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Your Population is Diverse. Your Toolbox Should Be Too.

Posted By Karen E. Menard, Wednesday, August 3, 2016

 

Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog

  

All Things H2O                                 August 2016 Issue

 

 

 

Your Population is Diverse.

Your Toolbox Should Be Too.

 

My coworker and I recently did a presentation to the Society of Texas Environmental Professionals. We were asked to do a presentation on water conservation, but always the rebels we vetoed that topic and instead spoke on a topic that we are both very passionate about; Communication and Education. The convergence of these two bodies of thought is very important these days and something that we preach whenever someone gives us the stage, mic, or simply responds to our raised hand.

 

In theory, communication and education are compatible mates that go hand in hand. However, in practice, this is not always the case, especially in government. Government entities get a bad rap for working in silos. This work environment does nothing for efficiency and productivity and is especially detrimental to communication and education. Educators don't always see the benefit of investing time and money into learning communication strategies and communicators don't always engage with the subject matter experts. Marketing and communication strategies are crucial for anyone trying to get their message out. It doesn't matter that we aren't a corporation trying to sell more widgets. People are exposed to 5,000 messages a day. Whether you like it or not, you are directly competing with those messages. We have to start playing the game.

Why is this issue more important now than ever before? The water industry is no stranger to the issue of population. Directors, planners, and operators are constantly planning for future water demands, especially in states like Texas that are experiencing an influx of new businesses and new residents. However, there is one area that seems to get lost in the hustle and bustle. You guessed it: Communication and Education. We are often seen by our water peers as the fun and the fluff and our value can get lost in the programming, social posts, and mascot appearances. However, according to a survey done by AWWA’s Opflow Magazine in May 2016, the top three issues facing the water industry today are:

 

The water industry needs money to address the first two problems. However, the money falls short when the public isn’t willing to invest because they don’t understand or value water, infrastructure, and the service we provide to our communities. Understanding and value are the kind of "fluff" words we, as communicators and educators, love and that we strive on a daily basis to communicate to our customers, and if you aren't; you should be. That doesn't mean ramp up the budget for brochures and squeeze balls. We live in a technologically sophisticated world now. Just ask the elementary school student with the iPhone and Apple Watch. Have you been to a good museum lately?

Gone are the days of "stay back, don't touch!" Everything is tactile, experiential, and extremely visual. I watched a presentation at the Abraham Lincoln Museum for a solid 30 minutes without realizing that it had been a hologram the entire time until the very end when the presenter literally dissolved away.

 

We need to really step up our game and we need to start by truly knowing our audience. It’s imperative that we understand our population; their ages, their income, their education level. This is easier than you think. A simple visit to city-data.com will help give you a snapshot of your city. Don't assume you know what it is. We have a tendency to think our city is the circle we reside in. We have rich, diverse populations and we should be creating communication campaigns and educational programming that reach all of our residents. Our communication campaigns must be more visual and our educational programming more experiential.

Start by doing an audit of your communication pieces and education programs. Who are you reaching? Who are you missing? What are your communication and education goals? Are you meeting them? How are you measuring yourself?

 

This doesn't mean try and do everything. Prioritize and pick strategies that are targeted, measurable and that expand your message to reach your entire audience. My coworker and I became overwhelmed by this whole revelation and decided to do something completely out of the box. We brought this machine that is our education program to a screeching halt and decided to start all over with a plan, with goals, and with metrics. We plan to have revamped our entire education program and rewritten our communication plan by the summer's end. Contrary to how bland that probably sounds, we are actually really enjoying it. We'd love to share our story in the future. We don’t pretend to be experts. I subscribe to blogs like NewsCred and the Social Media Examiner to keep me informed, as well as attend conferences such as the Government Social Media Conference which will be in Dallas in 2017. For now, I'll leave you with tools that we personally use on a daily basis to ensure we are creating quality content for our residents.

  

About the Author:

Stephanie Zavala is a Public Education Specialist with the City of Mansfield. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business as well as a Master’s in Environmental Science from Texas Christian University. In 2015 she became a Certified Public Communicator through TCU’s School of Strategic Communication. She has been in the environmental outreach and education field for nine years. Her programs and outreach efforts won several awards from the Texas section of the American Water Works Association in 2015 and 2016, and she also won the 2015 Public Educator of the Year award for the region from the Texas Water Utilities Association. She also received two Communicator Awards in 2016 from the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts.

Tags:  communication  education  population  Stephanie Zavala  toolbox  utilities  water 

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