Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Creating Conservation Action

Ocean Bluffs by Jim Epler

I recently attended a presentation and discussion led by The Ocean Project on how to get visitors to take action to conserve the environment. View this AZA 2011 presentation for a similar presentation, though just the slides make for a much weaker presentation. The slides do show some of the interesting market research they've done. Here are a few of the key items I took away from the session.

Give them the Solution
Tell the visitor what actions they can take to help the environment. Most people want to be "green" but they don't know what they should do and it can be difficult to figure out. Give them specific actions or steps they can do to help the environment. Don't chastise them about what they haven't done correctly, don't lead with all the issues and problems and how we are hurting the earth. The best way to get somebody to take action is to tell them specific things they can do to help, and then give them the background information if they are interested in hearing more.

Focus on the Micro not the Macro
According to The Ocean Project's research most people believe the oceans are in pretty good shape. They think the oceans are so big and powerful they can handle everything we throw at it. It is also hard to understand or see how as an individual they can affect this massive issue. When talking about conservation don't talk about saving the oceans, they are too big and distant so it's hard for people to feel a connection and urgency to take action. Focus on a specific instance of the issue and if it's local all the better. Talk about steps they can take to reduce the pollution in their local bay or river. Steps they can take to help save a specific species. It's easier to understand the specific issues and local connections and understand how specific actions or inactions affect them.

Be Specific on the Action Steps
When giving people a solution, make it as specific as possible. Don't tell them "use less plastic" tell them "when checking out at the grocery store ask for paper bags instead of plastic" or "buy and use a reusable water bottle instead of disposable plastic bottles". When a person is told "use less plastic" or "don't pollute" that person has to take the time and effort to come up with ways not to do those things. When the direction is to "ask for paper bags instead of plastic" they don't have to figure anything out they can just do it. Also, by specifying the "checking out at the grocery store" it acts as a subtle mental trigger or reminder so that when they are at the checkout of the grocery store they are more likely to remember the advice.

It's Not Urgent
Conservation isn't seen as an urgent problem, unless there is a catastrophe of some type, an oil spill. When that catastrophe, does happen the urgency and worry about the environment jumps dramatically. These are the best times to reach out to people and have them take action, but it's a small time window as people quickly move on to other concerns and issues. Be prepared to take advantage of that extra focus during times of catastrophe. While catastrophes by their very nature are horrible, they are going to happen and having the ability to make at least some small positives come out of the catastrophes is beneficial.

A book I read, it may of been "Built to Last" by Jim Collins, researched companies and found ones that did long term planning (10+ years into the future) didn't do any better and often did worse than ones that didn't do any long term planning. It's impossible to predict with any accuracy very far into the future, so the long term planners would build their plans on what would turn out to be inaccurate assumptions but as they had "a plan" they would stick to it. The companies that did the best were the ones that played out various scenarios as part of their planning instead of planning for one specific outcome. Scenarios asking question like "If X happened what would that do, how would we handle it?", "If X did happen would there of been any early warning signs?", "If Y happened what would we do?". By asking these questions it gave the leaders of the organizations a framework to recognize and handle future changes, even if they weren't the exact scenarios that had been played out. That long tangent to say could that same thinking be applied for helping zoos and aquariums be better prepared to take advantage of the heightened awareness and urgency caused by environmental disasters? If an oil spill happens what can we do? Is it different if it happens in the Caribbean, Alaska, or SE Asia? What about a drought?

Teens are a very Receptive Audiences
Additional market research identified that teens were very receptive to actually taking conservation action. Teens also felt that they could make a difference in the world, the teen sense of invincibility can be great for moving mountains. Teens are often looked to by their parents to advise them on how to be more green, so they can be a key figure for kick starting conservation actions in the family.

Originally this post was entitled "Inspiring Conservation Action", as many zoo and aquarium mission statements have in them. Then I started thinking about the presentation and research which basically said don't try to inspire the audience give them specific direction and guidance to help them with conservation. Inspiring our visitors is a great goal, but is it needed? Is it the best way to get visitors to engage in conservation activities?

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