River Source suggests 5 steps for people to take action and make positive change on an issue that affects them and their surrounding community. This model presents a series of actions that will guide you through the processes to achieve successful change in environmental issues.  We’ve provided a description and an example of the various actions.

Action 1: Investigate the issue.

The first step is to become aware about the causes, impacts and threats about the issue that you want to act upon.  This may require gathering more information and talking to people to understand what is causing the problem.  For instance, some people may look at an eroding bank of a stream and decide that the bank needs to be stabilized.  But if you don’t know why the bank is eroding then any work you do may not be effective.   You might discover that the streambank is eroding because of a home or road built very close to the stream that is causing high amounts of stormwater runoff to run down the slope towards the streambank and make the bank unstable.  In this case, finding ways to slow the water down near the home or road or divert to an area where it won’t affect the streambank will be critical to solving the problem.

You might be concerned about water quality, air quality, soil loss or erosion, loss of natural riparian vegetation, or how to adapt to drought.  In this example we will look at how to address a threat to water quality in the form of  trash in the river.

Action 2: Research methods and policies that affect the issue.

What methods will be the most effective to address the issue?  Has anyone done this before and what methods did they use? Ideally you’ll want to use methods that have shown to work but sometimes we must experiment if there are no examples.

Students can research sources of trash, ways to minimize trash, and any laws that might pertain to throwing trash or laws to limit trash in the river.  Look on the web to look for campaigns to reduce trash in the river, ways that people can reduce their consumption of trash-generating materials, and the kinds of regulations and enforcement of laws to prevent dumping in your town and in other cities.

Action 3: Set goals for your action and choose an alternative to achieve the goals of your action.

Set goals for your project in terms of the results you’d like to achieve and examine the alternatives to achieve your goals.  Have you considered what if we do nothing? Determine what action will be best to address the problem as most environmental problems are complex.

An example of goal is to reduce the amount of dog waste on river banks and plastic thrown in the river by 75% in the next year.  Some alternatives could be to put dispensers for plastic bags for people to pick up after their dogs and trash cans by the river, to recruit volunteers to patrol the area  with bags picking up trash, and/or put up signs encouraging people to not litter and notifying people about public of laws.  Also, you can consider the “no action” alternative — what will happen if we don’t act — what will the trash in river look like?

Action 4: Develop a plan of action and implement that plan.

A well-developed plan is important to ensure that you designed and created a plan of action that will help you accomplish your goals. Include a way to measure success in your action plan.

An action plan will include steps to take that will lead to the results you want.  You might talk to city officials about trash in the river, develop a monitoring to count dog waste and plastic pollution in and around the river , work with citizen groups to educate ways to decrease trash the river, place trash cans, limit access to cars or trucks that often dump trash. Include a step to measure your success in reaching your measurable results — for example, “we will take photos before and after the clean-up and will weigh the amount of trash collected,” or “we will do a monthly survey of a 1/4 mile of river to count the number of plastic and dog waste pollution and report it back the neighbors.”

Action 5: Analyze and report effects of the action.

Discuss the impact that was made, the successes from the action, and suggest furthers actions if effort  is required to reach goal.  Answer the question, “was my action successful in changing the issue?”

For example, “A reduction of trash in the river was seen following implementation of action plan as shown in the photos after the clean up and by a survey 1 week afterwards which showed 90% reduction of unburied dog poop and plastic litter.  4 trash cans were placed along the river and the city staff agreed to check and empty them every 2 weeks.  We took photos before and after clean up. We weighed the amount of trash picked up during the clean-up and compared to weight trash after clean-up. We were successful in reducing trash along the river.”