We undertook primary research for Scottish Natural Heritage on how to describe paths in a coherent manner. This involved engaging with users and potential users and assessing how to present path information to improve path promotion in Scotland. The research has led to the development of a new path grading system that is now being adopted in Scotland.

Research Summary

This research recognises the importance of separating physical characteristics of a path from the experiential characteristics. This distinction between objective and subjective information helps to eliminate the inconsistency that has been applied to path descriptions and places the path user as decision maker, rather than the path manager.

A standard vocabulary has been developed to give a consistent meaning to various terms, and where possible, adjectives are anchored to measurable values or ranges of values. Each characteristic, and its associated descriptors, is considered and these have been grouped into four main categories of physical characteristics: gradient (along and across the path); path surface (materials and condition); obstacles, and clear width and height.

The outputs of the research also provide a new framework for describing paths in a coherent manner, enabling path managers to produce consistent descriptions in different locations and settings. This framework has been defined as the Restrictive Properties Continuum (RPC) and can be applied to any path to produce a description of its physical characteristics.

The RPC can be used to provide 'shorthand' information about paths within the bounds of classified physical properties. These grades can be consistently applied throughout Scotland raising confidence amongst path users that the information will meet their expectations and match their own experiences of paths.

Research Methods

The research undertaken in this project included:

  • analysis of existing research and protocols;
  • primary investigation of 'information needs' of path users;
  • the development of new systems for describing paths objectively and coherently;
  • an initial testing of these systems in two phases.

Developments during the project meant that it was not possible to test all options that were created and compare between different options. The primary data collection from members of the public used qualitative methods and all feedback was gathered within the protocols advocated by the Market Research Society.