Data analysis & Public Education

Data Analysis & Public Education: 8 Questions to Assess Your Public Education Campaign

Originally posted on October 27, 2020 at LinkedIn

Series of lit matches all lit with flames

During the Covid19 pandemic fire departments are responding to an increased number of residential fires. indicates that “the number of fires in Toronto alone has jumped by over 17 percent over last year.” Deputy Fire Chief with Toronto Larry Cocco said the majority of fires are cooking or smoking related. Toronto is not alone, fire departments across North America, are reporting an increased number of residential fires. People are staying home - that’s a great thing. Unfortunately, fire department responses to careless cooking and improperly disposed cigarettes continue to be an issue. Yet these two causes of fires having been the focus of public education campaigns for years.

I read a great article by Samantha Hoffmann in Firefighting in Canada regarding the use of everyday language in public education messages, while not dumbing down the message. I recommend you read the full article as there are several key takeaways. I also contemplate whether we are using the right media to get our message to our target audience. Don’t get me wrong, some departments are doing and have done an amazing job and are utilizing the tools available. But are we targeting the right audience? What metrics are being using to target our campaigns? Do we have metrics to accurately assess the success of our campaigns? What do we define as success?

Printed News?

A few years ago I was speaking with my boss at the time. I mentioned that I didn’t think we were getting our message to the right people. He said, “we put an ad in the paper”. To be honest, I don’t know too many people that read the newspaper anymore, even back then. I don’t know what demographic does read the paper. We need to change the old attitude of using intuition, and only traditional media sources, ie. newspaper, radio and TV news. Rather than intuition, our campaigns need to be based on data. In order to ensure we reach our target audience we need understand our community. That is, if we want to want to modify or change the specific behaviours.

General & Targeted Media Campaigns

I’ve seen a lot of public education videos over the last few months. Did you know that according to Forbes and others, YouTube is the second largest search engine? Processing more than “3 billion searches per month, YouTube’s search volume is larger than that of Bing, Yahoo, AOL and combined.” There is no doubt that video is in demand. You need to be using YouTube coupled with some other strategy such as your social media as a part of your overall public education strategy. Post your videos to YouTube and link to them via your social media, or other source. It’s on-demand, searchable, and (potentially) cheap. But this doesn’t target all demographics, nor does it necessarily address the targeted media campaigns.

I’m not saying that videos or social media are right for every target audience, because they aren’t. We need to understand our audience. I also don’t believe we should focus on fire incidents only. We should consider all incidents, near misses, and inspection data as well. Once the data is collected and analyzed we can establish the who, what, when, where, why … and how. We must have this information to establish who the targeted public education message is intended for and focus on that audience via the appropriate medium, with the appropriate message. This means that the data must be analyzed. Which also means that meaningful data needs to be collected. The thing about data analysis is that you aren’t entirely sure what the data will tell you, until it is analyzed. And even then, you may realize you need more data. A question that I pose is, is your department collecting appropriate and meaningful data so that an analysis can be done?

Video Killed the Radio Star

Some departments have used radio programs in the past to deliver their message or an AMA (Ask Me Anything) radio program. Why not transition to video? This makes the content available to anyone, anytime; it’s on-demand. Did you know that google added timestamps to YouTube videos last year? For example, if you answer a series of questions in your video, a google search can now bring someone to that specific question within your YouTube video. All you need to do is advise YouTube of the timelines in the video. On a side note, if you make videos you should add subtitles for a few important reasons. Firstly, inclusivity. Viewers may be deaf, deafened or hard of hearing or may not have English as their first language. Secondly, ease of viewing. People may be viewing content in an environment where they may have the sound turned off. If there are subtitles, they may continue to watch. But if not, you’ve likely lost the viewer. Even if they add the video to watch later, if you’re like me you won’t watch because you’ll have forgotten. Lastly, have you considered using YouTube's translation tools? The YouTube translation tools webpage indicates that "on average, two-thirds of a channel’s views come from outside the creator’s home country."

So what can you do?

  1. Take a look at your public education material and ask these 8 questions.

    1. Does the problem exist in your community?

    2. Does the public education material address the problem?

    3. What are the metrics that support that the problem exists in your community?

    4. Does the public education material address the specific target audience for the problem?

    5. Are there metrics to support your justification of that target audience?

    6. Is the public education material engaging and suited for the target audience?

    7. Is the delivery method suited for the target audience?

    8. Are there metrics to support a report indicating a successful campaign?

If you answer no to any of the questions, consider revising the material.

Brainstorm and Engage Your Community

In light of COVID-19, some of your normal duties have changed. This is a gift that we don’t often get, time. All too often we are too busy for this and that, or we need to prioritize our time in order to meet our objectives, etc. Now we have the time. Brainstorm! Brainstorm new ways to engage the public. Brainstorm new ways to conduct business. Brainstorm new ways to engage your community, especially engaging them in collaborating to create. Who knows the community better than the community? Who knows the demographic more than the demographic your targeting?

Behavioural Change?

How do we know we have influenced behaviour change? Is a knowledge test sufficient or year-to-year fire statistics? The Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation hosted a webinar on Using Behavioral Science in Fire Safety Messaging. The webinar provided a lot of valuable information, but most importantly they provided a tool, Behavioral Evaluation and Safety Assessment for Fire Education Tool, (BeSafe Tool), link below. As their website states, this “is a tool that can easily be used by the fire service and fire safety advocates to evaluate their existing programs’ effectiveness in creating behavioral change, or that could also be applied to any new programs they may create.” They indicated evaluating behavioural change can be a labour and time intensive endeavour. In the ideal world time and budgets would not be a constraint. As technology advances and becomes cheaper, I wonder if using virtual reality along with an assessment tool, such as the BeSafe Tool may provide useful in reducing these constraints. If you haven’t seen virtual reality used in the public education setting, check out the link below, to Madison Fire and Rescue in Madison, Alabama.

Future Work

There may not be enough data points from some Cities at this time (June 2020) regarding fire responses during the Covid19 pandemic. But it would be an interesting project for someone to analyze to determine any trends. Maybe, in the future there could be information sharing amongst cities during an extended ongoing emergency so that the data could be analyzed and addressed in a more immediate fashion. I understand the myriad of issues surrounding this, coupled with the monetary aspect and other logistical issues - but, it’s an interesting thought, and I think manageable.

We know that we will never be able to eliminate all fires, but why not try and limit the number of fires that do occur by targeting our public education based on metrics rather than intuition. Let’s base our delivery method on what the target audience will likely see, read, or hear rather than following the latest trends. Hopefully, by applying the metrics and targeting the public education delivery method and message we can influence behavioural change. Lastly, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs we need to implement a behavioural assessment tool and evaluation methodology.

Resources and Links