Preventing Aquatic Invasive Species through Behavior Change

about 50 people in a room cluster around tables in small groups collaborating on learning materials

The Minnesota DNR’s Invasive Species Program has embarked on an exciting project that aims to better promote the adoption of desirable aquatic invasive species (AIS) prevention behaviors and create positive social norms supporting AIS prevention in Minnesota. The products of this effort will be useful to AIS program managers. The handout Preventing AIS through Behavior Change provides a summary of the project. Learn more below!

What is Community-Based Social Marketing?

Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) is a social science approach to foster sustainable, environmentally beneficial behaviors over the long term. CBSM reaches beyond traditional information and awareness campaigns by targeting individual behaviors, bridging the gap between awareness and action. 

Steps to a Community-Based Social Marketing project include:

  1. Selecting desired behaviors
  2. Identifying barriers to and benefits of people performing desired behaviors 
  3. Developing strategies
  4. Pilot-testing strategies
  5.  Broad-scale implementation and evaluation

More information on this approach can be found at

How does CBSM apply to AIS prevention?

Behavioral science shows that there is often a gap between awareness and action. By building “community norms” around taking the right actions, everyone is more likely to adopt and consistently practice desirable AIS prevention behaviors such as Clean, Drain, and Dispose while they are out enjoying our lakes, rivers and wetlands.

As AIS program managers, knowing that information campaigns alone do not typically result in people changing their behaviors, we need to know where we can focus our limited resources to have the biggest impact. CBSM provides a step-by-step, comprehensive approach to assessing risks and identifying opportunities for long-term change. The Minnesota DNR started this process by prioritizing AIS prevention behaviors (Step 1) and identifying barriers and benefits (Step 2) to provide statewide baseline information about priority pathways, audiences, and behaviors. Now, anyone can use this information to guide their local AIS programs.

These baseline data will inform the design, pilot, and evaluation of behavior change strategies (Steps 3 and 4). Strategies should aim to remove barriers and promote benefits, making it easier for and motivating people to do the right thing.

Ultimately, this work will provide more consistent, effective and efficient ways to work with Minnesotans and visitors on this important issue (Step 5).

Identifying and prioritizing desirable behaviors (Step 1)

A full literature scan, literature scan summary, and a list of more than 150 discrete behaviors were identified for the five major pathways for AIS movement in Minnesota today.

  • Recreational watercraft
  • Live bait
  • Gear and equipment
  • Retail plant trade
  • Retail aquarium trade

A panel of experts, representing a diversity of jurisdictions and areas of expertise related to AIS, conducted a probability-impact ranking exercise. Each member ranked each behavior based on three criteria:

  • Impact: a measure of effectiveness in preventing the spread of AIS in Minnesota.
  • Uptake: likelihood of the behavior being adopted by the target audience.
  • Market potential: opportunity for growth in the number of people performing the behavior.
  • All three criteria rankings were multiplied together and rankings from all panel members were averaged to give a single “product of averages” (overall ranking) for each behavior.

The Expert Panel Session #1 Summary summarizes the ranking process (pages 5-7), how each behavior ranks within each pathway (pages 7-13), compares all the behaviors (page 28, Appendix B), and provides recommendations (page 14-18).

Identifying barriers and benefits (Step 2)

An essential component of developing an effective behavior change program is to identify the barriers and benefits associated with the targeted behavior change. The following pathways and audiences were recommended for barrier benefit research:

  • Anglers and their use of live bait and boats.
  • Shoreline property owners and their movement of previously-owned equipment (docks/lifts).
  • Aquarium and aquatic plant trade stakeholders.

Surveys and roundtable discussions 

The objectives were to: 

  • Establish a baseline of current behaviors.
  • Gauge attitudes and awareness.
  • Identify actual and perceived barriers and motivators to engaging in desired behaviors.
  • Gauge willingness to modify behaviors.
  • Understand communication and engagement preferences

These reports summarize our findings:

Barrier and Benefit Matrix 

The Barrier and Benefit Matrix summarizes the barriers and benefits associated with the target behaviors, as reported by participants in the quantitative and qualitative research conducted. Possible strategies are also identified that could help eliminate barriers and promote benefits.

Building capacity in local agencies

In October 2019, the DNR gathered local AIS experts at a two-day AIS Behavior Change Design Workshop to:

  • Review the results of the DNR’s CBSM and AIS Prevention project.
  • Have participants utilize the project results to collaboratively brainstorm behavior change strategies for the target audiences and behaviors. See their ideas in the Workshop Summary Report.
  • Have participants utilize the project results and workshop experience to inform AIS programs in their local jurisdictions. 

Moving Forward Report  (Step 3) 

The Moving Forward Report summarizes the research findings and outlines the next steps for developing and deploying behavior-based strategies to foster target behaviors that aim to prevent the introduction and spread of AIS in Minnesota. 

  • Prioritizing pathways and behaviors (pages 6-14)
  • Angler survey results, barriers, benefits, and potential strategies (pages  15-22)
  • Shoreline resident survey results, barriers, benefits, and potential strategies (pages 23-29)
  • Trade pathways research summary, barriers, benefits, and potential strategies (pages  29-35)
  • Building capacity in local agencies (pages 35-36)
  • Recommendations and next steps (pages 36-45)

These next steps will guide future work to be led by the DNR, in partnership with local agencies and organizations, industry stakeholders, statewide partners, CBSM and AIS experts, and the residents/visitors of the state.

The project team recommends that the DNR leads and facilitates the next steps shown below for developing and implementing a prioritized, scalable and replicable system of behavior-change approaches that consistently encourage social norms and adoption of desired behaviors.

AIS Prevention Program next steps for the Minnesota DNR

Flow diagram showing the following steps: design quick start pilot projects, understand social fabric and local connections, design and implement targeted campaings, design statewide AIS CBSM program, implement scalable AIS CBSM program, facilitate feedback from stakeholders, sponseor further research on pathways and behaviors, lead evaluation and continuous improvement.


Pilot projects (Step 4)

The Minnesota DNR Invasive Species Program awarded 11 Prevention Behavior Change Grants to local governments in 2020. The grants, funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, supported pilot projects that address proper bait disposal, cleaning boats, and drying docks and lifts for 21 days before being moved to another water body. The grantees designed and delivered a behavior change intervention strategy to target audiences in their local jurisdiction in 2020 and 2021 while gathering valuable data. A summary of each project’s activities and results are linked below.


What happens next?

The DNR and partners will continue to pursue CBSM Steps 3, 4, and 5 for the priority behaviors and target audiences as funds and capacity allow.

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Contact Tina Fitzgerald at [email protected] or 651-259-5146

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