Using Pledges and Social Contracts Within a Green Community Outreach Program

Dating back to the early 1980's, community pledges and social contracts have been proposed to "green" watersheds and communities throughout the United States. Target resources might include climate, but also sensitive streams, marine waters, lakes, wetlands, old growth and beaches. Some of the programs have merely consisted of a written pledge, while others have included an outreach element and systematic monitoring.

The best chance of gaining widespread community support would be to devise a systematic outreach and monitoring program. Ideally this would involve teams that would solicit pledges from households and businesses, both at community gatherings and through block canvassing. Results would be carefully recorded and attempts made by the teams to "green" more and more blocks and neighborhoods within the larger community. As each new block and neighborhood reaches a target level of coverage, this would be advertised and promoted to build momentum and to achieve a tipping point in participation.

One variation on this likely to be most effective would be to let school kids run the program, including outreach, tracking and monitoring. They would be given most of the creative license. Adults would play an advisory role, providing technical support, ensuring safety and making resources available.

Kids could not only do most of the canvassing, but might also perform the monitoring--recording and tracking the progress in community participation. Follow-up should also be planned and implemented as this is a critical failing of most voluntary social programs. Opportunities should also be developed to link the program with actual efforts to plant trees and protect habitat.

Why Written Pledges and Individual Contact?

A written and signed pledge represents a statement of clear intent and cognitive commitment for which there is no substitute. It is important that the person signing the pledge participates in identifying what they are willing to do and in what time frame. Notes should be made on each contract reflecting the person's wishes.

What to Include in the Pledge?

The best pledges are informative, succinct and allow for tailoring to the interests of different people. When a pledge is solicited, a person should be asked what they would feel comfortable committing to. Options (such as best management practices) should be presented. People should not be discouraged from participation if they are only willing to commit to small steps. Small steps can lead to larger steps.

Importance of Canvassing and Personal Contact

Systematic, block-by-block canvassing is critical because it promotes identification among neighbors with the smaller units of community: people identify with their home-ground, yards, streets and local parks. People are also more apt to participate when they are solicited by neighbors. Personal, face-to-face contact is always more effective than mailing out solicitations.

Why Follow-up?

A common failing of voluntary social programs is lack of follow-up. Commitment needs to be secured and cemented through repeated contact In a second meeting with a signee, the canvassing team would ask the person how they are doing, what problems (if any) they have encountered, and what help they could use. All of this should be recorded to provide a basis for program adjustments and improvements. Follow-up meetings are also beneficial because they remind people that contracts and pledges are a personal bond that carry some weight.

Symbols of the Green Watershed--Badges and Banners

Symbols of participation might include badges and banners that people would be offered when they sign a pledge. These might include bumper-stickers as well as small flags (perhaps displaying the outlines of a watershed or stream network). The best badges and banners would be customized to convey a sense of place (e.g., a maple leaf for The Maple Leaf Neighborhood, a giraffe overlooking a ridge for Phinney Ridge). Promoting the program calls for imagination. It can be advertised that people are now entering "Green Wallingford" or "Green Phinney Ridge" and that participation has reached "70 percent." Updates on progress help create a buzz and maintain public interest. This can be indispensable to reaching a tipping point in public participation.

Rewards to Participation

Besides the psychic benefits of participation, a green neighborhood is likely to build sense of ownership and greater household commitment to protecting parks, taking care of property, and participating in community functions (including schools). Such a program can also engender support for local businesses and thereby stimulate their own participation.