Education, awareness and outreach: three words, three common mistakes

Education, awareness and outreach are often required but fail to deliver meaningful results.

If you’re commissioning or managing a project related to energy or climate change, it’s almost certain that you have a component on education, awareness and outreach. Development agencies must raise awareness in their projects. IFI boards require outreach to stakeholders. And the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change mandates education (see the New Delhi Work Programme).

However, these are often three words for “lost opportunities.” When done effectively, education, awareness and outreach activities can encourage significant changes in attitudes and behavior, including investment behavior. Yet they frequently appear in project proposals as an afterthought. What are the most common mistakes that we’ve seen?

Mistake #1:  They don’t know their starting point

Frequently, projects designed to raise public awareness start without knowing the current level of awareness! This is particularly true for climate change projects, where awareness is almost always assumed to be very low. However, in countries where we have identified or commissioned public opinion research, we’ve found that awareness is usually much higher than assumed.


Good baseline research (such as a public opinion survey) allows projects to develop an outreach strategy that is more effective, identifying levels of awareness by sub-regions and by gender.  In addition, surveys give project evaluators a baseline for measuring actual impact (i.e., changes in knowledge and awareness), not just outputs such as the number of brochures produced.

Mistake #2: They don’t know their audience

Funds to support an education and outreach strategy frequently get absorbed into the project management budget, and the project team develops a “lessons learned” document that is sent to all stakeholders.  Unfortunately, busy policy-makers, factory directors and local government officials may send these reports straight to file (or to the recycling bin) without ever reading them or learning from the hard work of a project.


A strong education/outreach consultant can identify the best types of materials and settings for communicating them. Options may range from a high-level briefing with policy-makers, to a presentation at a trade show, to an article in a newsletter for municipal managers. Consultants outside of the energy/environment area (traditional private sector marketing consultants or consultants with a social marketing background) may be able to offer excellent guidance.

Mistake #3:  They start from products and not from problems

We often see projects that come up with a standard list of products – a lessons learned report, a brochure, a coloring book and 2-3 television spots – without first thinking about the messages they want to send and how best to deliver them. For example, if most people are getting their news about energy or climate change from satellite television, then local TV spots will simply be ineffective.  If people in rural areas rely on radio for their information, newspaper articles will not be helpful. And if different languages are used in different regions of a country, a monolingual brochure could overlook a key audience.


Every project should develop a media plan – an overview of key project messages and target audiences – and only then work back to its planned outputs (written and electronic).  In addition, public opinion research (mentioned above) can also identify where key audiences get their information about energy and/or climate change, and in what language.

For more information on how good project design can support best practice, please contact us.