Baseline Needs Assessment
Part of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)’s mission to protect public health is to communicate with the public about potential health risks posed by contaminants. To achieve this goal, MDH staff often prepare outreach and education materials such as information sheets, websites, and program reports. We wanted to know more about how Minnesotans educate themselves about drinking water and contaminants in drinking water so we could use what we learned to improve communication. We partnered with DeYoung Consulting to investigate what information the public gathers on drinking water and which sources the public uses for this information.
The needs assessment consisted of eleven focus groups and one set of interviews in twelve geographic locations throughout Minnesota. The participants in this study lived in communities serviced by municipal water supplies and private wells. The discussions focused on what the public:
- Generally thinks and knows about water quality
- Recently used for sources of information on drinking water
- Trusts as sources of drinking water information
- Thinks about contaminants, and what mainly concerns them about contaminants.
The results of the needs assessment show that study participants generally thought they had high quality drinking water. Most weren’t concerned about contaminants in water unless faced with a specific problem involving contaminants or if they had been told about contaminant problems by other members of the public. Many of the participants had never researched drinking water, but said that they would use city or county websites as well as the media to gather information on drinking water. The participants mainly tended to rely on local government offices as information sources, rather than looking for information on a state level.
The contractor had specific recommendations for MDH to use to improve their communication with the public. These recommendations include:
- Develop key messages for different audiences in Minnesota
- Connect with the public through various local and county organizations, and communicate through multiple types of media
- Provide best practice information for well testing and well maintenance
- Create an answer line where the public can call in to get more specific information on certain subjects.