Engaging visitors for action

The Innovative Solutions Grants+ Program

Leading the charge for innovation and conservation impact in the aquarium and zoo community

visitors at an aquariumAquariums and zoos are increasingly exploring opportunities to advance conservation by encouraging their guests to join them in taking action. The Ocean Project has supported our partner aquariums and zoos since 1997 with public opinion research, and other tools and resources aimed at understanding how we can effectively engage visitors and the public for conservation outcomes.

The public opinion research has shown that visitor interest in environmental issues tends to spike during a visit to an aquarium or zoo. Moreover, it tells us that visitors not only trust aquariums and zoos, but also appreciate when these institutions provide them with information about ways to help protect the animals and the environment. When considering the tens of millions of visitors to aquariums and zoos each year, there’s a huge potential conservation impact! This is why we’ve developed the Innovative Solutions Grants+ Program.

The Grants+ program is an evolution of The Ocean Project’s efforts to help our partner organizations do more to effectively advance conservation action; it allows us to invest in supporting innovators in the community by providing not only financial resources, but also free strategic communications services and evaluation help for stronger conservation impact. Thanks to funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we award grants of up to $30,000 that also come with pro bono strategic communications coaching and technical expertise to catalyze peer-to-peer sharing and learning. While these grants are currently only available to US-based and AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos–due to stipulations from NOAA–we are currently seeking additional funding to provide opportunities for all our aquarium and zoo partners. Moreover, the lessons learned will benefit the aquarium and zoo community as a whole.

2015 – 2016 Grantees

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Awarded $20,000 to engage university students in Tasting Sustainability, a community-based conservation initiative to increase awareness of seafood sustainability and decrease consumption of unsustainably caught or farmed seafood. Working with Tucson-based group, Lead Local, activities will engage the community, as well as enhance opportunities on the Museum grounds for visitors to help with seafood-related solutions.

National Aquarium: Awarded $25,000 for a project that engages the Hispanic community in a small Baltimore watershed. Through on-the-ground education and leadership training, they will create a network of community members who will spread plastic pollution and marine debris prevention messaging through their neighborhoods and networks. This project will also connect to the Aquarium’s Living Seashore exhibit, which features five Shore Heroes – individuals and groups who have taken action to protect aquatic resources. They plan to develop a sixth Shore Hero, their first with an urban focus, who will make clear the connection between urban waters and the ocean, and as well as set an example for plastic pollution and marine debris prevention.

Saint Louis Zoo: Awarded $15,000 to launch a project directed predominantly by teen volunteers via social media in high school peer networks and with Zoo visitors to tackle the growing issue of plastic pollution and marine debris (100 billion plastic bags are used annually in the United States, with less than 1% recycled). To address these issues in a relevant, actionable manner, staff and Zoo teens will develop a project to reduce plastic bags at Zoo retail locations, within teen volunteer peer networks, and among Zoo visitors. This project has the potential to impact the local community and beyond.

Teens at Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo: Awarded a second year of funding, at $30,000 to expand their leadership role with Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (CAN). CAN was established with ISG+ support in 2014 as an evolution of Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Aquarium and Pacific Science Center youth programs. Through collective action, these organizations aim engage local teens in effective climate change leadership opportunities. Achieving their vision for Seattle Youth CAN as a replicable model depends upon their ability to continue to integrate new voices, relationships and resources. In 2015-2016, they plan to build upon the existing structure, by expanding the Network and its efficacy through various activities.

2014 – 2015 Grantees

Philadelphia Zoo: Awarded $30,000 to measure the connection between onsite messaging and offsite behavioral change. To quantify the impact of the Zoo’s mission-related conservation-education messaging on visitors, and to link Zoo visitors with ocean issues, they will develop a pilot project that will message ocean acidification (OA) at their Coral Reef Tank exhibit in their new KidZooU: The Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo & Faris Family Education Center. The Zoo will leverage their partnership with PECO – the energy supplier for the Greater Philadelphia region – and Opower, to measure and compare the energy consumption behavior of Zoo visitors who have been exposed to OA messaging and asked to “save energy to save wildlife” with that of non-Zoo visitors, as well as visitors who have not received Zoo interpretation about OA.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden: Awarded $12,000 to create a year-long immersive program for its ZooTeens. The program, dubbed Teen S.O.S. (Stewards of Our Seas),  will feature three main elements: 1.)Teen Action; 2.) Community Action; and 3.) TeenMD (marine debris), the first in a series of S.O.S. action kits.  Teens will create innovative art from waterway cleanups and engage in peer-to-peer teaching as they weave the topic of marine debris into interactive programming for guests of all ages and inspire action through a teen-developed “Plastic Pledge – Take Back the Bag” campaign.

The Florida Aquarium: Awarded $28,400 to work with the entire school community of a local Title 1 elementary school where many children are not getting a lot of hands-on science programming and where approximately 50% of the student population report English as a second language. This project will strive to increase participation of students’ families in climate change-related activities and will include development of curricula and related materials in Spanish, that will be shared broadly.

Woodland Park Zoo: Awarded $28,000 to engage their community in climate change, sustainability and conservation action by leveraging the collective energy and enthusiasm of their youth participants. Teens will develop their own carbon reduction action campaign that they will participate in and encourage participation in from their peers. Their project will focus on three primary areas:  1) Training: Develop and implement a comprehensive training/workshop for teens on climate science, interpretive practices, and strategies in developing social marketing/action campaigns and projects; 2) Action: Create the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network made up of teens from WPZ, Seattle Aquarium and the Pacific Science Center. Teen leaders from each will develop and implement their own action campaigns/projects; and 3) Communication: Support teen participants through engaging in a collaborative process that enriches teen experiences within each institution while providing opportunities for them to come together to learn and share throughout the year.

2013 – 2014 GranteesNCAq2

North Carolina Aquarium Society: (Awarded $16,000) The North Carolina Aquariums embarked upon an experimental program to test whether visitors would be interested in purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) as a way to “go green” and help the ocean and its animals. By using the same “ask” but different approaches at each of their four facilities, they have been able to contrast and compare efforts based not only on the number of RECs purchased, but in visitor and staff experience, as measured with visitor exit surveys and staff interviews. What have they learned so far? They’ve seen that at all sites visitors were interested in the issue of clean energy and welcoming of suggestions about how they can take action, but their most successful approach incorporated interpretive framing techniques – like appealing to shared values, American ingenuity, and future generations – into their auditorium programs and dive shows, where the emphasis was on helping the animals. Also successful, talking about the way in which visitors would be helping the aquarium go green.   Less so, efforts that didn’t include interpretation or focused on explaining RECs.clima-meeting

New England Aquarium: (Awarded $17,500) The ClimaTEENS project is helping teens develop climate change presentations for peers. To increase their confidence, the teens have completed in-depth training and developed materials with help from staff experts in climate science and interpretation, and they even presented as part of an Earth Day press event with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Dept. of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Next, the group will be testing whether or not attending one of their presentations increased a visitor’s stated willingness to take one of three “next step” actions.

OCoast2-vampOregon Coast Aquarium: (Awarded $20,000) The aquarium’s youth volunteers are in the process of creating and implementing a pilot social marketing campaign targeting youth. With a goal of promoting actions by their peers that would help address the issue of ocean acidification, the teens underwent social marketing training to build up their confidence, and then began conducting in-depth interviews with their peers to narrow down what the ask should be. They’ve decided to ask teens to “kill vampires” – appliances that suck energy when plugged in, even if they’re off. Currently the teens are surveying the target demographic to develop a baseline understanding of what teens are currently doing with their game consoles and computers, so later they can evaluate their campaign’s success.