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Using Social Indicators to Improve Adoption of Land Management Practices to Protect Water Quality in Three Midwestern Watersheds

Prokopy, Linda
Purdue University
Start date
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Research Objective 1: Evaluate the effectiveness of a framework of social indicators for identifying the factors that promote and hinder adoption of agricultural best management practices.

Research Objective 2: Measure the effectiveness of education and outreach programs designed specifically to address the social factors that hinder adoption of agricultural best management practices.

Education Objective 1: Develop a Social Dimensions of Watershed Management curriculum that can be broadly applied and widely disseminated for undergraduate and graduate courses in watershed management which details how social indicators can be used and which includes interactive mapping to display the relationship between the human dimension and physical setting in water quality degradation.

Education Objective 2: Provide graduate and undergraduate students in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at the Ohio State University with a service learning opportunity.

Extension Objective 1: Build the capacity of watershed leaders and outreach professionals in the three project watersheds to 1) use appropriate social information in their programs, and 2) implement and evaluate effective outreach programs.

Extension Objective 2: Establish (or strengthen) an eXtension Community of Practice on the Human Dimensions of Water Resource Management.

Extension Objective 3: Deliver trainings at national water conferences on the use of social indicators to improve adoption of land management practices.

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Non-Technical Summary: Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution from agriculture is the primary source of water quality impairment in the United States and addressing NPS in rural agricultural watersheds requires influencing farmers' management practices. In order to influence farmers' management practices, we need to understand the factors that influence farmers decisions to both adopt or reject conservation practices. The purpose of this study is to design interventions (education, outreach, and incentive programs) based on an in-depth understanding of the target audience and social context in three watersheds in the Midwestern United States. By closely monitoring the outcomes of these interventions, we will be able to make recommendations about how watershed project managers can incorporate information about the social context in their watersheds to address water quality issues more effectively.

Approach: This project looks at the most effective ways to bring about water quality benefits through appropriate behavior change. Throughout the study we will work with local partners and stakeholders to build capacity and knowledge of social factors that lead to behavior change. In the first year of the study, we will use a recently developed social indicator framework to determine what factors correlate with measurable behavior change of farmers and land managers in three Midwestern watersheds. Based on this knowledge, in year 2, we will work with local watershed planning and implementation groups to develop interventions that promote behavior change in environmentally critical areas. These tools will be selected based upon our understanding of what motivates land managers to adopt practices. Using a paired subwatershed approach in each of the three watersheds, we will apply the refined interventions in one subwatershed with the other subwatershed serving as the control. In year 3, we will analyze the effectiveness of the tools and build this knowledge into extension publications directed at stakeholders in the watersheds, an eXtension Community of Practice, an educational curriculum for undergraduate and graduate courses on watershed management, trainings for practitioners at national water conferences, and peer-reviewed journal articles. Results of this project will enhance our understanding of the complex social dynamics that lead to adoption and rejection of conservation practices by farmers and farm managers. It will also provide new knowledge of how education and incentive programs can be made more effective by an in-depth understanding of the target audience and the context in which farm management decisions are made.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Sanitation and Quality Standards
Chemical Contaminants