Carthage College Kenosha, Wisconsin, United States
It is well understood that community involvement is essential for successful conservation efforts. Personal experience and knowledge can be precursors for motivating individual engagement with local conservation initiatives. In this project, a public education campaign was conducted with the intent of increasing understanding of ecological concepts to build support for conservation efforts in a local prairie/wetland with high ecological value. Public outreach to diverse members of the community was conducted through development of a museum exhibit and associated public programming over a four-month period. Programming included a radio show, gallery walks, three public presentations focused on different ecological topics and taxa, virtual presentations, a short course for seniors offered through one of the local universities, and a presentation to a trade organization. Educational materials were also developed for children and school groups. Some outreach programs were jointly presented with professional land managers and/or citizen volunteers. In both the museum exhibit and the public programming, the key learning outcomes focused on core ecological concepts (adaptation, ecological interactions, population biology, etc.) and the broad collaboration of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals in both the establishment of Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area (Kenosha County, WI) and its on-going management.
By several measures, this public education effort was successful. Museum exhibit attendance was high despite Covid precautions. Although efforts were made to connect with a broad cross-section of the community, results were mixed when viewed from different demographic perspectives. Specific efforts to engage a broad age range were successful, with a diversity of visitors/participants spanning the age spectrum from young children to seniors. Racial/ethnic diversity in public programs was lower than desired. School programming presented the best opportunity to engage a representative cross-section of the community. Public response to the exhibit and public programming was favorable, and public involvement with one local conservation organization that was featured in the exhibit increased. For other scientists interested in communicating their work to the public and/or building ecological literacy for effectively engaging the public in conservation efforts, this presentation will highlight lessons learned, successes, and additional opportunities for effective outreach and education.