Public education and outreach is an effort by individuals or groups to connect its ideas or practices to the efforts of other organizations. In essence, you have something you want to say or there is some behavior you want others to change or to adopt. You can probably come up with other applications for public outreach that fit within your own needs.
In my case, I do public outreach and education around the issue of geological natural hazards. This usually entails educating people on the hazards; earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. Yes, we have all three in Oregon. There is nowhere on earth that isn’t subject to some hazard or another. But outreach isn’t just about educating people, that’s just the first step. What we really want is to change behavior… get prepared… make a plan… stop smoking… wear seat belts…wear helmets… chew with your mouth closed… and so on.
We can all think of public outreach campaigns that have worked and others that haven’t worked. Some campaigns that have worked well are the ones that got you to buckle your car seat and to eat dolphin-safe tuna. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, you can make sure that your public outreach campaign will be in the first group.
An effective public outreach program can either be promoted from the top down or rise from the grassroots. Either strategy has both positive and negative aspects. The important thing to remember is that no two outreach programs are the same. What works for the community just up the road may not work for you, but we can learn valuable lessons from other outreach programs.
Outreach is a two way street – you are not simply imparting knowledge. You are also learning about your community and its needs. It will be impossible to create change unless you know what your starting point is and where you need to be going. I’ll talk about ways to learn about your community in a future post.
Don’t make this a hollow outreach program. There is no use telling people to be aware of a hazard and then not do any mitigation or community-level preparedness. Take this opportunity to start the conversation about your issue, if it hasn’t started already. Public outreach is a very useful tool and should be given the care it deserves to create the action and change in behavior you are seeking.