"Developing an Extension Communication Strategy for Complex Water Issues: Water quality in Lake Okeechobee and south Florida’s coastal estuaries as a model issue (IST #31544)"
May 14-15, 2018
Okeechobee Emergency Management Center
707 Northwest 6th Street
Okeechobee, FL 34972
An IST that might be of interest to our audience; the CLCE is not hosting this event.
To begin developing a communication strategy for water resource issues within UF/IFAS that prepares Extension Agents to answer media and stakeholder questions when controversial issues arise. This IST will focus on the 2016 Lake Okeechobee discharges and coastal algal blooms as a model issue.
Extension agents are often faced with answering questions regarding complex issues in Florida. With limited time to prepare, agents are expected to provide stakeholders and the media impartial, sciencebased responses to often very difficult topics. These experiences can often put agents on the spot and result in flawed, disparate and/or sometimes inconsistent messaging. In 2016, UF/IFAS Extension agents were faced with such an issue when unprecedented freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee resulted in an algal bloom in the St. Lucie Estuary that garnered national and global attention. Because of the complexities of drainage in south Florida and the mixed land use in the area, these algal blooms elicited a Coastal/Urban vs. Rural/Agricultural conflict. An informal needs assessment of Extension agents indicated that agents were unprepared or unequipped to address the Lake Okeechobee and algal bloom issue. Complicating the situation, the messaging provided by agents seemed to protect the stakeholders with which they most closely served. While not wrong, these incomplete messages placed Extension in a precarious situation.
Through a facilitated process, IST participants will initiate the development of an internal strategy to rapidly address complex water issues within UF/IFAS Extension, using the 2016 Lake Okeechobee discharges and coastal water quality as the pilot topic. At the end of the IST, Extension agents will have a better understanding of the south Florida drainage history, Lake Okeechobee discharges and regulation schedule, watershed nutrient inputs, and algal blooms. Participants will have greater confidence and capacity to address water quality issues in south Florida as they relate to Lake Okeechobee discharges. In a broader context, this IST will be determine the first steps towards developing a UF/IFAS communication strategy for all complex water issues, including:
- Communication — the science behind the issue
- Structure — Designing the message
- Conveyence — Responding to the event
This facilitated IST will be conducted in two parts. Part 1 will address the 2016 Lake Okeechobee discharge and St. Lucie estuary algal bloom event. Part 2 will consist of a facilitated discussion that will lead to a rapid response strategy for UF/IFAS Extension.
- Understand how Extension agents are currently receiving information for complex water issues.
- Ensure that agents can create a scientifically sound message while considering multiple stakeholder perspectives.
- Develop initial steps for an internal communication strategy that will ultimately lead to consistent, science-driven messaging within IFAS.