Photo Credit: Neighborhood chipping in Towns County, Georgia helps residents dispose of yard debris making their properties more fire safe.

There are volumes written on best practices for community engagement and communication, but even with so many good strategies and approaches it takes time, capacity, practice and resources to facilitate community action. FAC Network hub leaders offered some of their insights on effectively engaging communities in fire adapted communities concepts in a webinar (recording available here) this winter. Check out these five tips for motivating your FAC audience to action.

1. Know your audience and offer them ideas and resources they value

One of the first rules of community engagement is to offer information that your audience will find valuable. In order to craft a valuable message you have to start by understanding your audience, what they need, and how you can help them. FAC Network leaders in Towns County, Georgia, researched their community demographics in order to develop targeted communications. They learned that nearly half of their community members live in Towns County seasonally. This has helped them hone in on recommendations for part-time residents. For example, they’ve been able to recommend simple actions people can take to prepare their properties for fire over a weekend. They also learned that retirees are a significant percentage of their population. Knowing this, they’ve worked to provide chipping assistance to elderly residents. Up-front research about your audience will help you design engaging communications and programs aligned with community needs. Work with your partners to make a simple community profile that will help inform your communication and engagement strategy.

2. Find and empower your community “spark plugs”
Neighborhood block parties are a great way to share information about fire preparedness and highlight the actions homeowners can take to make their neighborhoods more fire safe.

Neighborhood block parties are a great way to share information about fire preparedness and engage enthusiastic “spark plug” residents in your FAC work.

Another classic communications rule is to send the right messenger. People react to messages in different ways depending on who is delivering the information. If it comes from someone they trust, from a community leader and trendsetter, people are much more likely to take action and join the effort. The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, Network hub in the Tahoe Basin, has capitalized on their reputation as a trusted community institution to bring citizens in their community together around FAC. By hosting block parties aimed at connecting neighbors, they’ve engaged especially passionate and inspired community members to help carry their FAC message. By enrolling people who are committed to the cause, they’ve extended their ability to reach the broader community through trusted liaisons. Do you know who your community “spark plugs” are? Try hosting an event designed to help enroll passionate citizens in your community in your fire adapted communities work.

3. Tours are more effective than talk

Working with private landowners is a rewarding, but challenging part of fostering community fire resilience. There are several ways to enroll landowners in taking action for fire-preparedness. FAC Network leaders at the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP), hub organization in the Front Range of Colorado, have found that the most effective way to calibrate landowner expectations is through on-site field tours. After trying to illustrate recommended landscape treatments through conversations and using before and after pictures, CUSP found that people still didn’t have a good sense of what their property would look like after treatment. So they recruited people who have already had treatments implemented on their properties to host field tours for landowners interested in making their properties fire resilient. This strategy has helped create realistic expectations and has also served to connect neighbors, a valuable perk. To maximize the effectiveness of this strategy CUSP recommends that you use “matchmaking skills” to select field tour sites that will foster valuable relationships between neighbors.

4. Inspire community action with vision and leadership

The ways fire interacts with communities around the country is diverse. In some places, fire is infrequent, but changes in climate and in the health of the land are making fire adapted communities strategies increasingly important for community resilience. Dovetail Partners, hub organization in Minnesota, is working with Ely, a community in the northern Boundary Waters area of the state, to organize the community around FAC. Wildfire issues in Ely have been seen as a public lands issue, in the domain of the US Forest Service, and have not previously been the focus of community organizing and action. In order to create local momentum in Ely, the hub organization is working to inspire leadership by organizing a local FAC coordinating group and energizing citizen leaders around the need for FAC action. The role of leadership and vision in catalyzing FAC is being demonstrated by this hub. If you live in an area where fire hasn’t been a community focus, consider how to introduce the issue to your community through a communications campaign and visionary local leaders.

5. Work with local businesses to offer incentives for FAC-related products and services

To facilitate community action you need to make it easy. One of the ways FAC Network leaders are working to help landowners complete defensible space treatments is by making it easier for them through partnerships with local businesses. In Colorado, CUSP is working with a local equipment rental company to offer a Firewise rental package to residents at a discounted rate. The package includes a farm boss chainsaw, leaf blower and education materials packaged together and offered at a reduced price. This kind of unconventional approach is just one example of the ways FAC Network hubs are exploring how to make FAC work in their communities. Approach your local business community about offering a discount or package to landowners who want to implement defensible space and find out if that increases citizen action in your community.

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