They Get the Flyer, But Do They “Get” the Flyer? Improving Commercial Outreach Through Customized Communication, Simplified Messages, and Audience Feedback
The purpose of this presentation is to provide the audience with guidance for communicating technical information about pollution prevention practices in the commercial setting. The recommendations in the presentation are based on information gleaned from the social sciences, a review of existing programs, and in-person interviews with business owners and managers. The presentation will include several before and after examples of improved outreach materials from the County of San Diego’s commercial business outreach program. Stormwater education and outreach efforts for commercial businesses have typically focused on promoting Best Management Practices (BMPs) and are often delivered in conjunction with enforcement actions. While many businesses are motivated to avoid enforcement actions and fines, the education components are often coupled with a negative situation and therefore are often not very well-received. In addition, educational materials delivered to businesses are often highly technical in nature and may include activities that are not relevant to specific business situations. This places an additional burden on the business as they try to filter through, process, and then comprehend the information. In the spring of 2015, the County of San Diego implemented a project to improve their commercial outreach efforts with the goal of promoting behavior change and improving perceptions of the County as a partner in pollution prevention rather than as a punisher as well as improving the clarity of communication. The project focused on the two primary commercial business outreach elements: (1) educational flyers (2) a Guidance Handbook developed as a supplement the Watershed Protection Ordinance (WPO). Together, the outreach materials covered a wide range of technical topics including materials storage and disposal, site layout, waste management, and a variety of maintenance activities. The flyers offered additional in-depth information on requirements for specific business activities such as pressure washing, painting, portable toilets, and others. In order to inform the outreach improvements, the design team began with a scan of commercial outreach and employee training materials from other agencies across the United States as well as a review of the social science literature. Social science research indicates that crafting messages that are positively framed, simple, and that limit overload from too many choices, are more effective at changing behavior than negative messages that overload the audience with information. During the second phase of the project, the design team conducted a series of in-person interviews with managers and owners of commercial businesses in the unincorporated areas of San Diego County. The purpose of the interviews was twofold. First, we wanted to understand businesses’ perceptions of outreach concepts including the layout, content, and comprehension of technical terms. Second, we wanted to engage in a discussion with businesses about the outreach delivery methods that would be most useful for training and other educational purposes. Participants in the interview were randomly selected from a complete list of businesses in the region in order to ensure that the results were representative of all businesses across the county and not just those who had particular opinions or interest in the topic. The interviews focused on restaurant and automotive businesses which were optimal targets for outreach due to their sheer numbers in the region and potential for pollutant generating activities. Based on the results of the review and in-person interviews with business owners, we made significant revisions to the existing outreach materials currently used by the County. The revisions included: streamlining and customizing materials to provide easy access to relevant information by business type; simplifying messages by removing technical language and positive framing.
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.