Can we agree?

In late 2011, I was asked to help write a book about air quality management in Canada based on our firm’s work related to the introduction of the world’s first Air Quality Health Index.

The book is a compilation of information and analysis – everything from politics to policy to the health science and technical solutions related to air quality monitoring. Thankfully, a section was reserved for communication and social marketing – a study of how best to share information about air quality so people can act to protect their health and be better stewards of the air they share.  I was asked to author that section.

While the transcript of the book remains with the publishers and the date I will be able to download it to my Kindle continues to shift, I am using this blog to share snippets of the chapter.

Here’s the first – and it comes in the form of a question.

How does ongoing national and international scientific study and policy debate on air quality and health impact the approach toward social marketing?

The answer:

If we (politicians, policy makers, scientists, doctors and even all us average folk!) agree that people can:

  • Have a positive effect on the quality of the air they share;
  • Accept the benefits of our individual or collective attention and actions related to the air we share, and;
  • Agree those benefits outweigh the risks of inaction;

We must also accept, that increased public interest and engagement about air quality should be encouraged, supported and celebrated, everywhere.

Now that we all agree, let’s look at what happens when governments, interest and advocacy groups invest in programs that increase public interest and encourage action related to protecting their health and the air quality.

Public opinion research in Canada found a significant difference between peoples’ understanding of how air quality impacts their health and their awareness of their own health risks related to air quality.  About 96% of people studied believed air quality affects health to some degree, but very few said they would seek out air quality information on a regular basis. That’s a big gap between awareness and action.

Likewise, people reported they may consider the long term effects of poor air quality but few of them were able to identify the immediate impact on health, unless this connection was because of a personal experience related to air quality – for example, a preexisting respiratory condition that became exacerbated when the air quality was poor.

Helping people understand an issue and connecting it’s relevancy to them personally is the precursor to action – and is the domain of strategic social marketing.

The proof – when the previously public opinion research compared people in Canada with the highest awareness of air quality to those with the lowest awareness of air quality, they found a significant difference depending on where people lived. Areas that had higher awareness were the same areas where social marketing campaigns on air quality, health and Canada’s Air Quality Health Index, had been implemented.

Do you think an investment in social marketing about air quality and health is a responsible action by government regardless of the science, political or policy debates that continue?



About Sharon Stevens

Sharon Stevens is the owner and CEO of Airshift Group. Email Sharon Stevens

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