Engaging with the Public in California about Drought

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Monday, 5 January 2015: 2:00 PM
221A-C (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Timothy M. Gann, University of California, Merced, CA; and M. H. Conklin, J. P. Gonzales, and T. Matlock

The unprecedented severity of the drought in California poses extreme challenges to the management of water resources in the state. Effectively meeting this challenge requires not only solid science and well-reasoned policy, but also effective ways of communicating this information to the public. One of the cornerstones of good communication is having an understanding your audience, including what they know, what they value, and how their world-view informs the choices they make. The goal of our project is to develop a more nuanced understanding of how the public in California thinks about water issues, and leverage this understanding to develop better strategies for public engagement and communication. Our approach going beyond just focusing on their opinions about key questions by painting a picture of how they conceptualize them through an analysis of the linguistic content of their responses. In this talk we present the results of a survey designed to assess the perceptions of California residents regarding the ongoing drought. Our questionnaire opens with several free response questions that allow participants to freely speculate about the reasons for the drought, the risks and consequences associated with it, and ways in which the problems caused by the drought can be tackled. We then conducted a detailed linguistic analysis of these responses, in addition to coding them for attributes such as the geographic scope of their responses, their reliance on personal experience versus science reporting, and what issues were most prominently mentioned. We then relate this data to the results of the second portion of the survey, which was designed to assess the participants' views on issues such as water rights, state versus local control of water, and various demographic measures. Together, the results will provide new and valuable insights into how views of drought vary across stakeholders, and could inform policies related to water use. The presentation will include discussion of these results, their implications for best practices by science communicators, and potential impact on policy.