3 Criteria of Any Successful Outdoor Education Program
Essentially outdoor education professionals must ensure that their programs satisfy three important criteria:
Programs have identifiable aims and objectives;
The most appropriate site has been selected to achieve these aims; and
The planned activity is based on a sound risk management strategy.
There's little doubt that stress, injury and serious harm are all outcomes of an outdoor education program that has not been planned and conducted safely. Program hazards may be a result of an oversight in the program planning process or a failure to identify appropriate strategies to reduce the likelihood of, or manage incidents during running of the outdoor education program. However, provided that professional outdoor educators minimise program hazards and risk of injury by identifying, reducing and controlling hazards, and document appropriate risk reduction and risk management strategies, positive outcomes to outdoor activity programs can be achieved.
Managing risk in outdoor education hinges on the reduction of the degree of real risk to a level considered acceptable to everyday exposure. But before we get to the crux of this, we must first define some key risk management terminology to ensure we're all speaking the same language.
"...it's impossible to ensure that children participating in managed outdoor activities will be 100% safe because any well-built outdoor program will push participants out of their comfort zones - and in the process, they will be exposed to some risks."
Safety in outdoor learning is of paramount concern, however it can never be fully guaranteed because there are many factors which we have little or no control over (e.g. a sudden rock fall, gear failure, human error or extreme weather). This is a vital point.
In the planning stages of any overnight outdoor education program, parents almost always ask variations of the following question: 'Can you make sure our children will be kept safe?' But the take-home message is this - it's impossible to ensure that children participating in outdoor learning and adventurous activities will be 100% safe, and that's because any well-constructed outdoor program will push participants out of their comfort zones - and in the process, they'll be exposed to some risks. But by following best practice and ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place, we can greatly limit any risks to an acceptable level.
At Outdoortopia, we promote UK guidance and standards for outdoor education as we have found these to be among the most comprehensive and best developed in the world. Many of these guidelines can be viewed at GoingOutThere.co.uk.