Lake Tips: Communicating
Information About Your Lake
Why a Communications Program?
Partnerships such as lake watershed associations are effective because
they provide a forum for solving complex problems that involve many interests. A
lake association can effectively communicate its mission to the community,
coordinate efforts, and save time and money by developing a detailed
communications program. The strategic plan for communications should note how,
when, where and who is responsible for each element.
Designing a Communications Program
Once the causes and likely solutions to your lake’s problems have been
determined, you can decide how to reach out to the community with a
communications program. The first step in developing such a program is to
understand the external and internal factors that shape how the community will
perceive the information you want to convey. The following questions will help
you consider internal and external factors:
- How aware are community members of the existing problem?
- Has there been regular media coverage on the lake issues?
- Are the lake issues a high priority for the community?
- Are there existing rules or restrictions that affect the lake situation?
- What political influences does your group have?
- What economic impacts, such as property values, does the quality of the
lake have on the community?
- Are economic factors, such as high unemployment, affecting your community?
- How should the goals and objectives of your association be prioritized in
a communications program?
- Are members of your group currently skilled to implement the elements of
your communications program? If not, what training or outside help will be
- How does the community or intended audience perceive your organization?
Much of the information needed to answer these and additional questions has
already been compiled and can be acquired from regional planning agencies,
census data, chamber of commerce lists, and local newspapers.
Identifying Target Audience(s)
With your association’s goals and objectives in mind, identify exactly who
you are trying to reach with your message and the best way to go about the task.
Target audiences are groups that have common characteristics, whether they be
income or educational levels, occupations or shared beliefs. A communications
program is effective only if the audience or group you are trying to influence
understands the message. A target audience should be separated from the general
population and should be defined specifically. Examples are "owners and managers
of golf courses in Lake County" or "dairy farmers in Green Lake Watershed."
Ultimately, achieving the goals and objectives of your project depends upon
understanding what is important to that audience and relating to them how your
project will benefit them. For example, what you know about the
yard-of-the-month club can help you communicate tactfully to make the group
aware that aggressive lawn fertilization is identified as a lake pollution
source. How they can go about changing this management practice and rearranging
values will rest on the effectiveness of your communications strategy.
Choosing Your Media Formats
With your targeted audience(s) defined, learning more about the knowledge
or lack of knowledge of your issues is crucial. It is important to understand
your audiences’ current attitude about their role in the problem. Are they aware
they are creating part of the problem? Do they know how this negatively affects
them? Are they aware of simple, inexpensive solutions to the problem? The answer
to these questions will help you formulate your message and choose the best
delivery system(s) for that message.
For instance, to get your message across, you will need to know how the
target audience currently receives information–via radio, television, video,
town meetings, local newspapers, newsletters, magazines or flyers. Consider
using more than one channel to increase your chances of reaching more people in
your audience, but be careful not to spread your resources too thin. The
audience, the characteristics of your message, and your budget are among the
factors for determining the appropriate format or channel for communicating that
message. Strategically planning your methods and identifying specific tasks to
carry out is time well spent.
Designing Communication Materials
The look or design of your communication materials is important because
you want people to pay attention to them and remember. This is especially true
if you ultimately wish to change their behavior in ways that support
environmental protection as a result of your information. Here’s some
- Provide your audience with actions they can take to be part of the
solution to the problem.
- Create a logo for your association to use on your correspondence and
outreach materials. Keep it simple and appropriate to your group’s mission.
- Use vivid, concrete language that is easy to understand. Avoid abstract
and technical language.
- Photographs, graphics, simple sketches, maps and illustrations can help
convey your point or relay how-to information.
- When using written materials such as a newsletter, follow a consistent
format to help the reader find information quickly and easily. An easy-to-read
typeface, appropriate use of bolds and italics, and generous use of white
space will improve the effectiveness of your materials.
- Choose a title that will capture your audience and attract people to read
your materials. Descriptive or suspenseful titles can be used effectively.
- Outline your material with clear headings that help organize the
Evaluating Your Efforts
Just as evaluating environmental improvement activities is
key to accomplishing your goals, so it is important to evaluate the
effectiveness of your communications program. An evaluation plan with a clearly
defined purpose will help avoid costly mistakes and will allow you to make
changes that increase overall effectiveness.
Any evaluation begins by considering the elements of your communications
program. Various evaluation techniques can then be applied through the stages of
your program. For example, a formative evaluation is done at the
beginning to test materials and ideas that will be appropriate for your target
audiences. After the program is underway, a process evaluation helps you
make changes to increase effectiveness.
Evaluating behavioral change of your target audience can be done immediately
after your program efforts are completed to measure short-term results. At a
later time, you may wish to evaluate long-term impact. Ultimately, the success
of any lake association communications program can be evaluated on its
effectiveness in motivating individuals to action to protect and restore the
lake and watershed.
Reference: "Designing An Effective Communication Program: A Blueprint for
University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment. Prepared
for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region V. September 1992.