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Project Description

George Mason University

Contact Info

George Mason University
Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research
4400 University Dr.
MS 6A8
Fairfax, VA 22030

Edward Maibach, MPH, PhD

Phone: (703) 993-1587
Fax: 703.993.8300
Email: emaibach@gmu.edu
Website: climatechange.gmu.edu

Fields of Interest

Founded in August, 2007, the Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research (CECCCR)is the nation's first research center devoted exclusively to addressing the communication challenges associated with global climate change. While the scientific evidence of climate change has never been clearer, exactly how to foster widespread policy and behavior change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is less well understood. Designing effective behavior change and advocacy campaigns will require a thorough understanding of various audiences, including how best to reach and communicate with them, and how best to make it easy for them to adopt new behaviors. Our Center is dedicated to addressing these challenges. Our efforts are focused on four strategic areas: 1. Engaging a broad range of research experts and business, non-profit and government leaders to identify the most pressing communication, marketing and behavior change research questions. 2. Conducting communication, marketing and behavior change research to learn how best to educate, motivate and assist people and businesses in reducing their - and our nation's - "carbon footprint" 3. Providing technical assistance to a broad range of organizations (in the public, non-profit and private sectors) so as to improve their climate change education, communication, advocacy and behavior change programs. 4. Encouraging the development of similar initiatives abroad, especially in nations where effective societal responses are urgently needed to avert the climate crisis (such as China, India, Brazil and Russia).

Description of Scientific Projects

Although only in operation since August, we have already started a significant number of research projects. I will describe in detail only one here, because it is our most important effort. Relative to most other important social issues, there is currently little actionable audience research available to support the development of effective climate change communication and behavior change campaigns. As a result, we are currently creating a unique and sophisticated research platform that can help us answer some of the most pressing questions for any communication or social marketing campaign: * Who are the optimal target audiences (or audience segments)? * What key messages, experiences, products or services will best activate them (to change personal behavior, exert positive social influence, and to demand policy change)? * Which messengers are these audiences predisposed to trust and believe? * How can we most effectively reach these audiences (through the media and in their communities)? With our proposed research platform, we will be able to assist climate change campaign planners to extend and test their instincts, experience, and other sources of audience insight with comprehensive, rigorous, fine-grained quantitative research to answer to their planning questions and increase the impact of their campaign. Because we believe family dynamics are particularly important in shaping people’s behaviors with regard to climate emissions, our audience research platform will be based on a large nationally representative panel of adults and their children (grades 4 through 12). In conjunction with a private sector partner -- Porter Novelli -- we have already created a working prototype of the proposed research platform. This prototype is based on a nationally representative mail survey sample of approximately 11,000 adults and 1,000 of their children. The prototype database contains responses on a range of climate change perceptions (e.g., risk perceptions, efficacy perceptions, perceived importance of various mitigation behaviors) and behaviors (i.e., 14 home energy use, lifestyle and consumption, and environmental activism behaviors). Several papers are currently being written from this data, and many more are being planned. Very briefly, to give you a sense of our other research, our research team is also currently working on: several analyses of news coverage of climate change in the US and in China; a mental models elicitation research study to determine how various audiences think about climate change-related behaviors; a critical analysis of production techniques currently being used by NPR, The Discover Channel and other major producers of climate change content; and an experimental study to determine how to make "recommended actions" lists more useful in motivating and enabling people to change their personal and household behaviors.

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