Plan: Understand the Community of Interest

Understand the “Community of Interest”

Your education or outreach initiative will likely be directed at a community of people that are grouped in some way or other. You may be interested in a “community of interest”, such as all the diary farmers; or a geographic community, such as all the landowners in a specific watershed; or all the people in a certain geographic area with the same hobby, or some other combination. Define your “community” as carefully as you can.

Assess the community and/or organization(s). What are the environmental management problems in this community or for this group? What are the people in this community or organization interested in? What issues concern them? Who are the stakeholders?

Who is doing what? What issues are supported, which are not supported? Are there any routine or expected behaviors? What resources are available? Are there opportunities for collaboration?

Collecting information on the types of relationships and cultural beliefs and norms present in your community can help you identify the barriers to changing behavior, better ways of communicating your message, and the formats that might be most appropriate to deliver your message. Social data will also give you insight on who talks to whom, who makes decisions, and who follows others. Understanding community culture and its wide range of distinct and shared values, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs can help you understand what people care about and why, as well as what motivates them to take action. Knowledge about racial, religious, and cultural heritage in your community can help you understand why people behave in certain ways, hold certain beliefs, or communicate in certain ways. ( U.S. EPA, 2003)

The context for the education or outreach initiative is as important as details about the specific target audience. The context helps the educator understand more about the target audience, and the target audience is affected by the actions and interests of others who are part of the “community’.

You can organize your investigation about the community with help from one or more of the resources listed at the end of this section.