Speaker Info

Steve Raabe

Email: info@opinionworks.com


Steve Raabe is the founder and president of OpinionWorks, a full service market and opinion research firm based in the Mid-Atlantic. Steve launched OpinionWorks in 2001 to provide clients with critical insights based on scientifically-sound survey research, at an affordable cost.

Dating back to 1985, Steve has designed and overseen literally hundreds of opinion research projects in many fields. He has conducted extensive research into the key drivers of customer and member satisfaction, the most effective cues to charitable giving, voters’ issue and candidate preferences, and consumers’ buying and shopping habits. Steve researches behaviors and attitudes for non-profit organizations, associations, corporations, government agencies, and the media.

Steve offers public hearing testimony as an expert witness on survey findings, is called upon to comment for the news media on public issues, advises non-profit executives on how to strengthen member loyalty and maximize the return from their donors, and briefs corporate leaders on the best methods of improving their standing with the public or their customers.

He is a sampling expert, known for developing stringent methodologies that will achieve the truest possible representation of the population surveyed. His questionnaire design is well-regarded within the community of research professionals.

Prior to forming OpinionWorks, Steve served on Capitol Hill as Director of Public Policy for Lutheran Services in America, the largest private human services network in the nation. For ten years, Steve served as Director of Research and Executive Vice President of Potomac Incorporated, a public affairs firm based in the Washington, D.C. area. He was field coordinator for the Maryland State Teachers Association, and has been an active volunteer and staffer for a number of political campaigns, including two stints as field staff for Presidential candidates. Steve is an active volunteer in his local community.

Steve attended American University in Washington, D.C., earning a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and graduating cum laude in 1986.

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Seminar Abstract

At OpinionWorks, public opinion is polled for a variety of organizations. As it relates to environmental reporting, polling is used to create the best possible way to present environmental findings. Steve Raabe conducted a study using two focus groups on how an environmental report card should be presented. It was found that the general public gravitated towards a clear grading system, trend information, and intriguing photographs. He also includes things to avoid when reporting and how the concerned public feels about the importance of water quality issues.

Seminar Transcript

>> I'm Steve Raabe, President of Opinion Works. We're an opinion research firm based here in Annapolis, and we specialize in measuring public opinion, but more directly as it relates to environmental stewardship matters, which is, of course, what all of you are working on, and also public health, closely related subject area of public health issues. So I formed this firm 10 years ago to work on those issues because I care about them personally and thought it would be important to bring all the tools of market research to this task. So I wanted to just give you, by way of introduction, a little bit of background, very briefly, on our firm. So we're the polling organization for the "Baltimore Sun." When they do poll, we do their public opinion polling in Maryland. And we have worked for a variety, now, of water protection groups, some of which are listed here on the slide. We do a lot of work funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, who's listed here, and they are the funder of this work that I'm about to tell you about. And what I wanted to do is just give you a little -- there's Chris. Very important -- whoops, there's my lack of animation. There we go. Chris really conceptualized this study initially. He and I got together based on his initial wish to take a look at his own report card, which we did last year through our survey of West/Rhode Riverkeeper members and some general public and some opinion leaders and then decided that it would be great to expand this inquiry out and look at report cards generally around the Bay and see how their doing in terms of, kind of, friendliness to the reader and engagement. So really, you know, the frame of reference to this study is around those engagement issues. We're trying to -- the Trust wants us to, and we were trying, through this study, to take a look at these report cards and make them accessible to the reader, whether that be the member of the water protection group or whether that be general public that we are trying to reach with this information so that the end goal is better engagement of the public in these issues that were all working on. So we looked at content issues around report cards, and not specific indicators or how their measured or any of those kinds of issues, but more how the content is presented, and then layout and design issues, and then finally, though it wasn't a mission of the project, we did get in a little bit to the idea of how should these be presented online beyond just putting a PDF on your website and letting people go in and look at it. So there's obviously, as we all know, much better, more dynamic ways, ultimately, of presenting all this information online. We want this information to be shared, and so I'm pleased to be with you here today. So here's how it was done. I'm just going to have to zip through all these little animations. I apologize. So two audiences, we were looking at members of water protection groups, and we were looking at general public, but the screen for the general public in this sense was people that are interested in environmental protection as a personal priority, people that also have some history of civic engagement through active voting, maybe through contacting their elected official on the issues they care about, and people who read things so that they have a history of consuming information because we want readers and people that are inclined, whether it be digital or print, to be in the focus groups so that we get some really good feedback. We want the type of people that would essentially be a target audience for the publication in the room. There were six focus groups around the state, around the Bay. Two were held here in Annapolis and supported by the West/Rhode Riverkeeper. So one group was among their members and supporters, and the second group was among the general public in the watershed. We went over to Chestertown two nights later working with the Chester River Association and did the same thing. And then we went to Baltimore, a very urban area, of course, and looked at members and general public for Blue Water Baltimore. These were about 120 minute sessions. They were very in depth, facilitated by our own moderator who is skilled in getting the group comfortable and getting people to talk. It's almost a dinner table talk, where we have people around a table, and some of you have probably been through focus groups in one way or another in your life and career. So that's what we did. And seven report cards were chosen because they were presented in different ways and offer different assets within their pages, and so we wanted to kind of look at what people were gravitating towards and what was really working. Let me just briefly set this up by giving you a little background about what's important to the public in Maryland when it comes to environmental protection for the Trust. In December 2010, most recently we measured peoples broad environmental sensitivities in terms of how much of a problem people consider these various issues to be, water pollution, loss of habitat, air pollution, sprawl, et cetera down the list as you can see on the slide. And of these nine, I think, or eight or nine ideas that were tested, water pollution in rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay rose to the top. It wasn't known to the respondent that the Trust was the sponsor of the work. They didn't know that there was a Bay focus to the survey at this point. So it's kind of a happy finding for our work, for your work, to know that of all the different environmental priorities that the public might have in Maryland that water protection rises to the top of their list of concerns. And importantly, at the bottom of the slide, 85 percent of the public does believe, despite all of the difficulties we have with the health of the waters, that the problems can be fixed. So there's a very strong buy-in from the public. There is no sign of Chesapeake Bay fatigue in the public. They're not tired of hearing about these issues. In fact, when we asked them, "Are you more interested, just as interested, or less interested today than you were -- " and the wording is at the bottom of the slide -- "a few years ago in hearing about the health of the Chesapeake Bay?" Half of the public is more interested, and only 10 percent is less interested. So the fatigue is not around hearing about it. If there is fatigue, and this is what we hear in focus groups -- not these, but a broader set of focus groups over several years that we've done around water issues -- people are very concerned about the constant drumbeat of negative news around water health and really need to hear some good news to be an able to continue to care about the work on this work. So the public wants to be engaged. 85 percent believe that pollution in the waters can be fixed. That's from a Trust study. 52 percent strongly agree with the statement that's here on the screen. "If I knew what to do to help clean up local waters, I would do a lot more." That's strong agreement with that. And that is a theme that runs through all of our work is that the public is well intentioned generally, wants to do something, and they quickly want to know what they can do. It's often true that the general public, even the interested, environmentally sensitive public, does not have a sense of what actions they can personally be taking to really make a positive difference. And so we make this relevant to this particular study by knowing that the report card can help by giving them actions that they can take, and we'll see that in a minute. But that's something that the public really wants to see out of this document. So let's go to the evaluation of the report cards, keeping in mind that our mission was engagement. Our mission was making the report cards friendly and readable for the public. And we weren't evaluating the scientific indicators or any of that sort of more technical content. So first of all, there's a great interest on the public's part in seeing a clear grade for the local tributary. So these two examples, the West/Rhode report card on the left and the Severn River Report card on the right, respondents in focus groups pointed out these as two very good examples of where it's done right, where the grade jumps out at you, and you can quickly see what the score is for that tributary. They also like to see trends. This is not always possible, but it's one of the first things they ask for. Well, is it getting better, getting worse? And we know from constant assessment of this question in different ways that the public generally sees the waters as getting worse or staying about the same. There's a minority of the public that sees waters getting better. We have seen some up tick in that better number or late, but generally, the preponderance of the public continues to see the waters as not improving. And they really want some of that glimmering of good news, but regardless of whether it's good news or bad news, they're eager to know the trend. So this example from South River does a good job, in their eyes, of showing some trend information. There are little triangular arrow indicators that show a trend. In South River's case, I think they've got five years of data for the indicators that they are able to show. That's not true everywhere, as you guys well know, but some of our tributaries are able to show more longitudinal data. And where we can do that with integrity, we should try because the public really eats that up. They would like to see where things are trending. And we also know that there's problems with some indicators, bacterial bouncing around, so it's difficult to, maybe, accurately show that longitudinally. So that's an issue that needs to be thought about and discussed. But the basic issue that if we can show trend lines, they're eagerly received. So as I said earlier, the public wants to know what they can do. This is from the Magothy report card, and they called it our homework. It's a positively received table where they are telling people what the action is that they can take, and then what the result will be. So in the focus groups, people liked this. They liked the presentation and the linkage. This is what we're asking you to do, and this is what's going to come out of it. Now, I could tell you, as a sort of footnote to that finding, that sort of graphically how this information is presented here on this particular report card could be done better. The public would rather see something a little more friendly graphically, something a little more easy to absorb, and I'm going to show you what they consider to be a slightly better example in that regard on the next slide. But the more important basic point is that this does a very good job of showing cause and effect and making direct linkages to actions and results. And they really do want to see that in our report cards. So here's from the Severn Riverkeeper. They call it "Problems and Solutions." And so in their case, on the left, they're pointing out what the problem is with the waters, and then on the right, they're pointing out what you can do to make a direct impact. Take this action. So they're making a clear linkage between the problems they just talked about within their report card, and then how you, as average citizen, can make a difference, very important. And this was so well received for a couple of reasons. One is the basic reason that it does a job of telling us what we should be doing. But second is that these little images that are shown help illustrate it and makes it a friendly thing to look at. The public gravitates, wants to look at those little pictures. The arrows that are used, these are all just sort of little cues that help the public kind of move from left to right across the page and make these connections. And those may seem like minor points, and in a way they are, but when we get to layout and design in a minute, you'll see why they think things like that are important. Just going slightly deeper, and there's much more conversation we could have, but slightly deeper on this issue of how to motivate action. They want to see what the quote, unquote "five-dollar action" is that an average person can take. So some of our report cards talk about significant things, like living shorelines and conservational landscaping, or planting trees, which seems very easy to all of us in this room, but for many citizens, they just think that that's too hard or expensive or something. So many people want just an entry point; tell me the simple thing I could do. That doesn't mean don't tell them the more complicated or difficult or expensive thing as well. But in the mixture of things we're asking them to do, we should make sure to include a couple of easy things that anyone can do without spending a lot of money because we want to get people onboard. You want to open that door and get them engaged in where we're going initially on this. And so this one respondent called that the "five-dollar action." And so we want to include a five-dollar action or two. And second, importantly, we want to keep that list short. I think we're tempted to tell the reader everything we know that they should be doing, so give them a list of 15 things because there's 15 different things you can choose from. Like going to a good restaurant, you want to have a broad selection on the menu, but have you ever gone to a restaurant where there is too many things on the menu, and then you get a little bothered because you can't make a choice because there's lots of good option there? And that phenomenon actually occurs here. And so the public actually becomes overwhelmed, and we see this in focus groups. If we tell them too many options or too many things that they can do, even though they're all valid action and things we want them to do, it becomes difficult to digest, and it becomes hard to make a choice. And it becomes impossible for them to figure out, as lay people, what is the one thing I should do. So though it's hard for us to be disciplined, I think that we need to tell people here's the one or two actions that you can take. And if we can do that, and maybe year-by-year, we can roll out different actions through our annual report cards, but in a given report card, if we can keep the number of actions that we're recommending pretty concise, then that will help us a lot. That Severn one that we looked, I think, only had four. So that's the kind of list that we'd like to try to have. Content-wise, including some locally appropriate information is much appreciated by readers. Here's from the Chester River report card, where they included a nice little piece about cover crops and gave the agricultural community some credit for doing some good things. And the readers, or the people around the table, even if they weren't agriculturally connected directly, obviously live in a community that is, and felt very appreciative for this content in the report card. So wherever we can -- I mean, in Baltimore, where we've got a more urban setting, to be sensitive in the environment that we're in with our report card and to figure out a way to be locally appropriate is much appreciated by readers. Now, briefly on layout design issues, it's really helpful and readers really want us to include photographs. These are two covers of report cards that do two different things that are both very highly valued by the readers. On the left is the West/Rhode River report card from last year, where they showed a really pleasing picture of the water, almost an aspirational picture, even though the report card contains a lot of news that's not great. Then on the cover to draw people in, to show this very aspirational image of the water was well, well received and got people inside. On the right is this picture from the South River report card of the osprey, and it's not that wildlife was used. What was really engaging about this photograph is that that bird is so unusual looking. And around these focus group tables, they speculated about its attitude, its personality, was it a juvenile, was it oily, was it this, was it that? So it's not that we want to show wildlife -- in fact, we'd rather show people engaging with the water where we can in our report cards -- but it's that this bird, this particular bird, looks like a person. It's got personality, and that was really intriguing to the readers. There's a lot of pushback about our need to use scientifically technical terms in these report cards, and that's just a little rub that you're always going to have with report cards, but even among people that have quite a bit of knowledge, a word like "turbidity" was a problem. So if we need to use a word like that instead of just saying "water clarity," which you might be able to do as an alternative, then we need to make sure to define it. But it's not good enough to define it once in the report card. People are not linear readers, and they pick up and they go to a page in the middle. So everything we use a word like that, we've got to define it every single time. So we need to try to be as conversational and as concise as we can be and uncluttered and use lots of white space so it becomes very approachable. So that's really the sum of our findings. It goes much deeper. We've got a full report that we're happy to share, but that's the big picture. So we'll take questions.

Seminar Discussion

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