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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Communicate with Impact part I

Posted by | February 10, 2016

Recently the Coastal Training Program hosted a webinar series on environmental communication by Water Words that Work (WWTW). Space was limited and several of you asked for materials and resources. I'll recap the webinar in two parts.

If everyone had a little more information, they’d be more concerned about the cause you’re passionate about and make a behavior change, right?  WWTW says, stop right there, and just start with the behavior change you would like to see people make. People have enough information; they just want to know what they should do. (Kind of like when the mechanic tells you what's wrong with your car—how much about your car do you need to understand before you say, "when can you fix it?") But before you craft your message, think about who you want to deliver it to.

The Perils of Preaching to the Choir

WWTW estimates professionals in the environmental field are only 1 or 2 out of every 1,000 Americans. Which means your outreach and engagement materials need to be designed for the 99.9% of Americans who are not your peers. After interviewing 1,000 random Americans for the National Waterways Literacy Assessment, WWTW developed a baseline of Americans’ knowledge of their waterways—to explore the relationship between what they know and how they feel and how they act (download pdf here).  The takeaway? People care about the health of our waterways. The more concerned people are with waterways the more likely they are to take action to help protect them. Those with the most faith in solutions for waterways were the most likely to take action.

So how come nothing happens after you make a two-pager, a blog post, or send out your monthly newsletter? Is it that no one believes you? They just don’t care? Or, do they just not like you?

None of the above, WWTW says, your message is likely going over the heads of your audience.

First, a few education demographics to ponder:

  • 1 out of 4 Americans have a bachelor’s degree;
  • 1 out of 10 have an advanced degree; and
  • 1 out 5 never graduate from high school.

Often we put professional-level materials in front of a mostly high-school-educated public. The below videos highlight just how unfamiliar words common in the environmental field are to general passersby on the street.


“Communicate with the 99.9% as you would have your accountant, attorney or mechanic communicate with you. “ Eric Eckl

Our outreach and communication efforts usually disappoint when we:

  • try to show off our knowledge
  • try to express our own taste and style

We are most likely to succeed when we approach outreach and communication with the same attitude and care we use when selecting a gift for a loved one.

Ready to rework your communication strategy? Check back in for our Communicate with Impact part II where I'll recap the WWTW Environmental Message Method.

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