Think you’ve communicated enough? Think again (#35 of 100 Things We’ve Learned)

Providence started enforcing curbside recycling a few weeks ago.

recycleThe new rule is that you won’t get your trash picked up unless both of your recycling bins are on the curb when the trash trucks come by. (A blue one for glass, cans, and plastics and green for paper)

The city began promoting its new policy in September thinking it would give householders plenty of time to get ready before the November 2 start date.  Public service announcements were sent to the media, the Mayor held a press conference, school kids were notified, and brochures were distributed to our homes.

Trash collectors even pasted an informational  bumpersticker onto every city-issued big green trash barrel, figuring that had to get our attention when we hauled in the barrel at night.

The big day arrived and everyone should have been prepared – right?


Throughout the city, trash was left on the curb wherever there were no recycling bins. Officials reported that trash pickup went down by 63% — which should give you some idea of how many people ignored or weren’t aware of the new policy.

City Hall and City Councilors were flooded with calls from angry residents. A movement was started to reverse the policy (it wasn’t). Over 3,000 bins were sold in two days.

Residents were outraged! Why hadn’t they been told of the new policy?

It takes a lot of repetition to get a message through.

I was prepared for November 2nd. I knew about the city’s “no bin, no barrel” program. But then again, I read the local daily newspaper.

I also listen to my local public radio station, read most of my mail (or at least open the envelopes), and even take in the garbage can once in a while.

(Yes, some gender roles do die hard ).

But what probably made the biggest difference in my awareness?


You selectively pay attention to what you care about

As I’ve written earlier, we’ve been recycling for many years. We’ve faithfully sorted our household  recyclables since we had access to curbside recycling.

As a colleague reminded me in a conversation a few weeks ago, I’m more likely to pay attention to news about the things that I’m interested in.

As I was already interested in curbside recycling, it wasn’t hard for my personal antenna to pick up the communications about the proposed policy change.

But as my fellow residents confirmed, householders who weren’t interested in recycling didn’t pay any attention to the City’s attempts to warn them, even when the notice was placed right under their noses where they couldn’t miss it.

So, what makes you think that you’ve done enough to communicate with your own constituents?

Whether you are trying to educate me about a community issue, hope to turn me out for a special event, or are trying to get me to renew my annual membership, don’t underestimate what it will take to get my attention.

If you think that you have sent too many communications, like the recycling program demonstrated, you might want to think your strategy through one more time.

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