Abstract

This project will lead to an increase in the number of homeowners in the Muddy Branch watershed (Montgomery County) who install conservation landscaping, rain barrels and rain gardens on their properties. It will increase effectiveness of homeowner outreach by using research to identify both barriers/solutions and effective messages/methods of message delivery. The project includes a literature review, audience segmentation, focus groups, a pilot communications strategy and project evaluation.

Behavior

Behaviors: Install a rain garden, Rain barrel installation and use, Conservation landscaping

Behavior Pattern: Continous

Why was this behavior selected?

Lands Green, Waters Clean Phase 1 focused on understanding the messages that encourage installation and use of rain gardens, conservation landscapes and rain barrels and the barriers that prevent their installation. The Izaak Walton League and our project partners Muddy Branch Alliance, Montgomery County, City of Gaithersburg, and Watershed Stewards Academy determined that the most cost effective way to improve water quality would be to focus efforts on individuals who are most likely to adopt these practices with some targeted messaging and assistance.

We embarked on this study with the mission of exploring the most motivating messages among these homeowners, to determine what would break through and encourage them to adopt these stewardship practices in their yards. What we heard overwhelmingly in the focus groups, however, was an audience that did not so much need motivation, but instead some practical help in overcoming a series of practical barriers that they faced as they contemplated these rainscaping practices.

Homeowners expressed a multitude of specific, practical concerns about adopting and installing rainscaping in their own yards. These ranged from lack of knowledge about where to locate a rain barrel and how to disconnect the downspout to concerns about the small size of one’s own yard and whether it could accommodate a more sustainable landscape design. It was this long list of practical barriers that proved to be the biggest finding of the focus groups, rather than great insight on messaging.

Target Audiences

Audiences: Agricultural landowners, Waterfront/riparian landowners, Rowhome/town home/condo owners/renters, Detached single family homeowners/renters

Primary Audience: Detached single family homeowners/renters

Secondary Audience: Rowhome/town home/condo owners/renters

Demographics: N/A

Ages: N/A

Description of Target Audience

Water Words that Work conducted a literature review of existing surveys, focus group research, and pilot projects which helped us determine our most likely target audience to be homeowners with a demonstrated interest in gardening based on purchase history. The literature review also provided some basic guidelines for developing effective messaging. Water Words that Work also has extensive experience with social marketing research and development of effective messaging on water related issues that contributed to the overall direction of this project and our messaging strategies.

Outreach efforts were focused on the Muddy Branch watershed, which includes portions of the City of Gaithersburg and Montgomery County, both of which have majority non-white populations. Gaithersburg’s population is 39.7% Caucasian, 16.9% Asian, and 15.5% African American, with 24.4% Hispanic or Latino of any race. Similarly, Montgomery County’s population is 49% Caucasian, 17% Hispanic or Latino, 16.6% African American and 14% Asian. The project further focused on homeowners with an interest in gardening who live within communities built prior to adoption of current storm water management regulations. The project engaged this target regardless of ethnicity, culture, or origin. We did not have access to specific ethnicity or cultural statistics for the homeowners included in our postcard mailing. Once research results have been collected and analyzed, we will promote the website to all Montgomery County residents and later to residents of the greater Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Research

How did you research your audiences: Focus groups

Barriers

OpinionWorks then conducted two focus groups to explore the knowledge and attitudes of our target audience about rain gardens, conservation landscapes and rain barrels using questions informed by the literature review. This research demonstrated that homeowners perceive multiple barriers to implementing rainscaping on their properties. The focus group report from Opinion Works states, “It was the long list of practical barriers that proved the biggest finding of the focus groups, rather than great insights on messaging.” Focus group participants expressed an interest in rainscaping techniques once they understood what they are and their benefits. Participants also expressed a need for assistance getting started with these techniques. In addition, our focus group participants expressed a clear desire to have one place where they could access all the information they needed to implement these projects, including easy-to-follow instructions that would take them through each and every step of the process. Overall, the focus groups demonstrated that awareness of rainscaping techniques is low and concern about perceived barriers is high. It will be exceedingly challenging to boost implementation unless the audience of potential adopters is also expanded. Therefore, finding the right messages that appeal to a target audience of likely adopters, such as gardeners, is important.

Strategy

Outreach Tactics: How-to-skills, Social diffusion

What media/communication channels did you use? Face to face, Small group or public meetings, Direct mail

Primary Messages

The ultimate goal of this project is to increase the number of homeowners installing conservation landscapes, rain gardens, and/or rain barrels to capture and treat stormwater and reduce water pollution to Muddy Branch, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. However, before people can install these practices, they need to know that these practices are available and desirable. They also need to seek information, resources and materials needed to properly install and maintain these practices. Research conducted during this first phase of the Lands Green, Waters Clean project showed that gardeners are most likely to be receptive to installing these practices and that a wildlife-focused message is more likely to appeal to gardeners than a water-quality focused message.

Lessons

How did you measure impact? N/A

Most significant lessons learned

We assessed the effectiveness of the messages by randomly splitting our mailing list of 5,000 single family homeowners with gardening interest into two lists of 2,500 each. We sent the wildlife-themed postcard to one group and the water-quality themed postcard to the other group. The postcards directed recipients to a website to learn more. The wildlife-themed postcards directed recipients to a wildlife url and home page that connected them to the comprehensive landsgreenwatersclean.org site, while the water quality postcard directed recipients to a water quality url and home page connecting them to the same site. We tracked hits and page views for each to determine that the wildlife message outperformed the water quality message two to one. We have used this information to change the website home page to emphasize wildlife benefits. We also used this information to develop telephone scripts and brochures that will be used to conduct phase II outreach activities starting in April 2013. While we do have some information about page hits to the website from our mailing, this information will be most useful when we have completed our phase II activities because we will be able to compare the response rates we achieved from the mailings in comparison to response rates from the phone call outreach we will conduct in phase II. In addition, in phase II we will track whether or not homeowners who received onsite consultations or telephone assistance from experts were more likely to install conservation landscapes and other practices on their properties. This information will help us determine the most cost effective way to deliver outreach messages and technical assistance that result in projects on the ground.

Results from our literature review and focus groups were used not only to determine the target audience, but also to identify and address barriers homeowners perceive that may prevent them from installing rain gardens, conservation landscapes and rain barrels on their property. We obtained a great deal of valuable information from the literature review, focus groups and email test panels (groups that reviewed the postcards and commented on them before we finalized the versions sent to homeowners). Some of this information was used directly in this phase of the project or to inform our phase II work. Additional information may be used to shape future projects. Reports from the focus group, literature review and email test panels are attached to this final report.

What worked?

The greatest successes of this project were the information obtained from the focus groups and the very clear results from the postcard A-B tests. The focus groups provided clear guidance on a number of factors that greatly influenced the direction of this project. Focus groups showed that people were hesitant to install conservation landscapes because they did not understand what they were based on the name and actually thought they required a lot of technical expertise, when in fact, these are simply replacing turf grass or pavement with native plant gardens. Once they understood this, they were concerned that native plant gardens would be too wild-looking and rain barrels would be ugly. When shown photos of actual native plant gardens and a variety of rain barrels, participants wanted to install them. However, participants also asked for technical assistance to help them get started. Ideas included a comprehensive website with all the information they need to get started and direct help from experts. The focus groups yielded additional valuable information, such as the fact that some homeowners associations are hostile to rainscapes practices and help is needed to educate these associations. For the purpose of this project, we did what we could to eliminate neighborhoods with problematic homeowners associations from our postcard mailing. We were able to eliminate these neighborhoods in Gaithersburg with assistance from the City. However, Montgomery County officials were unable to provide that information. Muddy Branch Alliance volunteers may work with homeowners associations in future phases of this project to educate them about these practices and how the associations can promote them rather than hinder them. The postcard mailing also was highly successful in that it yielded very clear results showing that wildlife messages worked better than water quality messages to move our audience to take action – including visiting the website and signing up for assistance from an expert.

What were the most significant limiting factors to greater success?

The greatest successes of this project were the information obtained from the focus groups and the very clear results from the postcard A-B tests. The focus groups provided clear guidance on a number of factors that greatly influenced the direction of this project. Focus groups showed that people were hesitant to install conservation landscapes because they did not understand what they were based on the name and actually thought they required a lot of technical expertise, when in fact, these are simply replacing turf grass or pavement with native plant gardens. Once they understood this, they were concerned that native plant gardens would be too wild-looking and rain barrels would be ugly. When shown photos of actual native plant gardens and a variety of rain barrels, participants wanted to install them. However, participants also asked for technical assistance to help them get started. Ideas included a comprehensive website with all the information they need to get started and direct help from experts. The focus groups yielded additional valuable information, such as the fact that some homeowners associations are hostile to rainscapes practices and help is needed to educate these associations. For the purpose of this project, we did what we could to eliminate neighborhoods with problematic homeowners associations from our postcard mailing. We were able to eliminate these neighborhoods in Gaithersburg with assistance from the City. However, Montgomery County officials were unable to provide that information. Muddy Branch Alliance volunteers may work with homeowners associations in future phases of this project to educate them about these practices and how the associations can promote them rather than hinder them. The postcard mailing also was highly successful in that it yielded very clear results showing that wildlife messages worked better than water quality messages to move our audience to take action – including visiting the website and signing up for assistance from an expert.

Advice Or Suggestions

To others pursuing a similar project, we would advise that you review all of the previous research on the subject that you can and build upon it. Also, we recommend working with experts in the field of social marketing. We found that it was difficult for us and for our partners to think like marketers and researchers rather than like educators and conservation program managers when developing outreach materials and designing research projects. Working with experts in these fields helped us broaden our thinking so we could be open to developing more successful outreach materials and campaigns.