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Welcome to the latest edition of our Litterology newsletter.
Let’s get started.

We love meeting the committed, passionate and knowledgeable people who come to us to help design effective litter prevention campaigns.

And working together, we all understand how important it is to collect evidence … evidence of what’s actually going on in public place locations so we don’t make assumptions before we act … evidence to evaluate our programs so we don’t get caught up in the hype of a ‘one shot’ solution and then forget to check which bits of our program actually changed anyone’s behaviour. You get the idea.

But if we could wave a magic wand over all the projects we’ve been involved in, this is what we'd wish for in relation to evidence.

We wish … that the evidence so painstakingly collected would get used to modify
and improve the program
while it’s running
.

Many program managers are going to all this trouble to collect information but don't get the proper use out of it. Data is treated as if it were ‘special’, a static thing, or a tick (yep this or that worked) or a cross (we tried, we failed, how depressing, what next). Or for large organisations, a step towards a long term target (but we didn’t look at how the data could be used to improve things along the way).

We couldn’t put it better than Alan Andreasen, a guru in the social marketing field:

“Evaluation is a normal step in most social change programs – if nothing else, funders usually require it – but monitoring is often neglected. It is not uncommon for the social program manager and the program staff to figure out what to them is their very best strategy. They conscientiously implement it and stick with it until such point as the project is done and the evaluation team comes along to see of they were correct in their strategic choices. … (If) they do not keep continually checking their progress … their progress will surely get off track. If necessary mid-course corrections are not made, all a final, formal evaluation at the end of the project will tell you is: (a) your screwed up and (b) it’s too late to fix it.”

Andreasen, A.R. (1995). Marketing Social Change: Changing Behavior to Promote Health, Social Development, and the Environment, p.94.

Think about this for a minute. If you visited your doctor complaining of various symptoms, she might recommend a number of medical tests to see what’s going on. She would consider the results, make a diagnosis and might then recommend a course of treatment. She may run the tests again some weeks later to monitor your treatment process to see if it was having the intended effects. If the tests showed changes different to those she was expecting, would she keep going with the treatment? You’d certainly hope not!

Litter prevention programs are no different in this respect. They can often be complex and, worst of all, they involve actual people who might not respond as predicted!

Sometime it’s the simplest of things that come to light in a mid-course ‘monitoring’ look at data. And remember that ‘data’, ‘information’ or ‘evidence’, among other things, includes direct observations of real people and anecdotes.

The following example is from our book Litterology.

Our clients wanted to test a purpose-built prototype recycling centre. The new, bright multi-coloured, very large bin station was about 2 metres high and 3 metres wide, pretty obvious by anyone’s standards, with a big ‘recycling centre’ sign on top. After it was installed, we interviewed a woman sitting on a park bench right in front of one of the bins.

One of our observation team had just observed her littering and sent an interviewer over for a survey (the interviewer was of course unaware of the woman’s behaviour). The woman said she littered because there was ‘no bin nearby’. Of course the bin was right behind her, but she didn’t mentally register its presence before she sat down because she didn’t need it then.
When she’d finished her lunch however and wanted to dispose of her stuff, she took a quick look around but perhaps, not surprisingly, didn't crane her neck to look straight behind her.

If we had waited until the end of the project to see how things had gone, we wouldn’t have been able to advise our clients that a simple re-positioning of the bin might make all the difference to this project.

So, whether you’re employing someone else to collect your data or doing it yourself, it would be ideal to explore ways to use your information continually to drive your program. Your program of litter prevention is a dynamic thing, it should never stand still. There is always room for improvement.

And perhaps more importantly, there’s always room to notice and celebrate your successes. Who knew that your new messages would work so well with a tricky target group? Or that the testing of a brand new bin design (that you didn’t like but included in a test of three different bins anyway) worked really well in a crowded location?

You’ll never know unless you plan how your data will be used to progressively improve your program through monitoring.

As always, best wishes with your efforts in litter prevention,

Karen and Rob

PS. For those of you who are interested, Smashwords is running its annual July sale and our book Litterology: Understanding Littering and the Secrets to Clean Public Places is selling at a heavily discounted rate. Just go HERE and use the Coupon Code SSW50.

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