Research suggests citizen stewardship programs should focus on locally identified social, economic and environmental priorities. Adapting programs to these priorities can attract community members and build coalitions with local leaders.
While progress has been made in expanding and diversifying the people and groups engaged in citizen stewardship, more work must be done. As the number and diversity of citizen stewards grows, organizations must build their capacity to harness citizen engagement and build a movement that can be mobilized to support clean water decisions at the local, state and federal level.
While an impressive number of organizations engage the region in citizen stewardship efforts, coordination among them is lacking. For instance, different organizations often put grant-funded programs in place that duplicate development efforts but lack targeted actions or leadership development pipelines. Examples show coordinated partnerships can significantly increase the impact of citizen stewardship programs.
Funding Incentives and Regulatory Guidance
Citizen stewardship programs continue to increase in number and scale. However, many funding sources and regulatory programs lack adequate incentives or guidance to ensure these programs are designed with best practices or successful models in mind.
Information Tracking and Resource Targeting Abilities
While public engagement has long been part of our restoration strategy, the extent to which the public is engaged has not been quantified. As a result, information about the extent to which certain actions are or could be taken or the impact of certain actions on environmental health and restoration goals is not widely available to the agencies or organizations putting engagement programs in place. This makes attempts to target the limited resources available to citizen stewardship programs challenging.
Recruitment and Training Capacity
To convert short-term volunteers into life-long citizen stewards, organizations must connect education and the environment with economic success. Sustained funding, organizational capacity building and the promotion and replication of successful volunteer and leadership development programs are needed for progress to be made.
The environment does not always rank highly on the list of issues impacting individuals’ lives. In fact, other issues often gain more public attention than the need for clean water. A better understanding of public attitudes, perceptions and opinions could offer opportunities to address pressing issues in tandem rather than in competition.
Many of the behaviors that citizen stewardship programs encourage face barriers to implementation because they are not considered the social norm. However, the public display of a behavior by a growing portion of a population can accelerate the adoption of this behavior by others. Successful citizen stewardship programs must more effectively use this social science tool so desired actions and behaviors are seen and adopted by others.
Marketplace Regulations and Consumer Outreach
Marketplace regulations have proven effective at changing products, consumer choices and consumer behavior. But strategies to shape consumer markets are often executed in isolation. Instead, these strategies should be part of a comprehensive effort to link policies and regulations with consumer outreach focused on behavior change and continued engagement.
The lack of public access sites and the low usage rate of existing access sites—particularly in urban and low-income communities—poses a challenge to engaging many sectors of the public in citizen stewardship efforts.
Factors Influencing Progress
A range of factors—including program design, program coordination and existing public opinion—impact the Chesapeake Bay Program’s ability to develop effective citizen stewardship programs and increase the number and diversity of trained and mobilized citizen volunteers.