Local Government
Engaging Millennials on Water Issues

Engaging Millennials on Water Issues

Millennials aren’t exactly known for their community engagement.

But, they could hold the keys to implementing smarter water policies and leading more successful conservation efforts.

By Justin I. Wallin.

If this summer’s Pokemon Go fad proved anything, it’s that there’s some truth to the Millennial stereotype.

  • They are maddeningly obsessed with technology.
  • They are self-absorbed.
  • They have short attention spans.

It’s reason enough to view the generation with some degree of suspicion. Objectively, we know it is unproductive to allow these broad brush characterizations to unduly influence our view of this, or any other, generation.

No generation thinks, hopes or behaves uniformly. We’re individuals, not demographic blocs. Yet, there are shared traits that allow us to effectively incorporate Millennials into targeted public affairs and outreach efforts.

And it is wise to do so.

Millennials can make a lasting impact on a water agency’s long-term goals, including both conservation and investment objectives. Convince a Millennial to conserve water and invest in reliable, quality infrastructure, and their newly-formed attitudes will last for generations.

Well-executed efforts now will pay dividends for agencies long into the future. You will see changes in behavior and support for your current policy positions. And perhaps more importantly, you’ve established a relationship before an issue arises.

Millennials are coming of age as an electoral force; there are 69.2 million Millennials of voting age in the United States and proportionally are equal to Baby Boomers in electoral strength. Their voter turnout is still, however, the lowest amongst all demographic groups, at only about 50% in presidential elections.

Their attitudes on water issues largely mirror the general public, with some key differences. For example, our own recent research reveals that 51.6% support efforts to recover 100% of the fixed costs of water delivery through rate changes[1]. In fact, millennials are the only demographic group that exhibits majority support of this shift in policy.

So, how do we engage Millennials for responsible water policy? The good news is we know they are primed to embrace communications. Again, our own research shows that 78.5% of Millennials support public engagement and outreach – the highest level of support of any age group.[2]

They want your agency to communicate with them, but you must be able to communicate and engage them using the mediums they use. Social media is absolutely imperative to any outreach effort.

And yes, while Facebook is the largest social network, according to the Pew Research Center, millennials are showing less enthusiasm for it due to increasing adult presence, excessive sharing, and “drama.”

Aside from social media, Millennials have shown strong demand for mobile gaming (see the recent Pokémon Go mania). Leveraging the trend of “gamification,” by linking real-world statistics with video game elements, agencies can target Millennials using innovative mobile apps and games that tie water conservation to a point system and/or offer rewards for conservation.

New water-saving technology provide a tremendous opportunity to engage Millennials on their own level. They are starting to buy homes again and are likely to embrace “smart” irrigation controllers and water usage tracking tools like Oasys and WaterSmart. Millennials are 2.5x more likely to be early adopters of new technology and their desire to be the first to have the newest high-tech gadgets does not wane with lifestyle changes like having children.

Millennials are a valuable demographic worth pursuing in any agency’s outreach efforts. With the right research-driven strategy, actively engaging and incorporating technology, agencies can reap benefits in current and future policy objectives.

Given their desire for education and engagement, it can be said that they are just waiting for agencies to make the effort to reach out to them.

justin-wallinJustin I. Wallin is pollster and COO of Probolsky Research

[1] *June 16 through June 20, 2016, telephone survey of likely November, 2016 General Election voters throughout the state of California. N= 1,014, MOE +/-3.1% with a confidence level of 95%. Interviews were conducted with voters on both landline and mobile phones (42% were completed on mobile phones) and were offered in English and Spanish languages

[2] June 16 through June 20, 2016, telephone survey of likely November, 2016 General Election voters throughout the state of California.

N= 1,014, MOE +/-3.1% with a confidence level of 95%. Interviews were conducted with voters on both landline and mobile phones (42% were completed on mobile phones) and were offered in English and Spanish languages

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