Goldenberg, M, McAvoy, L and Klenovsky, D (2005) 'Outcomes from the Components of an Outward Bound Experience', in Journal of Experiential Education, 28 (2): 123 - 146.
[This is an attempt to get some self report data about the impact of various components in an outward bound course in the USA. Of particular interest is the ways in which various components are supposed to have had an effect, operating first through consequences and then values. Respondents are forced to consider values by being specifically asked why particular consequences are valuable, in a technique called 'laddering'. Results are presented in the form of attractive diagrams -- 'hierarchical value maps 'or HVMs. A useful list of references covers other attempts to estimate the impact of outward-bound and other outdoor education or adventure exercises].
The study is based on an (American) Outward Bound programme, to test an apparently established view that such programmes offer pleasures including 'the uncertainty, perceived risk, excitement, interaction with nature, and effort' (125), and to test claims that the positive effects include 'group dynamics and development... "hard and life skills"... locus of control, self confidence and self concept... self-esteem... better interpersonal relationships' (125 - 6). There's also a claim that these outcomes are transferable.
The technique deployed here is known as means-ends analysis. It was originally developed apparently 'to better understand how consumers or participants feel about a particular product or service' (126).'Attributes' originally referred to features of the product -- here they include matters such as length and location of the course and actual activities undertaken. 'Consequences' referred to outcomes or benefits, which may include some of the supposed skills mentioned above. 'Values' are more abstract and might include matters such as self-esteem, or good relationships with others. Items might be linked in the sense that particular characteristics are seen as leading to particular outcomes, which are then described in terms of some general value.
A self-administered questionnaire was used in this case, based on the classic arguments about larger samples and cost effectiveness. Respondents are driven to make value statements by 'laddering' -- asking questions such as '"Why is that important?". This process of asking... continues for each response given until the respondent can no longer provide a meaningful answer' (128). It is then possible to draw up an 'implication matrix... that summarises the number of times each concept was associated with each of the other concepts in respondents' ladders' (128). The results can be represented as a 'hierarchical value map (HVM)'. The number of these can be drawn, describing the relationships for the whole course, or for individual components of it . There are many references to discussions about this technique and support for the use of questionnaires.
In this particular centre in North Carolina, a number of specific course components were on offer including 'backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing, solo [outdoor activities], service project and a personal challenge event' (129), lasting for a number of days. Participants were asked first of all what they had actually done, and then invited to 'ladder'. They were asked about outcomes and to think about things they had learned, to select the most important outcome and then explain why it was important and then why that response was important and so on. Questionnaires were distributed at the end, a total of 294 in all. A small number of phone interviews were conducted as follow-up and to test 'non-response bias'. [Before we go any further, it is obvious that there might be a 'halo effect' reflected here. Having survived a fairly gruelling outdoor experience, it is not surprising to find participants wanting to see considerable benefits for their efforts. It is also quite likely that they will have learned some typical Outward Bound language and encountered claims in that language. A high degree of congruency between personal reports and the stated goals of OB is really to be expected].
Participants were able to list a number of outcomes. The most frequently mentioned included 'physical fitness... relationships with others... self confidence... self-reliance... appreciation... teamwork/cooperation... personal growth/challenges... and knowledge/awareness' (131). [Only the first two were mentioned by more than 20 per cent of the study participants, however!].
After the laddering exercise, concepts provided were coded 'based on phrases and key words that emerged from the data' (131). Codes were tested for intercoder agreement and any disagreement resolved after discussion. In all, 14 attributes, 14 consequences and eight personal values were identified by this coding process [and there is a full list on 133]. Attributes included the course overall and specific components, especially 'interactions... rock-climbing... expedition... camp craft... and the solo experience' (131). Consequences included 'relationship with others/teamwork... knowledge/awareness... personal growth/challenges... and determination/perseverance' [with knowledge/awareness coming out top with 63 per cent of participants mentioning it]. Values included '... transference... self-awareness/improvement/fulfilment... achievement of a personal goal/value and self confidence/esteem' [with transference mentioned by 58.3 per cent] (132). The coders decided that transference was being mentioned 'Any time an individual referred to being able to apply a skill to one or more areas outside their Outward Bound experience' (132).
Implication matrices and HVMs were then developed [and the overall picture is displayed below]. Only fairly frequently mentioned associations were charted. Diagrams were drawn up for the course overall and for individual components [see the diagram for rock climbing as one example]. [NB the width of the lines in the diagrams indicate the frequency of the choice].Overall, transference and relationships with others emerged strongly, although this varied according to the activity -- for example, the solo experience 'led the participants to feel more independent and self-reliant', while rock-climbing was associated best with 'determination/perseverance and relationships with others/teamwork ' (134) [All for pretty obvious reasons, according to the authors].
Overall, the techniques seemed to have worked, and the results are consistent with prior research [a substantial review then follows, 138f]. There are several implications for practice -- for designing specific courses for specific outcomes, to market a certain type of programme, to obtain better grant funding. There are also areas for further research -- to have a demographically mixed sample next time, to see if gender and ethnicity might be relevant and, or to explore specific sub-groups, such as 'youth - at - risk, physical or mental health patients, corporate groups, and young professionals' (143). A study of life and work 5 --10 years after the course would also examine whether transference has taken place. Finally, means - ends analysis could be used to test the outcomes of other specific outdoor adventure activities such as kayaking or winter camping [the refs seem to indicate that Klenovsky in particular has done a bit of work here, include work on tourist destinations and what attracts people to them].
However, it seems as if outdoor adventure education programmes do have an immediate impact. The results seem to indicate pretty obvious reasons why. [Hmm -- a bit too obvious and neat for me. Did no-one mention any other outcomes? No critical remarks? No 'failures'? Presumably these were omitted by the policy of including only 'normal' or frequent responses? Questionnaires also limited the data?]
Examples of HVMs: