The Trenton Channel, part of the 32-mile Detroit River, could see a cleanup in 2016 through the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which combines federal funding with local support. Before that can happen though, voluntary partners must agree to help fund this final cleanup stage. The Detroit River is one of 29 remaining Areas of Concern in the U.S., a result of decades of poor environmental practices. The fast-moving Trenton Channel is one of the top sources of pollution in the river system due to its history of industrial and municipal practices.
Scientists and engineers are currently designing a cleanup plan to address approximately 240,000 cubic yards of sediment in the upper portion of the Trenton Channel. A majority of the community surrounding this remediation project is looking with optimism and enthusiasm to the clean-up efforts. Yet these feelings are by no means unanimous.
Caitie McCoy, IISG social scientist, and her two summer interns—Mark Krupa and Erika Lower—conducted a needs assessment with local stakeholders of Trenton Channel, including environmentalists, recreation enthusiasts, property owners, and city officials. They found that the channel is viewed as important to the region, but that the clean-up plan is viewed with some skepticism.
I assumed that everyone would be overjoyed that a sediment remediation project was happening in their community. Yet there were quite a few concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the project. About a third of the stakeholders we interviewed said that cleaning up pollution would provide no significant community benefits.
This needs assessment has given our outreach team a better sense of what is important to our stakeholders. We have a better sense of what information they want about this project.
Increasingly, social science provides the go-to method for Sea Grant programs to develop informed outreach efforts. In the 2014-2015 research cycle, 29 programs funded 59 social science research projects. Additionally, state Sea Grant programs are hiring social scientists.
Large-scale needs assessments are a wise investment for big outreach projects. Needs assessments give us detailed information about our audience concerning a topic of interest–in this case, it was sediment remediation. This information would otherwise be difficult to obtain. Even working with an outreach team composed of local leaders, we make a lot of assumptions about our stakeholders. Needs assessments help us cut through those assumptions so that we can understand what our stakeholders are really interested in or concerned about. This helps us design better messaging and better outreach events for our stakeholders.
To learn more about what the researchers learned from Trenton Channel stakeholders, you can download A Needs Assessment for Outreach in the Detroit River Area of Concern’s Trenton Channel.