Water Access Outreach Project
In partnership with Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Community Partnership of the Ozarks, the City of Springfield received a $10,000 Partners for Places mini grant from The Funders Network, a national network that supports efforts to create communities and regions that are sustainable, prosperous and just. Project partners also included James River Basin Partnership, Watershed Committee of the Ozarks and City Utilities.
The goal of this grant-funded project was to use non-traditional methods of community outreach to better understand citizens' relationship to water and the barriers they experience to accessing our region's water resources – specifically populations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These populations were identified as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), children, elderly populations, people with disabilities, and populations facing poverty.
A survey was created and utilized with various non-traditional methods of community outreach and engagement. Survey responses were a quantifiable result of this project, but there was also value in the non-quantifiable stories and information the project group gathered throughout the process.
Outreach strategies included the following:
- Door Hangers – Surveys were printed on door hangers and hung on residences within specific census groups. Participants were asked to fill out the survey and put it back on their door for it to be picked up. The project team went back out after a week to collect survey responses. Census groups were chosen based on demographic data in the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening tool to reach the target audience.
- Booths at Community Events – The project team went to several community events and had a booth where people could stop by and fill out a paper copy of the survey. All events were family-friendly, so there was also an option for children to draw their favorite way(s) to interact or play with water. Participants were given a metal straw as a token of gratitude. The community events included Culture Fest, Park Day, National Night Out, and Homeschool Outdoor Fair.
- Focus Group Discussions at Schools – Several elementary school classrooms and a class at Study Alternative School hosted focus group discussions led by the project team. The classes walked through the survey together and shared their experiences while enjoying a snack or meal together. Grant funding was also given to the classroom teachers relative for allowing the class to participate.
- Focus Group Discussions with Community Groups – The project team facilitated focus group discussions with Springfield area high school and college SAAB members and with Southwest Native American Center. These focus group discussions used the survey as a guide for discussion but did not collect survey responses.
- Online Survey Participation – The project team sent an online version of the survey to various organizations with high representation of target demographics to share with their members. An advertisement was published in Unite Magazine with a link to the online survey.
- In-Depth Focus Group Discussion – Survey respondents were asked to share their contact information if they were interested in talking with us more about water. Those who provided us their information were invited to a focus group discussion hosted at the Forward SGF studio. A light meal and childcare were offered to those who attended as well as a $25 cash incentive. The purpose of the focus group was to hear from survey respondents what wasn’t already captured in the survey responses.
After the focused outreach efforts, the project team utilized more traditional methods of outreach to see how survey responses changed. These methods included the following:
- A news release inviting the community at large to participate in the online survey.
- A section in the City of Springfield employee newsletter with the survey url.
- Social media posts from various partners’ accounts asking people to participate in the online survey.
- Project team members sent a link to the digital survey to their various organizations and networks.
Results and Lessons Learned
The targeted outreach efforts resulted in 602 survey responses and the traditional outreach efforts resulted in 200 survey responses. View a PDF of the results.
There were many lessons learned through this intentional outreach effort.
- Diverse people can be reached: Through intentional effort, the demographics of our survey respondents reached an audience that mirrored our community for race/ethnicity. Our intentional efforts were successful in reaching people under the age of 18 but the traditional outreach had zero respondents in that age group. We also found a gap in all methods of outreach for people between ages 18-21.
- Go to where people already are: Rather than hosting a standalone event and inviting the public, we found that you will reach more people if you leverage events that are already well attended or groups that are already established. This also allowed us to work with trusted members of their community to deliver the survey and lead conversations.
- Give to groups, not individuals: We found that it’s more effective to give a lump sum donation to an organization or group rather than giving a cash incentive to individual people. Individuals who provided us with their contact info to let us know they were interested in further conversations about water were invited to a focus group discussion. The event offered dinner, childcare, a $25 cash incentive, and two event date options. The response to this invite was not fruitful at this time, however several circumstances could have contributed to the lack of interest (i.e. near the Thanksgiving holiday, only two dates available, and during a time with a rise in COVID cases in the community).
- Being intentional takes time: Attending community events and hosting focus group discussions took a significant amount of planning and staff time outside of normal working hours. These two types of events resulted in the most meaningful interactions and feedback, however. Hanging door hangers and hosting an event where individuals were invited to yielded in the lowest participation rates. With how much planning time was required, we do not recommend these two methods for future outreach. The most successful events took place when staff were able to attend existing events and meeting times, which often took place after work hours or on weekends. Ensuring that there was leadership support and overtime funding for staffing these events would be a necessary step from the organization to continue building these partnerships.
City staff will continue to seek out opportunities to support the findings for water access through existing funds and grant funding, as well as recognizing the success of intentionally communicating messaging to a representative sample of our community.