the beginning and end look artificial and manipulated whereas the real life ones are much more engaging. So get a bigger bank of real life images.
    Best wishes
    Maggie

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By David Powell

David leads our Climate Engagement Lab, which helps UK climate advocacy and campaigning organisations deliver innovative and evidence-based engagement plans. He has 15 years experience as a campaigner, communicator, researcher and strategist on environment and climate change. He’s worked as senior campaigner on economics and resources at Friends of the Earth and most recently as Head of Environment and Green Transition at the New Economics Foundation.  He has a MA in English Literature, an MSc in Environmental Strategy, and a Graduate Diploma in Economics.  He’s particularly interested in the intersection between systems change and individual psychology, and how to build campaigns that harness the deeply held concerns we all have about the climate crisis.

Outside of work he plays jazz saxophone and clarinet, and is the co-host of two podcasts, Sustainababble and Your Brain on Climate. He is also the chair of Somerset Wildlands.

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