Water Use, Behavior and Policy Working Group

The Center’s Water Use, Behavior, and Policy Research Group (WBP) is focused on the role of strategic messaging in promoting public water conservation. The ongoing drought in California emphasizes the importance of water conservation in ensuring sustainable communities. 
Citizens, politicians, and water managers alike have pushed for ways to maximize water conservation. Although household consumption has gone down, it is likely consumption will fluctuate and even increase over time. Existing district messaging strategies overwhelming focus on providing consumers with information, yet researchers (and marketers) have long known that simply providing people with information is not enough to lead to behavior change. 
Altering messages in simple ways that connect to people's deeply held beliefs and identities can reduce water consumption by upwards of five percent.  Through partnerships with California water districts, we hope to increase public water conservation efforts.
Relying on a close collaboration with water managers, this research will:
  1. utilize known messaging interventions from the field of psychology and test their effectiveness in promoting water conservation; 
  2. determine the specific messaging that effectively reduces household water consumption across subpopulations; and 
  3. produce messaging approaches that can be tailored to other districts.
This long-term collaboration will evaluate the effectiveness of a number of different strategic messages. Our first field experiment evaluates the effects of framing the drought in terms of gains versus losses. Research suggests that focusing on potential gains in messages (e.g., You can save money) encourages behavior change among those who have yet to change, whereas focusing on potential losses in messages (e.g., You can lose money) encourages individuals to continue a behavior over time. We predict that gain messages will decrease consumption among high users (those who have been most resistant to change), and loss messages will preserve existing water conservation behaviors. In addition, novel to this research is our incorporation of a survey that will allow us to assess the moderating effects of levels of information, motivation, and behavioral skills on the framed messages and ultimately household water use. 
Sarah Anderson, Bren School, UCSB
Cameron Brick, Psychological and Behavioral Sciences, Cambridge
Phil Ehret, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UCSB
Heather Hodges, Bren School, UCSB
Colin Kuehl, Political Science/Environmental Studies, Northern Illinois University
Eric RAN Smith, Political Science, UCSB
Leah Stokes, Political Science, UCSB
Heather Hodges, hehodges@ucsb.edu