Certain words and phrases have become catch-cries for the green movement.
“Action for sustainability”, “social change”, “environmental advocacy” – all are examples of language that needs to find solid ground in a world of proliferated rhetoric.
As environmental communicators and sustainability educators, how can “walk the talk”?
How can we do good work that moves beyond lip-service? How can we target measureable action for sustainability, meaningful social change and environmental advocacy with political and economic efficacy?
The short answer is there is no short answer.
What there are, however, are a series of questions we can ask ourselves as we develop projects for delivery into local communities. Adapted from Enabling Eco-Action by Les Robinson and Andreas Glanzig (2003), the following questions help to improve our approach to environmental education, one step at a time.
How well do you understand your chosen issue? Do you understand the full range of causes and solutions? How credible are your information sources? Is the proposed solution achievable? Why is it the best option?
Have you identified your audience? Who are they, specifically? Why do they need to act? How best to reach them? What are their likes / dislikes? Are they sympathetic or antagonistic to your cause? What is their current situation / current behaviours? Importantly, what do they value and prioritise in life?
Does your program find “common ground”? A profound bumper sticker once read: “Reality is in the eye of the beholder”. Does your program address an issue acknowledged within your community. Does the proposed align with the values, norms, perceptions and needs of your audience?
Who else is doing what you plan to do? Do similar programs exist elsewhere? Have you conducted or sourced relevant social research? What’s your competitive advantage (ie. what are the features and benefits that separate your program from others)?
Have you developed clear objectives? In terms of behaviour change, are your objectives S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, timely)? Can you realistically reach your intended audience to achieve your goals?
Is your program a “good fit”? Does your program offer features and benefits that meet the needs of your community, your target audience and objectives? What are the obstacles to behaviour change that your program will address? How does your program align with your community’s core values?
How will you measure, monitor and evaluate your program’s success? Is evaluation built into the nuts and bolts of your program? Or is it an afterthought? What are your reporting requirements?
Will your education project be fun? Exciting? Engaging? Interesting? Stimulating? How does your program promote hands-on activities, experiential and interactive learning opportunities?
Is your program social? Is it accessible? Does your program engage people through social interaction? Is there conversation? Music? Food? Dance? What group activities have you planned? Have you considered ways to engage different people to connect and learn and share their experiences? What opportunities does your program offer people of different ages, gender, backgrounds, physical and intellectual ability?
Have you developed a communication strategy? How will you reach your target audience? Have you tested your proposed messages and channels for communication? How do you know your communication strategy will work?
Who else can you work with to deliver the program? How have you determined “right-fit” partners? Do your values align? Do you share audiences? Which other agencies, organisations, businesses and individuals share your goals? Who would you like to collaborate with, and why?
Does your project “walk the talk”? Do you practice what you preach? What is the environmental impact of your program? How can you reduce the project’s ecological footprint? Increase its social benefits? In what ways does your project demonstrate “best practice” action for sustainability?
What is the legacy of your project? What are the outcomes that will stand the test of time? How have you built community capacity? How have you made your community stronger? Have you built relationships? Increased knowledge? Developed skills? How might the program be supported on an ongoing basis? Conversely, what have you learned? How have you grown? What have you discovered about yourself and the world that you otherwise did not know?
It’s no small feat to develop and deliver an effective environmental education program. It takes time, dedication, resources.
Perhaps most importantly, it takes the lucrative combination of knowledge, skills and passion to effect change in an ever changing world.
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