The Poo Patch: Engaging Youth Organizations to Promote Pet Waste Management on Private Property
Worldwide there are numerous examples of efforts by government and non-governmental organizations that have successfully encouraged dog owners to pick up after their pets in public areas such as while out on walks, in parks, or along beaches. However, few programs have focused on pet waste that accumulates on private property. Poorly managed pet waste that accumulates in residents’ backyards presents a significant potential for pollution, yet little has been done to successfully promote proper pet waste management in this private setting. In this presentation, we will describe an innovative community-based social marketing program aimed at encouraging dog owners in rural San Diego County to properly manage the pet waste on their property. In addition to presenting strategies for reaching a new target audience, the speakers will also discuss the utility of partnering with youth organizations to deliver program messages. Foundational survey research indicated that dog owners living on large properties were less likely to pick up the pet waste in their yards compared to those with smaller properties as there were significant barriers to finding and picking up all of the waste. The survey also revealed reluctance among large rural property owners to accept communication from government about how to manage waste on their private property. The “Poo Points” program was developed to directly address the challenges faced by this target audience. The program leveraged in-person communications by creating partnerships with Boy and Girl Scout troops who delivered the outreach to neighbors in exchange for a “Poo Patch.” “Poo Points” presentations were given at Boy and Girl Scout meetings in order to get youths engaged and excited about conducting the outreach in their community. The presentation communicated the problem, the behavioral solution, and showed youths how to conduct the outreach. A “Poo Point Activity Booklet” was created to guide the interaction between youths and dog owners in the community. The booklet included information, instructions for a property-walk, survey measures, and a signature page for neighbors to provide a written commitment to pick up dog waste at least once a week in designated “Poo Points.” A “Poo Patch” badge was awarded to each youth that completed the activity with at least three residents. Results of the pilot program showed that youth groups, such as Boy and Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs, were eager to participate in the activity as it provided opportunities for education, leadership, and community service and was therefore consistent with the mission of these youth organizations. Residents were also receptive to the message as it was delivered by a youth community member rather than by a government agency. To date, hundreds of youth and community members have participated in the Poo Points program. Quantitative program evaluation showed that the program significantly increased perceptions of dog waste as a contributor to pollution of local waterways and perceptions about the importance of picking up pet waste on private property. Most importantly, the Poo points program led to a significant increase in the frequency of pet waste pick up on large private properties. The pilot project was seen as a successful method of providing pet waste outreach, as well as a way to get local youths involved in a positive community activity. Through the use of this case study, audience members will learn to apply the steps of community-based social marketing including gathering information on barriers and benefits, developing program materials, leveraging community resources, and building evaluation tools into program materials. At each step of the case study description, the speakers will solicit input from the audience regarding their hunches about potential barriers, strategies for overcoming barriers, and measurement techniques.
Jennifer Tabanico is President and cofounder of Action Research, a firm that specializes in changing behavior for the public good by applying marketing and social science research to outreach programs that promote clean, healthy, and sustainable communities. Jennifer has a Master of Arts degree in Experimental Psychology and more than a decade of experience developing and implementing community-based social marketing programs for public and private agencies. Her most recent clients have included the City and County of San Diego, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, the American Forest Foundation, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Jennifer’s work in the areas of community-based social marketing, environmental attitudes, and behavior change has been published in a variety of technical and academic outlets including the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Social Influence, and the Handbook on Household Hazardous Waste.