In the summer 2005 issue of BCWWA’s “Watermark”, I mentioned a test being conducted in an upscale Kelowna neighbourhood. We included bar charts on water bills showing homeowners’ monthly consumption compared to the average monthly consumption on their street. This area was chosen because we’d tried several methods of public education in the past, but the water conservation message hadn’t gotten through.
The great fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, once said something to this effect: “Avoid developing your theory before you collect the evidence. If you develop your theory first, you may interpret the evidence to support your flawed assumptions.” I thought about this quote after talking to the person responsible for water conservation in a small town.
I came across a study by an American behavioural researcher who wanted to find out if people act more responsibly in groups or as individuals. The researcher concluded that individuals are more likely to take action when they feel some personal responsibility to help. In large groups, however, the sense of responsibility is “diffused” among the group. In other words, when there is a problem, most people expect that someone else will take care of it.
When I was hired in 1996 to develop Kelowna’s “Water Smart” program, I thought it would be easy to achieve the utility’s targets for reductions in water use. Surely the same marketing principles I used for General Motors and other clients could be applied to a water conservation program. I quickly found out how wrong I was.