Water conservation: transforming information and attitudes into action

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Scientists face the daunting challenge of communicating information to policy makers and the public. The challenge becomes even more difficult when that information suggests that behavioral, social, or structural changes are necessary. While an educated audience may be more informed, the increased level of information does not necessarily motivate behavioral changes. Education and outreach are valuable tools, but unless additional barriers which hinder the transformation of information into behavioral changes are also addressed, the impact is reduced. My research goal is to discover the barriers which hinder people's willingness to engage in water conservation. Additionally, I analyze narratives that are used in educational brochures to understand the narrative strategies that are used to motivate people to conserve water. The narratives are analyzed using insights from social marketing, community based social marketing (CBSM) and Narrative Policy Framework (NPF). My thesis also draws on critical social theory to examine the concepts of constrained choices and hegemony. Twenty-seven semi-structured interviews were conducted with randomly selected water users in single family households who use municipal water supplies in Bozeman, Montana. Participants included low, medium and high water users. All but one participant (a high water user) was concerned about their water use and interested in engaging in conservation behaviors. My research found that barriers to water conservation include: information deficits, inconvenience, lack of trust, social norms, constrained choices and hegemonic relationships. My analysis of the City of Bozeman's water conservation brochures reveals the use of hero language that focuses on what individuals can do to conserve water for the entire community. Future research should test narratives using social marketing, CBSM, or NPF with citizens to understand how they would respond to the strategies outlined in this thesis.




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