The Science of Effectively Communicating about Drought in California

Friday, 19 December 2014: 9:15 AM
Timothy M Gann, Martha H Conklin, James P Gonzales and Teenie Matlock, University of California Merced, Merced, CA, United States
The ongoing drought in California is having a tremendous impact on the state economy and the daily lives of its citizens. The impact of the drought is also exacerbated by the complexity of water issues in California, and the lack of understanding in the general public about this complexity. Our project has two goals, both focused on the broader issue of increasing the public’s understanding of water issues by helping scientists engage more effectively with the public. The first is to use a survey to assess the perceptions of California residents regarding the ongoing drought affecting the state. The first portion of our survey allows our participants to share, in a free response format, their understanding of the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to the problems caused by drought. This allowed us to get some insight into how people view the drought prior to being lead by our questions, and allows us to conduct a detailed linguistic analysis of the text they provide. Next we asked a battery of questions meant to assess our participants’ views on issues such as their views of water rights, the commoditization of water, and what role the government (both state and local) should play in managing California’s water. The second goal is to use this data to create profiles that can then be used to more effectively communicate with and educate the public. 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.