EPE TIG Week: Encouraging Environmental Education Centers to be Realistic About Inspiring Conservation Actions by Rachel Becker-Klein

Hello, my name is Rachel Becker-Klein and I am the founder and Senior Evaluator at Two Roads Consulting. Two Roads has expertise applying utilization-focused and participatory evaluation and research methods to many different types of evaluation efforts. We are currently working with the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River (AWE), an alliance of 23 environmental education organizations located in the Delaware River watershed, to develop and expand evaluation capacity of participating centers. This Alliance has articulated three overarching goals, with the second goal focused on constituent (i.e. program participant and/or center visitor) outcomes:

Goal #2: Increase and enhance constituent attitudes (e.g. self-efficacy, pride, and appreciation), knowledge, and intention to act to ensure a healthy Delaware River watershed.

The Alliance recognizes that behavior change is a long-term outcome that they care about…AND they know this is a really challenging and ambitious goal. The traditional approach to environmental education assumes that if we can change people’s attitudes (if they care more)  and their knowledge (if they know more), we will get to changes in behavior. Yet, many in the field have acknowledged that this approach is overly simplistic and that strictly information-based programs have little likelihood of substantively changing behavior. Indeed, the only thing we agree upon is that there is not one particular (or linear) path to conservation behaviors and/or environmental stewardship.

Lessons Learned:

Although environmental education centers in the Alliance understand this idea in the abstract, there is still a lingering hope that a very engaging educational experience could ultimately lead to conservation actions. For instance, a stream clean-up is a typical program where volunteers go out one day to help clean up the land around a stream. We want to believe that having a volunteer see the litter and work with their own hands to clean it up will prompt them to change both attitudes and conservation actions. However, there are not always activities that are directly connected to promoting ongoing conservation actions (i.e. reducing single-use plastics or anti-littering campaigns), and program leaders are beginning to recognize that they need to more explicitly and directly provide specific ideas for actions, as well as resources and prompts for volunteers to do these actions.

Rad Resource:

The Community-Based Social Marketing website includes a description of this approach, as well as case studies, articles, and other resources that are useful to practitioners as well as evaluators.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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