Spoken word works best, biosecurity researcher finds

24-May-2013

Dr Paul Royce
Dr Paul Royce ... "personal communication is one of the most effective means for changing people’s attitudes and behaviour towards biosecurity."

Word-of-mouth is one of the most effective methods for raising awareness about biosecurity issues, a Charles Darwin University PhD graduate has found after a five-year research project in Australia’s far north-west.

Kununurra-based Paul Royce said websites, brochures, road signs and other well-known communication tools had their place as methods for disseminating information and raising awareness, but these served better as complementary channels rather than as a primary method of communication.

“There is plenty of quality information about biosecurity in the public domain but this doesn’t mean people will change their attitude or behaviour in terms of biosecurity,” Dr Royce said.

“The research shows that the use of oral, and more importantly, personal communication is one of the most effective means for changing people’s attitudes and behaviour towards biosecurity.”

Dr Royce found that the strength of relationships between people also impacts on how information is shared and whether it is discarded, discounted or considered to be authentic.

“Trust the person and you’re more likely to trust the information they provide you with,” he said.

“Tourists are more likely to trust information from a tour operator or a caravan park manager while young Indigenous people are more likely to listen to the stories, advice or wisdom of a respected elder,” he said.

Similarly, an individual is more likely to take up information and change their behaviour when there is a concern or perceived concern about an incursion of pests and disease in places important to them.

“If a matter of biosecurity was likely to impact on someone’s lifestyle or livelihood, such as their home, farm, livestock or favourite fishing spot, then that person is more likely to do something about it.”

The incursion of cane toads into Western Australia provided a case in point several years ago.

Dr Royce, who will receive his PhD at the CDU graduation ceremony in Darwin today, said it was important for Kununurra and the Ord River region to remain free of pests and diseases.

“We enjoy ‘area freedom status’, which means all produce grown in the Ord River irrigation region is free from the many pests and diseases found in other parts of Australia.

“Maintaining this status means that local industry does not have to incorporate expensive post-harvest treatments and also enables greater access to national and international markets.”

Dr Royce said the study was particularly important with the recent expansion of the Ord River irrigation area to incorporate potentially greater levels of produce as well as our proximity to the Northern Territory and Indonesia.

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