Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Communication Strategies for Fire and Fuels Managers

Field Tour at Western Klamath Regional Partnership 2016 Retreat. Photo: WKRP

Your agency needs to increase fuel treatments and prescribed fire, but how do you communicate this to the public? A recent brief by the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange highlights a study by Dr. Eric Toman and his colleagues who sought to answer that question in four different states: Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Oregon. These communications they say, can be important in shifting from a suppression-only view, to a more holistic view helping prescribed fire gain more public acceptance.

The researchers looked at the main principles of adult learning and framed their research by viewing adult learners as autonomous, self-directed learners. From past theory, they noted that adults wish to: know the reason the topic is relevant, participate and contribute to the learning process, know what the problem is and if it needs to be fixed, and understand whether the learning process will lead to an improved quality of life.  

The study focused on the effectiveness of typical communication methods, such as: uni-directional methods – Smokey Bear materials, public service messages, brochures, newspaper, newsletters, and internet web pages; and interactive methods – interpretive centers, conversations with agency employees, elementary school programs, guided field trips, and public meetings.

The findings showed interactive methods were more in line with effective adult learning methods overall, with guided field trips and interpretive centers rated as the most trustworthy and helpful methods of interactive communication, and public meetings the least. Most of the uni-directional methods were 90-95% trustworthy, but only 44-47% helpful.

What does this mean to you?

  • Understanding adult learning theory can help when communicating with the public about agency activities; and
  • Guided field trips and interpretive centers are generally more effective communication tools than newsletters and public meetings. 

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