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Examples of extension and policy strategies developed using theories of human behaviour and social marketing

Terry Parminter1, Colin Waters2 and Claire Mortimer3

1 Agriculture and Environment Group, AgResearch, Ruakura Research Centre, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton, New Zealand,,
2 Department of Primary Industries, Ellinbank RMB 2460 Ellinbank 3821, Victoria,
3 Strategy and Project Leader, Community Relations, Auckland Regional Council, Private Bag 92-012, Auckland, New Zealand,


The paper demonstrates how belief based theories of human behaviour can be used by extension and social marketing agencies to achieve policy outcomes. Two examples of behaviour change strategies are provided from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (Australia) and the Auckland Regional Council (New Zealand). The Victorian Department of Primary Industries and the State dairy industry began an extension campaign on effluent management in 2000. At that stage, less than 50% of farms were considered fully compliant with State legislation. After two years, almost 2000 farmers had participated in the campaign and up to 80% of a survey sample of 57 participants were either changing their management or had already done so. Following a successful public campaign in 2001 to improve air quality, the Auckland Regional Council began a social marketing campaign to reduce waterway pollution from stormwater discharges. By 2005 the campaign had increased awareness of the issue for 71% of people and reduced the problem behaviours in 8-20% of people. Both agencies structured their strategies along extension and social marketing principles and have used belief based theories to design and monitor their campaigns and improve their effectiveness over time. The Department of Primary Industries has used belief based theory to segment the dairy industry around effluent management, identify key behaviours to focus upon, determine the technical support to be provided and the extension messages to be delivered. The Auckland Regional Council used belief theories to help identify the ‘drivers and barriers’ of change and develop their communication methods.

Three key learnings: (1) Measurable results to policy interventions encouraging voluntary change can be predicted from social psychology models, (2) Agency efforts to change behaviour require an understanding of human behaviour, its immediate antecedents and how these can be influenced (3) Regional scale issues like dairy effluent and air pollution need to be addressed through comprehensive strategic plans that are designed to meet the needs of specific target groups throughout regional communities

Key Words

Extension, social marketing, policy, social psychology, effluent, stormwater

Introduction on using social psychology theories in industry strategies

Primary industry groups such as those involved in dairy, meat, horticulture and landcare are often involved in encouraging behaviour change to achieve specific industry outcomes e.g. productivity, innovation, sustainability and adaptability (Bodeker 2005; Parminter and Max 2004). If they are, then belief based theories from cognitive social psychology such as the Theory of Reasoned Action and its subsequent variants can be used to help understand the behaviour of social groups and their motivations for behavioural change.

People developing extension strategies and policy interventions distinguish between a procedural strategy and a substantive strategy (Howlett and Ramesh 2003, p91). A procedural strategy is used to develop and apply principles for consultation and participatory decision making to decide policy outcomes (e.g. Parminter, Nolan and Bodeker, 2003). A substantive strategy is used to guide interventions for achieving measurable changes in human behaviour to address policy outcomes (e.g. Parminter and Wilson 2003). A theory-based substantive strategy for achieving human behavioural change does not have to be in conflict with procedural strategies and can help consultation be more focused upon the key responsibilities to be managed by industry and policy agencies as the two examples in this paper will highlight.

Both of the examples in this paper incorporated social marketing and extension principles to guide the development and design of their substantive strategy. Social marketing was a phrase originally coined by Kotler (Kotler and Zaltman 1971) to describe the integrated use of commercial marketing principles for public good programmes by industry and government organisations. We describe social marketing as “the provision of products and services meeting individual needs to achieve industry and societal outcomes”. Extension we define as “the management of interventions deployed by an institution to induce change in voluntary behaviours with a presumed public or collective utility” (from APEN 2005 and Rling 1988, p49). This indicates that we consider extension to be a specialist management discipline for designing and implementing the delivery of a wide range of communication, learning, education and marketing tools.

The use of belief based models of human behaviour, such as the Theory of Reasoned Action and its later variants (Ajzen and Fishbein 1980) can assist both extension and social marketing strategies:

1. Frame their approach to industry consultation (particularly extension)

2. Select a mix of intervention tools (particularly extension)

3. Identify segments, competing behaviours, motivating and demotivating influences, socially supportive and conflicting networks, and necessary and limiting resources.

4. Match people’s needs with product and policy attributes

5. Select distribution and delivery methods

6. Identify indicators for monitoring

Two examples of interventions have been selected because they provide a comparison between the delivery of an agricultural intervention by an extension agency and an urban intervention by a social marketing team in a policy organisation. The first example is an extension campaign in Victoria, to change effluent management by farmers. It is an example of the application of belief-theories to personalised delivery of a strategy for practice change. The social research underpinning that particular programme has been reported in three papers in proceedings of the New Zealand Agricultural and Resource Economics Society (Parminter et al, 2000 and 2001a&b). The second example from Auckland Regional Council shows how belief-theories can also guide a social marketing campaign that utilises mass communication. This example has been previously presented by Claire Mortimer in the Persuasive Policy Conference of 2003.

Victorian state campaign to improve effluent management by dairy farmers

Background on extension issue

The management of dairy effluent in Victoria is covered by the State Environment Protection Policy (Waters of Victoria: 1988). When this project was initiated, the policy was that generally dairy effluent had to be managed so that it was retained on farm properties and did not pollute nearby surface or ground water. In 2000 it was assessed by the Victorian Environmental Protection Agency that less than 50% of the 7000 dairy farmers in Victoria were actually complying with the legislation and so improving this became the focus of an extension programme involving the Department of Primary Industries (DPI, was NRE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Extension results

During the extension programme, the attitudes and management behaviour of farmers was monitored by collecting anecdotal evidence in a systematic way from both them and other industry organisations. After two years a randomised, stratified sample of 60 farmers who had participated in the programme were interviewed to measure its effectiveness to date (2003). Of the 57 farmers that agreed to participate in the interviews, 86% felt that they had increased their confidence to make investment decisions addressing future effluent issues, 31% had decided to make some changes to their existing management, a further 40% intended to make some changes after they had dealt with other existing difficulties e.g. after drought, lower milk returns, or the completion of a new farm dairy, and some were in the process of leaving the industry. A number of farmers (8%) were reassured that they were already doing ‘best practice’. To achieve these results required developing the extension strategy around an initial social research study into farmer beliefs and behaviour.

Extension social research

The initial consultation with farmers and other stakeholders in 2000 helped develop detailed descriptions of the different effluent management systems used by farmers along with how they made their management decisions. Five focus groups were held to describe peoples’ beliefs about the strengths and weaknesses of the different systems and how they affected farming, industry and environmental outcomes. From the consultation, the priority industry outcomes were to “increase the value of effluent management to farming systems” and achieve “greater compliance with EPA regulations and standards”.

Extension approach

Information from the focus groups (involving 60 farmers) and a quantitative survey of 300 farmers (50% response rate) was used to help identify six segments of farmers based upon their farming goals (self-identity) and effluent management decision making. The segment selected as the target group for the initial stage of the strategy were business-orientated and production-focused decision makers. The key practice change for this group was for them to include effluent treatment in their fertiliser planning. The initial research also established that this message would draw other segments into the programme.

It was considered likely by government agencies that this practice change had synergies with, and would be consistent with good management outcomes for fertiliser use, farm production, and community water use. The key sets of beliefs motivating farmers to change their behaviour were associated with nutrient management for increasing farm production and improved farm planning. The key sets of demotivating beliefs were associated with the technical performance of the different treatment options and the time and expense involved in maintaining them.

The relationship between farmers and other social groups were examined in a workshop with stakeholder groups. On this particular topic (effluent management), the relationship between farmers and extensionists was strong and influential, but their relationship with dairy companies was weak and could have created future conflict for the programme.

The extension programme developed for Victorian dairy farmers was designed to provide nutrient budgeting, effluent testing, and an effluent-treatment design. This was expected to assist farmers increase their production, decrease their fertiliser costs, and increase the performance and management efficiency of new systems.

Extension delivery

Extension delivery was a mix of mass communication and personal interaction. To develop initial awareness of the programme, 123 media articles were prepared and provided to local and state newspapers. Leaflets organised by the Environmental Protection Agency were mailed out to 7,000 farm families. For farmers seeking more information, ten sets of technical notes were made available on the internet and 3,500 information packs were sent to the people requesting them.

The extension programme included training courses for extension and policy staff, industry agencies and machinery sales people. These groups then worked together using consistent material to provide a comprehensive and well-aligned programme directly involving almost 2000 farmers encouraging change in effluent practice (Table 1).

Table 1. Practice change activities for dairy effluent management extension


Number of events

Participation (number of farmers)

Individual farm visits



Learning groups



Demonstration sites



Discussion groups



Specialist soil and fertiliser courses



Field days



In the table the different kinds of farmer events are listed, along with the number of events of each type held across the state, and how many different farmers attended each type of event, totalling 1,900 farmers in all.

Extension conclusions

This example from Victoria has highlighted the contribution of an initial belief study to all stages of strategy planning and delivery. Understanding farmer beliefs assisted with establishing the project target outcome, its objectives, and its extension, communication and education delivery. Monitoring changes in beliefs and attitudes as well as behaviours, has assisted the programme to improve over time and evaluate its effectiveness stage by stage.

Auckland Regional Council campaign for the ‘Big Clean Up’

Background on policy issue

The Auckland Regional Council in New Zealand develops and administers natural resource policy for over one million people living in Auckland catchments. In 2001 the Regional Council introduced a clean air campaign that became the forerunner to subsequent campaigns addressing regional environmental issues. That campaign, called “0800 SMOKEY”, was designed to encourage people to tune their vehicles and use clean fuel alternatives. In 15 weeks 20,000 people made 43,000 phone calls to the Regional Council dobbing-in 23,000 vehicles that appeared to be excessively smoky. One particular vehicle was dobbed-in 67 times. Dobbed-in vehicles were sent an information pack by the Regional Council including a voucher for an engine tune-up. Of the reported vehicles, 45% of owners had their vehicle fixed, 43% said that they intended to take action, 7% of vehicles were subsequently found to be satisfactory and 5% of people were either not found or were in the process of replacing their vehicle.

After consulting with their community on how to follow this campaign up, the Auckland Regional Council introduced a series of “Big Clean Up” (BCU) campaigns in 2002. Stormwater has been a concern in many New Zealand regions because unlike sewerage which is treated, stormwater is piped directly to surface waterways. In urban waterways it has been a source of many heavy metals, and hydro-carbons. To change people’s waste disposal practices and improve water quality, a 2-3 month campaign was led by the Auckland Regional Council in the summers of 2003 to 2005. The key objectives of the campaign were to:

1. Increase public understanding that when waste water enters the stormwater system it flows untreated into Auckland’s waterways and harbours

2. Encourage the use of a pollution hotline to report peoples’ stormwater concerns

3. Reduce the amount of environmentally risky behaviour

4. Increase public consideration for their local streams

Results from the social marketing campaign

A survey of people from 200 households in two city districts in mid 2005 was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaigns (Auckland Regional Council 2005). The following results were obtained:

1. When they thought about the time before the campaign, 76% of interviewees indicated that they had been already aware that anything tipped down a stormwater drain would go directly into their local stream. Although this was an unexpectedly high initial response, 71% of people still felt that the campaign had helped them to increase their awareness of the issue still more.

2. In the previous 12 months, 5% of people had used the pollution hotline, after the campaign, 25% of people said that they would start making more use of it. A full 35% of people said that they would always be unlikely to use it.

3. Before the campaign, 70% of people said that they were checking to make sure that only rainwater got into the stormwater system, 72% were already avoiding washing paint brushes into stormwater drains, and 53% were already washing their cars at either a car-wash or on their lawn. After the campaign, 20% of people said that they would make more of a effort to check what was going into their stormwater, 8% of people said that they would be more careful washing brushes, and 19% said that they would now change to washing their car at a car-wash or home on a lawn.

4. When they thought about before the campaign, 39% of respondents felt that their behaviour was not influenced by how it might affect their local stream. After the campaign, over two thirds of respondents (71%) indicated that the campaign had now made them think more about the way that they might be influencing it. Only 11% felt that their consideration of local streams was not influenced by how it might affect their local stream.

Social marketing research

The social research before the campaign indicated that although Aucklander’s valued their beaches and harbours, they appeared to place less importance upon the quality of urban streams. Aucklanders seemed aware and concerned about a range of water quality issues but they didn’t really understand what the causes were and how their own actions were contributing to them. For example, approx 50% of the Auckland public believed that the city’s stormwater was being treated before it was discharged into waterways. Correspondingly, there was a lack of public understanding that stormwater run-off from roads was a major cause of water pollution in urban areas.

There appeared to be a lack of understanding that urban development was one of the main causes of sedimentation in urban streams and how increased impervious surfaces were resulting in increased water pollution. There was little public understanding and appreciation of how changes to urban design could minimise these effects.

Among most sections of the community, people have been unaware of how they were themselves contributing to water pollution through their personal behaviour and lifestyles choices, and what individual actions they could take to prevent water pollution. There was a tendency to see water pollution as chemical pollution and that it was someone else’s problem to fix, rather than being organic material such as lawn clippings and sediment that they could take responsibility for.

Five key audiences were identified for the social marketing campaign:

  • People in the general public to raise their understanding about how waste water systems contributed to waterway pollution
  • Householders that needed to change their behaviour, specifically:
    - Home-owners and their waste-water disposal systems
    - Car-owners and where they washed their vehicles
    - Renovators and where they washed down their equipment – especially paint brushes
  • Maori groups to reinforce their kaitiakitanga concerns over water quality
  • Young people to encourage greater responsibility for local waterway water quality

Social marketing campaign for 2005

The social marketing campaigns featured mass communication approaches (i.e. media stories and advertising), personalised communication (i.e. industry newsletters, web-site, letters and emails) and direct contact with people at schools and field days. In 2005, the campaign consisted of the following activities.

(a) Media stories

Fifteen stories were run in community newspapers about the state of local waterways and stormwater pollution. The stories described how people could act more responsibly when washing down their renovation and construction equipment near stormwater drains. Also, how to use the pollution hotline. Four live-to-air interviews were conducted with Auckland Regional Council staff on local radio.

(b) Advertising

A series of TV advertisements ran from mid January until mid March promoting the campaign. Radio advertisements, editorial, ad-libs and competitions were run on Mai FM and Radio Waatea (urban Maori radio) to reach Maori, Pacific Island and youth audiences. The Maori phrase Kia ora ai te wai (which can be translated as “to keep the water well”) was used in the radio and TV advertisements, the website and in personalised BCU members’ communication.

Posters were prepared about the campaign and put up at schools, shops and community bulletin boards. The posters highlighted stream life and the pollution hotline.

(c) Industry alignment

The Resene paint company ran stories in their newsletters and on their website about painting practices to avoid stormwater pollution. The company sponsored 54 schools to take part in a regional ‘Paint the Drain’ competition.

(d) Emails to Big Clean Up members

There were two email communications to Big Clean Up members promoting the pollution hotline, a community field day, and household actions to protect the condition of stormwater.

(e) Auckland Regional Council BCU web-site

The ARC web pages on stormwater issues underwent a major upgrade to incorporate campaign messages and visuals, and provide procedural information, advertising and the pollution hotline number.

(f) Intensive community programmes

The Regional Council worked with two City Councils (Waitakare and Northshore) to develop intensive community projects around specific waterways in their areas. Each of their residents received a personalised letter describing the state of their local streams and stormwater systems and the actions that they could take. They were also invited to a stream monitoring field day. Local newspapers were involved in running detailed stories and advertisements.

Local schools were approached and 54 took part in a stream health programme including visits and competitions.

(g) Stream monitoring field days

Community field days were held at waterways so that people, especially from nearby schools, could visit and find out about the condition of their local stream and what they could do about it.

Social marketing evaluation

When the public were interviewed during the evaluation after the campaign, 50% of them said that they were aware of the campaign and almost all of these could recall the key campaign messages. Over the period of the campaign there was a 27% increase in pollution hotline calls and a ten times increase in website inquiries.

People who after the campaign said that they were being more careful about what went into surface drains and stormwater systems, generally did so because they thought that this was now a more important part of their civic responsibility and that they needed to keep their local streams clean. Those not intending to make changes felt that they were already doing enough or that they couldn’t control the behaviour of others. People washing their cars more often on their lawns or at car-washes did so because they wanted to avoid creating more pollution. People not wanting to change felt that they were already doing enough or they didn’t want to change, or they didn’t have a car. People who wanted to be more careful about where they washed their painting equipment did so because they wanted to avoid pollution and be more socially acceptable.

Following the campaign, some schools approached the Auckland Regional Council for assistance in restoring streamside bush (or forested) areas beside their school grounds.

Policy conclusions

Like the example from Victoria, the Auckland Regional Council approach to achieving desired public outcomes from behaviour change drew upon initial social research to guide all the stages of their campaigns. In the campaign evaluation, people indicated that their changed behaviour resulted from having more information for decision making (e.g. on the association between stormwater and the condition of local waterways), and also from the pressure of social norms that were more clearly articulated (e.g. about civic responsibility and what was socially acceptable). Research results contributed through the life of the campaign from the initial business plan, campaign specifications, design of delivery, programme revisions, and its adaptation and monitoring.


In conclusion, these two examples show that where industry or government strategies are being developed to address desired human behavioural change, an initial study to identify and interpret people’s key beliefs can add to their effectiveness. Belief based social research can guide procedural strategies and assist substantive strategies by providing information about the behaviours to be focused upon, community segments to be reached, how to influence decision making and social norms, the balance between mass communication and personal contact and the intervention methods to be used. Belief based analyses can also be used as part of the evaluation and adaptation of campaign programmes to measure achievements and opportunities for improved delivery.


The DPI (NRE), GippsDairy and the ARC funded social research and interdisciplinary strategic planning for these campaigns. Their support throughout these processes was very much appreciated.


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