Ecuador: Better Health through Messaging

Some communities in Ecuador face high incidences of water-borne illness because of contaminated water or poor hygiene and sanitation. It’s a multipronged problem calling for an interdisciplinary approach combining natural, medical and social sciences. Bret Shaw, a CALS professor of life sciences communication, last year helped implement a social science approach with funding from the UW–Madison Global Health Institute.

“I used a social marketing perspective, which utilizes psychological and communication tools, to try to help villagers make lasting behavior changes in how they interact with water and sanitation,” explains Shaw.

Shaw worked with two undergraduates, Lauren Feierstein and Brenna O’Halloran, to create health behavioral prompts—small signs in Spanish left in important areas where a reminder to wash hands is vital, such as in bathrooms, near sinks and on bottles of water. Since many people in the community have limited literacy, it was important for the prompts to use images and very few words.

While the concept can seem intuitive, years of research show that the most effective prompts focus on self-efficacy—showing individuals how easy a behavior is—and making sure that the people in the graphic are relatable to the target population. The images and words Shaw’s team used were as specific as possible, showing an individual washing his or her hands with just a simple phrase underneath.

“Understanding the perspectives on why someone wouldn’t do something such as boil their water or wash their hands was very important,” says Feierstein, who also worked with residents on making and distributing organic soap. “Knowing those barriers was crucial to addressing the issue from all angles.”

The project was an extension of a course called “Water for Life Sustainability and Health,” a partnership between the Madison-based Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation and the Global Health Institute. The course is led by Catherine Woodward, a faculty associate with UW–Madison’s Institute for Biology Education and president of the Ceiba Foundation. Shaw was brought in to offer guidance about how social marketing strategies can encourage healthy behavior.

“I’m a biologist and most of the people we work with are biologists, so having a communications person on board was a critical part of getting the message out,” says Woodward. “And not just about the message and having people understand why it’s a good idea to conserve natural resources—but also to actually get them to change their behavior.”

Stay Longer in the Kickapoo

The Kickapoo Valley is a picturesque area of western Wisconsin that attracts many visitors during the summer. But to improve economic development throughout this rural region, many residents and business owners want to lengthen the tourism season—and CALS/UW–Extension researchers are helping them make plans to do so.

“We’re fairly busy in the peak season, but tourism drops off in the shoulder months,” says Sadie Urban, the events coordinator for the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, an 8,500-acre natural and recreational area. “There’s still a lot to do in the area during those times, but we don’t really see the tourists then.”

To form a plan of action to attract new visitors, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve applied for funding help from the Kickapoo Valley Reforestation Fund, also known as the Ralph Nuzum Fund. The fund supports projects that enhance the ecological, economic and social well-being of Kickapoo Valley residents.

As part of the grant, Urban and her colleagues needed a University of Wisconsin partner—and Bret Shaw, a CALS professor of life sciences communication, was the right fit for the project.

“I’m interested in the intersection of tourism, sustainability and economic development, so this project was right in my wheelhouse of market research and helping rural communities,” says Shaw, who also has an appointment with UW–Extension as an environmental communications specialist.

Shaw started work in the valley by talking with stakeholders and identifying the goal of attracting tourists during the shoulder months. He and graduate student Heather Akin then surveyed Kickapoo Valley visitors and wrote a report about tourist demographics, behaviors and feelings. The full report is available at http://go.wisc.edu/kickapoo.

Community organizations in the Kickapoo Valley are using Shaw’s findings to influence their marketing materials and plan new events. Research indicated that excitement, adventure and food-related experiences would attract visitors. An immediate response was the Kickapoo Reserve Tromp and Chomp, a new trail run held in May featuring post-race meals by local chefs and growers. Urban says the event brought at least $6,400 tourist dollars into local economies—and that it will be held annually.

In addition to consulting on new events, Shaw is involved in the Ralph Nuzum Lecture Series, which introduces valley residents to experts on topics such as agriculture, wildlife and sustainability. Shaw also helped establish an Extension video channel to share those lectures with a broader audience and showcase the valley in general. Videos are available at http://uwexvideochannel.org/.

Shaw is optimistic that these ongoing collaborations between UW–Madison, UW–Extension and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve will produce the desired increase in tourism and economic development.

“Each time we attract a new visitor, that person spends around $140 if they stay overnight, so we’d like to see these events continue to help local businesses and residents,” Shaw says.

PHOTO—Natural beauty: A rock bluff along the Kickapoo River, one of the area’s many draws for tourists.

Class Act: Sarah Krier

Sarah Krier, a junior majoring in environmental studies and life sciences communication, had already spent two seasons as a camp counselor in Hudson. But this past summer she wanted to do something deeper: impart the teachings of Aldo Leopold to young people.

In particular she wanted to draw from a recent massive open online course (MOOC), “The Land Ethic Reclaimed: Aldo Leopold, Perceptive Hunting, and Conservation,” featuring wildlife ecology professor Tim Van Deelen.

“I never fully appreciated the outdoors until my dad took me hunting when I was 12. For the first time I felt that nature is a community I’m a part of,” says Krier. While hunting was not on the camp’s agenda, the course’s overarching concepts certainly could be: “I wanted every child to be able to form a personal connection with the outdoors.”

For the “Little Aldos” project, as it was called, Krier received a Wisconsin Open Education Community Fellowship, an award totaling up to $6,000 offered by the Division of Continuing Studies and the Morgridge Center for Public Service. Under the guidance of LSC professor Bret Shaw she designed programs for younger and older campers, drawing on materials from the nonprofit Aldo Leopold Foundation.

The YMCA Camp DayCroix offered a rich opportunity to work with children from diverse backgrounds, many of them from the Twin Cities. Younger children explored the camp’s different ecosystems and engaged in fun activities (wildlife observation, planting sugar maples) developed as an accompaniment to Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. They kept nature journals in which to draw and write about their experiences.

Older campers built Leopold benches and led a project implementing a compost system for the camp’s food waste. While Krier had nearly 80 kids in her programs throughout the summer, these activities extended her reach to many more of the season’s some 3,000 campers.

She feels she met her goal of helping children form a personal connection with nature.

“Every kid’s connection was a little bit different. Some kids really got into bug catching. Others dove into their journals,” Krier says. “We had kids who had never actually seen a chicken. For them to come and say ‘I eat chicken all the time, and that’s what it looks like?’ is just a really cool way for them to have that connection to nature.”

You can see Krier in action in a video produced as part of UW–Madison’s All Ways Forward campaign.