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From Expedition Y: Questions, and the evolution of our survey process

The following is an update from Expedition Y’s Fynn Glover, out on the road in search of answers. Rock/Creek, through supporting and sponsoring Expedition Y, looks forward to the results of Fynn’s research. As expected, after talking to college students and receiving some interesting responses, the survey questions are already changing… read on.

Expedition Y was formed from an impulsive and personal essay that attempted to elucidate the challenges facing the United States. The challenges, identified in this essay, ranged from overpopulation, to natural resource depletion, to energy independence, to geopolitical uncertainty, to structural economic shifts, to venomous political divisiveness, to the relative decline of American power at the same moment that emerging nations, particularly China, are experiencing soaring growth.

What is striking about these challenges is that their climaxes seem to lie somewhere in the future, suggesting that today’s college students and recent grads will inherit these challenges as they grow older.

Will today’s young adults, Generation Y, be prepared for this responsibility? Will they be inspired to find the most creative and effective solutions to challenges of unprecedented social, economic, and environmental complexity? Are they aware today of their responsibility in the future?

These are the initial questions that drove the creation of Expedition Y, as a conversational exploration with Gen Y throughout North America. These questions continue to constitute the spirit of this learning adventure, although the project has evolved and continues to do so.

As I tried to rally support for the project, I came into contact with a number of passionate and experienced people in the outdoor industry, whose opinions and advice helped shift the original conversational tonality of the idea, toward a more quantifiable inquiry into how to generate concern, passion, and awareness in a world in which technology can breed systemic apathy, just as it can simultaneously, and ironically, generate unbelievable demonstrations of human compassion.

What does all this mean? It means that Expedition Y, which had always intended to gain as much knowledge as possible about Generation Y’s considerations of social, economic, and environmental dilemmas, evolved into the hypothesis that the lessons learned in experiential settings, particularly wilderness settings, have vast and positive ripple effects throughout society. For example, it seems self-evident that in order for people to care more broadly and sincerely about the environmental decisions they make, they must spend more time being educated in the wilderness playgrounds of this vast continent.

Perhaps then, as a society, we would create intimate connections, on a large scale, with the places that have defined our natural heritage. In so doing, we would develop a citizenry that not only loves and values their natural environments, but also one that has become more self-reliant, more goal-oriented, and more active.

As the journey has progressed, so too has our survey. We began with the highly ambitious effort to prove that the commitments, demonstrated by outdoor athletes to their sports, correlate with improved societal engagement and overall human productivity. How did we attempt this? We tried to isolate the number of hours per week spent participating in a wilderness activity and compare this to the answers to questions that were designed to measure a person’s intellectual and practical knowledge, as well as their motivation to learn. We believe this to be a fascinating concept, and one that if proven correct, would have significant implications.

However, we realized that while there were strengths to this method, there were also weaknesses, stemming from our own inexperience as statistical researchers. We also began to realize that what Expedition Y may be more capable of discovering this summer are more direct and quantifiable solutions to reverse the decline in outdoor participation amongst young people. We are now experimenting with a survey that remains true to our original concept, while simultaneously reaching out to Generation Y to consider therapeutic solutions to its own divorce from wilderness recreation.

We will use this survey for the next two days in Madison and Minneapolis to further assess its effectiveness.

The current survey is comprised of four parts: Values, Education, Profession, and Outdoor Participation. From the Values section, we are trying to ascertain Generation Y’s definitions of success, and its concerns. From the Education section, we are trying to ascertain Gen Y’s expectations and opinions of its education, as well as solutions to improving higher education, so that it inspires each student to reach his/her highest intellectual and physical potential.

From the Profession section, we are mimicking the Education section in the context of the workplace. Is work tapping Generation Y’s highest intellectual and physical potential? What workplace policies do young people think would improve their own productivity?

Finally, from the Outdoor Participation section, we are trying to determine: 1) if a young person participates in the wilderness, does that person feel that their overall productivity is improved; 2) what is keeping more young people from participating in outdoor recreation; and 3) what strategies do young people think would effectively increase outdoor participation amongst their peers?

What do we want this information to accomplish? We want to provide the outdoor industry, universities, governments, and HR departments with solutions for how to increase generational participation with wilderness recreation, which we believe has tremendous economic, social, and environmental benefits in the form of improved human productivity and societal engagement.

Want to keep up with Expedition Y throughout their trip? Fynn will be checking in with us, telling us what they’ve learned. You can also check the Expedition Y blog for more photos and updates from canvassing stops and trail runs.