The Regional District of Nanaimo is incorporating behaviour change principles and tools to motivate residents to better engage in water stewardship and conservation initiatives.
Late last year, Beyond Attitude Consulting, an expert in behaviour change, was commissioned by the RDN to review the Team Watersmart Outreach program.
According to the staff report presented at the committee of the whole meeting on May 11, behavioural psychology research has shown that while people understand the importance of water stewardship and conservation, most often the necessary action required to support it is lacking. They refer to this as “intention action gap.”
The consultants referred to behaviour change approaches to address the gap that include identifying and overcoming barriers to action; direct and personal contact; and developing community norms. The tools to inspire change include commitments, prompts, vivid communication, feedback, incentives and social diffusion.
The review noted several effective behaviour change approaches that are already integrated into current Team WaterSmart initiatives such as the rebate programs and irrigation checkup.
The consultants provided some program specific recommendations and opportunities to further enhance this aspect of Team WaterSmart programming. They include a pilot master water steward initiative where community members are trained and equipped to be Team WaterSmart ambassadors and deliver irrigation and outdoor water check-ups, provide webinar presentations and coordinate stream cleanup.
As well, the consultant suggested creation of an easy identifier such as a decal, sticker, yard sign that indicates ‘I am WaterSmart’ and is focused on water conservation and stewardship in the region.
Conducting regular survey is also recommended to determine barriers as well as measure of current awareness of and attitude towards water issues in the region.
Also recommended is the use of strategies that leverage motivators, seek commitment, provide opportunities for follow-up, gives prompts and reminders and remove not only informational barriers to action but also structural barriers to action.
Electoral Area G (French Creek, San Pareil, Little Qualicum, Englishman River) director Lehann Wallace wanted to know whether the research also considered education over enforcement.
Program co-ordinator for drinking water and watershed protection, Julie Pisani, said the review did not include that scope.
“The review was looking at how can our education and outreach campaigns actually provoke behaviour change,” said Pisani. “So looking at evolving from sort of an information based focus to say yes to provide information but how can we also reduce barriers to action.”
The RDN committee supported staff recommendation that the board endorse the incorporation of behaviour change principles and tools into the existing Regional District of Nanaimo Team WaterSmart Outreach Program, recommended in the WaterSmart Outreach Program Evaluation and Redesign report.