Self-Study Module: Step 1

Step 1. Describe the environmental concern or opportunity

CPB flow chart diagram

Problem-Solution image – For a larger version, and detailed explanation, see Changing Public Behavior: Behavior Change Theories and Techniques

The first step towards increasing people’s involvement is to make sure that you understand and can describe the environmental situation in specific terms. In Step 1, you assess and describe the problem or opportunity in cooperation with stakeholders, key informants, and experts. You will use the problem statement you write, to answer questions that ultimately enable you to choose an effective outreach activity. Investigating the environmental situation is one of many assessments that you can conduct to improve the likelihood that your work will make a difference.

In the short term, you will use the Step 1 statement in Steps 2 and 3 to help you describe a specific practice that a specific audience can implement to address the environmental situation you identify. Once you’ve described the problem or opportunity as specifically as you can, follow steps 2 – 7 to increase the likelihood that your choices will lead to effective and measurable outcomes. Use the worksheet to keep track of your ideas.


Describing the environmental problem or opportunity requires access to information about the situation. Consider putting together a working team of people who provide a variety of skills and interests. They can help:

  • Determine what information is needed and where to find it
  • Analyze information and clarify the issue
  • Identify potential environmental practices that can make a difference

For example, you might select a problem or issue like this:

  • The welfare of native species of fish, wildlife, or plants in or near the lake

Drawing of person thinking of a question

The team can help ask and answer questions like these:

  1. Does this statement accurately describe the sample problem?
  2. Does this statement encompass the observed environmental concern?
  3. Who needs to participate in clarifying the problem statement?
  4. What sources of information are needed to assure that the problem statement is relevant?
  5. What social or political concerns could or should be incorporated as part of the problem statement?

Engaging stakeholders from the beginning helps to assure participation and to develop consensus among diverse groups. The team can include experts from more than one discipline, different sectors of the community of interest, and people who experience the issue in different ways. There is no recipe for who has to be on the team, although studies indicate that both broad and narrow groups can be effective, depending on the situation (Koontz, 2004).

Step 4 presents participatory action tools (Table 1: Recommended tools and descriptions and Table 2: Sample sources of background information) that you can use to build understanding about the environmental situation among citizens and among diverse groups.


Booth, E. 1996. Starting with Behavior. A Participatory Process for Selecting Target Behaviors in Environmental Programs. Washington, D.C.: Academy for Educational Development

Koontz, T. M. and E. M. Johnson. 2004. One Size Does Not Fit All: Matching Breadth of Stakeholder Participation to Watershed Group Accomplishments. Policy Sciences 37, no. 2 (June, 2004): 185-204.

Matarasso, M. 2004. Targeting Behavior. Developing Conservation Education, Communications and Advocacy Programmes with the Participation of Local Communities. Hanoi: WWF Indochina Programme (pp. 36-62).