Improved sustainable agriculture outreach through behavior-change focused outreach toolkit

Progress report for ENC20-194

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $86,391.00
Projected End Date: 03/30/2023
Grant Recipient: National Wildlife Federation
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Adam Reimer
National Wildlife Federation
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Project Information


This project continues efforts to improve sustainable agriculture outreach through a social science approach and an understanding of behavior change. Traditional outreach efforts have been based on spreading technical information about sustainable agriculture practices with the hope of convincing farmers to adopt them in their operations. This information-deficit model ignores key social and psychological aspects of decision making, limiting the effectiveness of outreach. The National Wildlife Federation has developed programs that provide training and support for conservation professionals to incorporate the social-psychological components of behavior change into outreach approaches. These programs, the Conservation (formerly Cover Crop) Champions and Grow More, provide in-person and online trainings to leading farmers and natural resource professionals actively engaged in conservation outreach. Our approach has successfully changed outreach behavior, with the majority of training participants incorporating new outreach or messaging strategies within three months of participation.


Building off the success of these programs, this project seeks to deepen the effectiveness of our in-person trainings by developing a conservation outreach toolkit that strengthens the use of social science principles in outreach efforts. The toolkit, hosted online, will include multimedia tutorials, video testimonials, webinars, as well as planning tools that provide guidance on incorporating behavior change strategies into strategic planning, communication design, event development and implementation, and ongoing evaluation. These resources will build off the in-person training approach to both reinforce key lessons (supporting changes in outreach behavior of the outreach professionals themselves) and support new outreach strategies to help participants reach new audiences of farmers.

Project Objectives:

The outreach toolkit developed through this project will encompass the following products:


  • Tutorial videos: 6-10 short (60-90 second) multimedia tutorials explaining key behavior change principles, farmer psychology, and effective communication strategies. These videos will be stand-alone modules that allow for quick engagement by conservation professionals seeking further information provided during in-person training workshops. Tutorials will provide more detailed explanation of key concepts and concrete outreach strategies through quick, focused videos that use graphics, visuals, music and dialogue. Videos will be designed to provide information that can stand apart from the trainings, but will also reinforce and strengthen key lessons for individuals who participated in the workshops.
  • Effective outreach testimonials: 3 to 5 testimonial videos (3-5 minutes in length) that demonstrate examples of effective outreach from conservation professionals and farmers. These videos will highlight successes and personal experiences implementing outreach strategies presented in trainings and this toolkit. Videos will be documentary style with high quality interviews, creative b-roll footage, graphics, narration, dialogue and music. For example, videos will highlight conservation outreach strategies that leverage motivations for middle adopter farmers, such as preservation of farming legacy or stewardship values.
  • Planning tools: Outreach professionals and farmer leaders often need supporting tools and templates for developing outreach programming. We are developing a series of planning tools and templates to assist with putting behavior change and communication principles into action. These will include worksheets to guide professionals in developing strategic outreach plans, identifying audiences and their underlying motivations, communications planning, event planning, and ongoing evaluation.
  • Effective communication examples: A variety of communication methods and frames are needed to effectively reach broad audiences. NWF provides guidance and direction on innovative messaging through our Conservation Champion and Grow More programs. This toolkit will provide more examples of these messaging approaches and how they can be implemented across a variety of communication channels, including traditional media (radio, newspapers, newsletters) and social media. We aim to provide 10-12 of these examples.
  • Evaluation tools: As with planning, outreach professionals we work with often express the need for guidance on evaluating their outreach programming. Based on NWF’s programmatic experience, we are developing guidance for evaluating outreach impact. These resources will include explanation of various evaluation methods, worksheets and tools to assist with developing program-specific evaluation materials, and templates and examples of evaluation materials. We aim to provide 6-8 of these examples.
  • Other written materials, including fact sheets and whitepapers, that provide the underlying strategy and scientific grounding of the behavior change approach. We will develop at 3-5 of these supporting documents.
  • Online hosting platform: These outreach materials will be hosted through the NWF sustainable agriculture website ( and promoted through NWF social media and program channels, including Facebook and Conservation Champions listservs.


Use and Evaluation:

The outreach toolkit will be used in at least three Grow More trainings, with 10-15 participants in each training, for a total of 30-45 outreach professionals. These trainings will be held in at least two different states to ensure we incorporate perspectives from across the North Central region. In addition, we will utilize the toolkit as part of the 2021 and 2022 Cover Crop Champions programs, each with an estimated 80 participants. Through follow-up surveys we anticipate use of the toolkit by 250 outreach professionals, including past and current Grow More workshop participants, and past and current Cover Crop Champions. Pilot testing of materials in our existing training programs will allow us to assess what elements work, which need revision, and how toolkit materials can enhance existing trainings. Google Analytics and YouTube statistics will be used to triangulate usage.


Progress Update:

September 2020-December 2021


The NWF sustainable agriculture team has made significant progress toward conceptualizing an outreach toolkit that will enhance existing capacities of conservation organizations to deliver effective outreach on soil health practices throughout the North Central region. We have convened an advisory committee, comprised of three outreach professionals, one farm landowner, and one farm operator. These advisors represent a variety of states as well, including Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin. We have met quarterly with this advisory committee and they have provided invaluable feedback on the structure and components of this outreach toolkit. We have modified the structure and components of our toolkit based on this feedback. We have updated the materials we are currently developing in the Project Objectives section of this report.


Our team has been developing these materials with the guidance of the advisory committee. We have collected video footage to support tutorial and testimonial production, including conducting on-farm interviews with multiple farmers and outreach professionals. These materials are being drafted in preparation for pilot testing through Grow More workshops to be held in 2022. In addition, we are beginning to develop the online platform for hosting this workshop, including exploring other examples of online resource kits to support a wide variety of programming.


The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has provided some challenges to this project. We have had to delay in-person meetings for this project, including postponing training workshops to pilot test materials. We are hopeful that we can safely resume in-person meetings in Spring 2022 and can seek opportunities to solicit feedback from outreach professionals.


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  • Jessica Espenshade
  • Luke Petersen


Educational approach:

This project incorporates a variety of approaches to support learning and application by target audiences. NWF provides outreach training through in-person workshops with outreach professionals through the Grow More and Conservation Champions programs. These in-person workshops use multiple learning approaches to provide educational content, reinforce key lessons, and support diverse learning styles. These include presentations by NWF outreach staff, small-group breakouts, large group discussions, and focused planning sessions. This project seeks to expand on this approach by providing ongoing learning opportunities, multimedia materials, templates for applying concepts to outreach programming, and examples of innovative conservation outreach. These multimedia resources allow for individuals with different learning styles to engage material at their own pace. This toolkit will be hosted through on online platform that will provide a comprehensive menu of resources so professionals, farmers, and conservation organizations can access resources that meet their programming needs. We plan to continue to develop toolkit resources beyond the timeline of this project, including continuing to update and add resources to meet the ongoing needs of outreach professionals across the region.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Grow More workshops

Provide outreach and communications training to conservation professionals.
Pilot test outreach support materials.


These workshops are designed to provide social science-based guidance on outreach approaches to reach new farmer audiences with conservation information. These workshops include educational content developed by National Wildlife Federation staff, breakout discussions and exercises to allow participants to practice  communication principles, and planning sessions to apply concepts to their outreach objectives. These workshops will also allow opportunities to test outreach toolkit materials, providing valuable feedback about their design and applicability to outreach programming. 

Outcomes and impacts:

These workshops will increase participant knowledge of farmer behavior change and conservation communication principles, increase participant confidence in applying these concepts to outreach programming, and increase use of novel strategies to reach new audiences (including non-conservation adopting producers and traditionally underserved agricultural stakeholders). Applying these strategies in outreach programming following these workshops is intended to increase conservation adoption among farmers. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

5 Consultations
20 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools

Participation Summary:

1 Extension
1 Nonprofit
2 Agency
1 Farmers/ranchers
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.