Hundemer, S., Monroe, M. C., & Kaplan, D. (2021). The water science communication problem: Water knowledge and the acceptance or rejection of water science. Journal of Hydrology.
A “science communication problem” exists when scientifically-supported, policy-relevant fact is disputed because it conflicts with political perspectives or other culturally-relevant influences. This study aims to determine whether such a problem exists on water topics, where it could obstruct productive discourse when water policies are introduced. To identify water topics on which partisan individuals reject water science, we developed and applied a Rasch-modeled scale of “ordinary water science knowledge” (OWSK) and an associated assessment of beliefs. Our sample, consisting of 806 Florida and Georgia residents, possessed low OWSK levels and limited understanding of water topics beyond their direct experiences. Though knowledge levels were low, participants aligned their personal beliefs with their perceptions of scientists’ beliefs so long as the science did not activate partisan positioning. Partisan positions were easily activated, however, with some politically right-leaning individuals adopting personal water beliefs contrary to their perceptions of scientists’ beliefs (i.e., a water science communication problem). This divergence occurred in response to statements on the effects of climate change on water availability and on the adequacy of water supply to meet demand 20 years in the future. These topics have relevance far beyond the study area, suggesting a water science communication problem may exist at broader regional and national scales.
Hundemer, S., & Monroe, M. C. (2020). A co-orientation analysis of producers’ and environmentalists’ mental models of water issues: Opportunities for improved communication and collaboration. Environmental Communication, 15, 1-19.
Agricultural producers and environmentalists have a mutual interest in maintaining healthy water resources; yet communication and collaboration on sustainability measures can be impeded by perceptions of incompatible water ethics. Here we apply the co-orientation model to qualitatively and quantitatively compare cross-group perspectives and composite maps of stakeholders’ mental models to understand how each group thinks about water challenges and each other. Results suggest that experiential differences yield seemingly incompatible perceptions of producers’ part in the degradation of regional water supplies. While sampled producers’ operational-level perspectives allow them a first-hand view of individual stewardship practices, sampled environmentalists’ macro-level perspectives highlight the environmental conditions that result from the agricultural industry as a whole. When collective agricultural impact does not reflect individual stewardship efforts, producers and environmentalists can have strikingly different perceptions of the problem – a potential barrier to cross-group communication. Research findings suggest frames, topics, and word choices that can help communicators bridge the cognitive divide between stakeholder groups.
Salazar, G., Rainer, K., Watkins, L., Monroe, M. C, & Hundemer, S. (2021). 2020 to 2040: Visions for the Future of Environmental Education.
To address global environmental challenges, it is essential to identify and set goals and priorities for environmental education, as well as strategies to achieve those goals. We surveyed environmental education professionals to understand which goals the field should focus on over the next twenty years. We also investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to address racial injustice have affected goals and priorities. A total of 449 individuals participated in the survey. Of the six goals participants were asked to prioritize, the two selected most frequently were expanding diversity, equity, inclusion, access, and justice in environmental education and increasing the presence of environmental education in the pre-K-12 curriculum. Four cross-cutting strategies were identified as ways to achieve multiple goals simultaneously: training, marketing, funding, and partnerships. Many strategies were suggested to address racial injustice and increase resilience to disruptive events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hundemer, S., Treise, D., & Monroe, M. C. (2021). A scarcity of biospheric values in local and regional reporting of water issues.
The values invoked by journalists turn reports of water quality and quantity into stories of human interest. Water news becomes health news, or an economic forecast, or a depiction of an ecosystem in crisis. Through framing, journalists determine who, in a public of egoistic, social-altruistic, and biospheric oriented individuals, is engaged with environmental topics. This qualitative analysis of water coverage from six regional newspapers from 2010 to 2018 reveals the values used to stimulate reader interest on a range of water issues. Results reveal a hierarchy of value frames that prioritizes economics and human health, thereby attending primarily to the motivations of egoistic and social-altruistic people. The ecosystem implications of deteriorated water conditions received relatively little journalistic attention. This finding suggests that demand for water protective action, particularly among biospherically oriented individuals, could be enhanced through more balanced journalistic coverage that attends to the diversity of environmental value orientations.
Hundemer, S., Monroe, M. C., & Adams, D. C. (2021). Policy communication under competitive conditions: The effect of moral foundation frames and pollical source cues.
It is empirically established that moral foundation frames and source cues can affect the public’s level of policy support and the distribution of that support across the political spectrum. Less established, however, is the combined effect of moral foundation frames and source cues, and their function under competitive conditions where political parties vie to establish moral high ground in the eyes of potential voters. These are the real world conditions that influence policy success, yet they receive little research attention. This study establishes distinct functions of moral foundation frames and source cues and examines how their effects are moderated by the elements of competition. We consider a hypothetical policy on which the public is unlikely to have solidified positions and on which policy communicators aim to prevent polarization. In this competitive context, moral foundations and source cues were found to operate in fundamentally different ways. The use of moral foundation frames yielded changes in net policy support levels, but did not reduce the policy support gap between political orientations. In contrast, source cues did not modify net policy support, but instead, altered how policy support was distributed across the political spectrum. Under competitive conditions, caveats moderated both effects, limiting their applicability in certain scenarios and introducing contrast/boomerang effects. This study exposes the complexity of the competitive communication environment and suggests that one-sided experiments are not ample to anticipate framing effects.
National Science Foundation (2020). $30,500.
Moral foundation frame effectiveness in sustainable policy introductions
Across much of the United States, the public does not consider water policy a divisive topic; however as the limits of regional water resources are approached and water demands must be prioritized, there is high potential for water policy to become politically charged with liberals and conservatives diverging to positions that resonate with their values. The ability of water policy communicators to minimize such polarization will affect the degree to which stakeholders are willing to work together toward water solutions. Research indicates that communicators can reduce polarization by purposefully framing natural resources challenges with moral positions, such as fairness, loyalty, and harm, that vary in resonance across the political spectrum. However, such studies focus primarily on issues such as climate change, where partisan opinions have already taken hold, not studies in which the objective is to prevent partisanship from forming. Further, few studies sufficiently model the competitive environment of policy introductions, with public officials and outside interests vying to define issues for the public, and with social cues, such as the political affiliations of spokespeople, indicating the positions that fellow partisans are expected to take. This project addresses these gaps, with an experimental assessment of the use of moral frames to prevent partisanship in competitive water policy introductions.
Floridan aquifer collaborative engagement for sustainability, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
The Floridan Aquifer Collaborative Engagement for Sustainability (FACETS) project is a Coordinated Agricultural Project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The FACETS project brings scientists and stakeholders together in a participatory process to develop new knowledge needed to explore tradeoffs between the regional agricultural economy and environmental quality; understand changes needed to achieve agricultural water security and environmental protection; and to develop tools, incentives and educational programs for improved decision making.
Connection to nature assessment, Pisces Foundation
Environmental programs and institutions are frequently interested in evaluating the connection to nature of the populations they engage or aim to influence. This measurement can be used to gauge program effectiveness or encourage environmental conservation and literacy. In response to this need, many scales have been developed to assess connection to nature, each with variations in approach, philosophical perspective, or construct measured. While the research attention is welcome, the wealth of tools can present a challenge for practitioners attempting to select the best measurement tool for their circumstances.
This challenge is the basis of the Connection to Nature Assessment Project, funded by the Pisces Foundation. Among other objectives, the project engages researchers and practitioners to analyze and organize the connection to nature literature into a Practitioner Guide, and identify unmet needs that can be addressed through additional research and tool development. This project is a collaboration among researchers from the University of Florida, Stanford University, the North American Association for Environmental Education, and the Children and Nature Network
High school students' views on climate change: An international comparison
This multi-national project examines grade 12 students’ knowledge, attitudes, values and emotions regarding climate change and climate change education. Though many studies assess these variables independently, the breadth of this research will clarify the relationship between frequently referenced behavior-influencing variables, enabling the development of more effective environmental communication and education. The data, collected from 6 countries, gives the opportunity to analyze and compare climate change outcomes in different parts of the world.