International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

4.7 - Communications Strategy and Outreach

GEF IW project experiences on communication can be found here.

Strategic communications can be used to raise awareness of environmental issues and even help to reduce the damaging behaviours that impact on the health of our shared water systems. Unfortunately, many of our efforts to communicate scientific ideas or project approaches to the public or politicians via websites, brochures or newsletters, often fail to achieve real change in behaviours or environmental health indicators.

In order to improve the management of watersheds and coastal areas we have to provide the public, opinion leaders, and decision-makers with clear and compelling reasons to act.  Strategic communications can encompass a range of different techniques such the media, public relations, advertising, advocacy, community-based theatre, social media and social marketing. If used in a strategic way these different techniques can help to raise awareness of issues, change public attitudes or advocate for the introduction of other behaviour change tools, such as new legislation, regulations, incentives, or penalties.

The most successful strategic communications programs make carefully considered decisions about the audiences they target, the actions they want to influence, the messages they provide, and the way that their communications effort is integrated with other services and tools.  In a nutshell successful strategic communications programs get the right message, in the right medium, delivered by the right messengers, to the right audience.  But in order to have the greatest chance of achieving real success any strategic communications program must have:

  • Clear, measurable objectives – including a clear call to action
  • Good knowledge of the audience you are trying to reach and what will motivate them to act
  • Compelling messages that connect with your target audience
  • Direct services or other tools that make it easier for people to act in new ways.

Strategic communications planning can help the managers of environmental projects to focus their limited resources on changing those specific behaviours that have the biggest impact on the problem but are also the easiest to influence.  To help achieve sustainable environmental results most projects will need to gain the support of those key politicians and decision-makers responsible for allocating resources and passing or changing laws. The following examples highlight the importance of combining clear measurable objectives with thorough understanding of target audiences and the new behaviours you want them to adopt.

Increasing Recycling in the Pacific Atoll Nation of Kiribati

In the South Pacific Island nation of Kiribati the GEF and the UNDP were among several partners that helped to support the development of a self-funded recycling system for cans, plastic bottles and lead acid batteries.  Prior to this project many villages in the capital atoll of South Tarawa were virtually drowning in their own rubbish. From 2004-2006 the project used a number of high profile communications activities to convince public and the government to bring in a new a new container deposit scheme.  This new legislation created a simple economic incentive by adding a small levy on the import of the main problem litter items, thereby enabling a refund to be paid out when these items are returned to recycling collection points.  This new system has also worked to overcome the tyranny of distance by creating a commercially viable business that now collects and ships all this recovered material to recycling facilities in Australia.

Increasing the Sustainable Management of Swordfish in the Atlantic

In the US the goal of the “Give Swordfish a Break” campaign was to strengthen fisheries management by directly influencing the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.  In order to achieve this goal, SeaWeb and the Natural Resources Defence Council, decided the campaign should target those celebrity chefs that regularly appeared in the media.  By taking this focused approach the campaign managed to convince more than 750 chefs to not serve swordfish. In the process this captured the attention of the press, and, ultimately, of the Secretary of Commerce. The campaign ended successfully in August 2000 when the U.S. government closed nursery areas in U.S. waters and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) implemented international quota restrictions. By the end of 2002 North Atlantic swordfish had recovered to 94% of levels considered healthy according to a report issued by the scientific arm of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna.

Increasing Purchase of Phosphate-free Detergents in Sarajevo

In Sarajevo, a GEF Small Grant Program project supported the NGO Ekotim to raise awareness among consumers about the links between their detergent use and water pollution from phosphates. The city’s treatment facility had been destroyed during the war and untreated residential and industrial wastewater was pouring straight into the Miljacka River which feeds into the Danube. Ekotim’s “No FOSFOS” campaign helped 200,000 Sarajevo consumers to understand the links between their detergent use and water pollution. As a result of the campaign a Bosnian company developed a new line of phosphate-free detergents, and post campaign testing of city wastewater showed the campaign reduced total phosphorus discharge to the river from 310 to 245 kg per day.

Reduce nitrogen pollution from agricultural activities in Romania

This GEF/World Bank project supported the introduction of manure management and other environmentally friendly agricultural practices across an area of 410,000 ha of arable land bordering the Danube. Before the project, manure had no perceived value among farmers and it was often simply left to wash away by itself. Also, due to a lack of proper manure storage facilities that the community could share, many farmers had no alternative but to dump their waste on unauthorized dumping sites that were prone to leakage. The GEF project helped to convince farmers of the financial and agricultural value of using organic manure instead of applying inorganic fertilizer. It also introduced a mandatory system for farmers to store their manure at communal sites. Thanks to the project, the area achieved a 15% reduction in nitrogen and a 27% reduction in phosphorous entering the Danube. The land area covered by environmentally friendly practices increased from a baseline of zero to almost 35% and the amount of manure being applied as fertilizer increased from 2% to 34%. The Romanian Government has now taken a $68.1 million loan from the World Bank to scale up this best practice to reduce nutrient levels in 86 vulnerable sites across the country.

The Government believes it is highly likely that the scaling up will be successful because neighbouring farmers have already asked for similar interventions based on the benefits they have seen delivered by the Calarasi pilot.

Improving the community management of coastal fisheries in Vanuatu

In a GEF funded International Waters project on the Vanuatu island of Malekula, strategic communications helped to achieve an increase in land crab resources from 100 juveniles per hectare in 2003 to 500 per hectare in 2005. Thirty community facilitators were trained in management approaches that helped them to understand the root cause of the decline in crab numbers and then to develop their own management solutions. Community baseline survey work helped them to determine new harvesting rules and to protect the mangrove habitat from the impact of firewood collection. In order to reach the wider community the facilitators worked with the Wan Smolbag theatre company to develop a community drama to promote specific actions to manage the land crab resource.  A video documentary on the development of this community drama was also produced and screened for the local community and broadcast on national TV. The community was encouraged to develop its own communications messages, tools, and “Champions”. By selecting the land crabs as a “signal” resource, the project has paved the way for the Vanuatu Government to improve the management of other coastal fisheries resources.

Communications Strategy of the Kenya Coastal Development Project

Francis Mutuku, Project Manager of the IBRD-GEF Kenya Coastal Development project, provides some points for consideration on communications strategy in the context of implementing GEF International waters projects.

Further information can be found on the GEF website.  See the GEF Communications and Outreach Strategy.