Tagged: education

Jan 16

Identify your target audience

The “General Public” should not be your audience. Be much more specific when defining your target audience. Otherwise, you will waste resources (and who has an overabundance of those?!?) on trying the get the right message to the wrong people.

Who are you trying to reach with your message? You will likely have several different groups in mind when starting to craft your outreach program. And that is a good thing. It means you have a healthy and diverse community. And it’s also a not-so good thing because you will need to craft different strategies for each target audience. What may work well for one group may completely alienate another.

Here is where you can learn from one of my mistakes. We developed a publication that we called the “Go-Kit Passport.” It was a small, durably-produced product meant to hold information valuable to have in an emergency situation. It had pages for drawing maps of your neighborhood and designating meeting places, pages for photographs of people and pets, pages for medical information, and many more pages for useful information. It was very popular in English. But, when we translated to Spanish, an issue came up because of the word, passport, in the title. This caused confusion and prompted a call to our office from ICS. We changed the title for Spanish publications. So the lesson here is to think about your solutions from many different angles and anticipate problems from serving more than one narrowly defined audience.

So take some time and think about the differing groups in your community.

  • Policy makers
  • Responders
  • Parents
  • Retired people
  • Pet owners
  • What are other groups in your community?


When creating your list of target audiences, use the following list of questions to finely tune who you are targeting. Ask questions as you build the profiles in order to learn how best to serve the information to your target audience. Their answer will guide you to the framework needed to best serve them. Come up with your own questions that reflect the needs of your unique community and target audiences.

  • Who do you depend on to get information about hazards in your area?
  • Who do you depend on for help during a disaster?
  • What are your concerns about earthquakes in your community?
  • What are your questions about earthquakes in your community?
  • Would you need help during an emergency? What kind of assistance?
  • How do you describe yourself?
  • Who are the stake holders?
  • Who are the leaders of your group?


Once you decide who you need to reach you need to find out how best to do that. By answering the above questions, you can learn a lot about your various target audiences. And more importantly, how to reach them with your messages. You will want to find active methods of getting your message to the audiences. Don’t stick a flier in the utility bill, and expect to reach a large percentage of the population. That is an example of a very passive method of outreach. While it can be effective, when targeted and timely, it can also fail utterly and completely, thereby wasting your time and the audience’s attention span.


Nov 22

Know what a successful outreach program looks like.

You have to know where you are going in order to get there.

When you set out on the journey of implementing your outreach program, you probably had a pretty good idea of what you wanted to accomplish. Increased awareness and increased protective actions are just two possible broad goals of your program.

How will you know you’ve reached your goal?
During the process of planning your outreach program, you will have spent a lot of time thinking about very tangible goals that can be measured. Measurable goals are important in order to make sure you know when you have arrived at your destination, but also important for planning next steps. You won’t know what your next steps should be unless you know if your last actions were successful.

Whew! It seems like we are right back at where we started. And we kinda are. The thing about outreach is that it never really ends. Once you complete one campaign, you start another with what you have learned about works and what doesn’t work in your field. That knowledge comes with time and experience.

  • Have you educated your community?
  • Have you engaged your community?
  • Have you put solutions in front of your community?
  • Once you reach your goal, what then?

Educating your community
Find the corners of your issue and work toward the center. The limitations can be liberating and spur creativity. Unrestrained choice can lead to paralysis of decision and action, so find the structure of what you want your community to learn about your issue and then get out there and educate away. How you do this education process will be dictated by the who, what, where, when, and why of your issue.

Engage your community
The last thing you want is to have your hard work be for naught. Nothing is gained by having passive community engagement. You want your community fired up and raring to go on your issue. this may mean at some point giving up a certain amount of control over the process. But your hard work should show fruit by having the community itself stepping up and taking on the issue in a grass roots manner. Find ways for the community members to get their hands dirty, to get up and moving, to create their own programs.

Provide solutions for your community
Solutions come in all types of flavors. It could be training for shelter management or first aid; it could be curriculum available to K-12 schools; it could be evacuation drills and exercises. These solutions need to be a part of the plan and should be sustainable after your program ends.

Key words: public outreach, community, education, natural hazards, seismic, earthquake, tsunami


Oct 19

Understand your hazard or issue, then find a story to tell

Every successful outreach program tells a story. This story needs to form the kernel of your program messaging. For our earthquake and tsunami program it is, “Be a survivor.” This simple phrase comes from a wealth of understanding of the issue, the science behind earthquakes, and even more importantly the science of marketing and branding. Because really? You are selling a product just as much as Coca-Cola is. And you are competing for the consumer’s attention span and dollars just as much as Coca-Cola is, although I doubt you have millions of dollars to spend on your campaign. So study the competition and how they do things, but more importantly study your own issue or hazard.

Before you even begin to think about your outreach program, you will need to thoroughly examine and understand your hazard or issue. If you aren’t excited about this prospect, you may need to find another line of work. Because if you are not thoroughly enamored by your topic, then it may be hard to sustain the curiosity and energy needed to successfully complete your program. I’m going to go on the assumption that you are passionate about your issue. Otherwise, Pinterest is calling you.

In order to know the best way to find a path forward, you have to know where that path has been. Assemble a history of your program or issue. Who were the early adopters and creative thinkers? Are there seminal works of research or publications? What are the methods and theories at work in your field?

Spend time with the experts and scientists in order to learn from them. They will be great resources as you move forward with your program. Hang out with them at conferences; take opportunities to go have a meal or beer with them. Scientists love beer. Want to make a scientist a friend? Buy them a beer. Just don’t make it a cheap beer. And if you are buying one for me, I prefer a stout. The idea here is to create the networks of knowledge that will support your outreach program later.

Educate yourself on the science so that you don’t have to rely on others for your opinions. You may not be a geologist, or a biologist, or a rocket scientist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t educate yourself enough to speak authoritatively on your chosen subject. Because you will be asked questions along the way that will require a somewhat technical response. It is always ok to say you don’t know the answer, but at least be able to direct them to those who can answer technical questions. So depending on what your hazard or issue is, you could be faced with the following questions:

  • How do hurricanes form and what is the role of the warm ocean temperatures?
  • What makes subduction zone earthquakes so big?
  • Why is it not a good idea to try and surf a tsunami?

You don’t have to be a scientist to educate people on a subject. You don’t need to have a doctoral degree in a scientific field to answer these questions. You just need to have done your homework. And learning is fun. So get out that big brain of yours and learn something new today about your hazard or issue. The more you know the more effective advocate for your cause you will be.

As you educate yourself, keep track of questions that are raised and their answers. These can become the basis of a FAQ which will be a valuable tool in your kit. You don’t want to have to keep looking up the same information. Then, you can post this on your website to help educate the public during your campaign. It’s a win-win situation.



Oct 18

What is public outreach?

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 preparedmake a planstop smokingwear seat beltswear helmetschew 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.