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Educating Residents Virtually: Mecklenburg’s NaCo Award Winning Program

January 26, 2022

By Maitri Meyer, Founder, Recycling Educators and Jeffrey Smithberger, P.G., Mecklenburg County NC Solid Waste Director

An engaged group of solid waste administrators, outreach educators, and consultants recently participated in a SWANA webinar titled, “Virtual Outreach Education: A NaCo Award Winner Case Study.” Attendees were eager to hear how Mecklenburg County, NC Solid Waste quickly converted in-person presentations and MRF tours into safe and accessible virtual webinars. We encourage everyone to watch the full recording and reach out to the presenters to discuss further. As a service to our members, the presenters wrote this article to highlight some of the key takeaways.

Meckleberg_CANCELLED Earth DayEarly in 2020 most of us believed COVID-19 would be a short-term inconvenience with little impact on how we offer public education and outreach services long-term. Wow! Hindsight is 20/20.

Mecklenburg County Solid Waste staff, like most of you, were busy preparing for numerous events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day when we first heard about the “Corona virus” sweeping across Asia. Things were going well. By mid-March, we had 26 in-person presentations scheduled for various community groups.

Unfortunately, “Corona” was sweeping across the US and before we knew it, our County Manager issued a 21-day stay-at-home order. All of our upcoming plans had to be re-evaluated. Initially, we thought we had no choice but to cancel all events and lose the opportunity to educate over 1,000 residents.

Then, we raised the question, “What if we could convert our presentations into online webinars?”

The answer was, “Yes!” Once we committed to the task, the challenge had to be completed swiftly because some presentations were scheduled for early April. Luckily, we had the resources to be nimble and got it done in less than a month.

Our educational outreach events have since been 100% virtual. Two years ago, there was not yet a lot of “airtime” competition (i.e. Zoom fatigue.) In addition, people were stuck at home, so the webinars were a welcomed diversion. Participation and engagement were high, and Earth Day 2020 was a huge success.

We know we are not unique and municipal solid waste organizations globally faced similar challenges. With a healthy mix of good luck and good management we were able to pivot quickly and deliver a quality product we thought might be worth sharing.

20201 NaCo Award Color2Therefore, we wrote up the details of our virtual programming efforts for submission to the National Association of Counties (NaCo) 2021 Achievement Awards in the category of Civic Education and Public Information. In May 2021, we were delighted to hear our entry, “COVID-Proof Virtual Waste Reduction & Recycling Educational Outreach” was chosen as a winner. [Please request a copy of our NaCo award submission for more info.]

With confirmation from NaCo that what we created was unique and award-worthy, we asked SWANA leaders if the membership might be interested in learning from our experience. It was agreed, a case study webinar was created, and almost 60 attendees listened attentively on January 19th

Many SWANA members registered specifically to determine if a similar approach could work in their communities. Participants’ burning questions included:

  • How did Mecklenburg County do it?
  • Was the curriculum designed and outreach program managed by County staff?
  • How much did it cost?
  • What are the technology requirements?
  • How is it promoted?
  • Is it replicatable? Do we need to recreate the whole wheel?
  • Any lessons learned to avoid?

Meckleberg_Lessons learned

The presentation answered all of these questions and more. For the whole story and answers to those questions and more, please watch the full recording (75 minutes) as this article just scratches the surface of the content shared.

To give you a preview, here is the presentation outline:

  • Background
  • Pre/Post Covid Outreach Activities
  • NaCo Award Overview
  • Problem, Action, Outcome
  • Steps to Pivot to Virtual Programming
  • Program Attributes: Managed by vendor, Webinar-based, Engaging curriculum, Robust technology
  • Show & Tell: Present Audience Favorite Slides
  • Best Practices/Lessons Learned (see slide above)
  • Impacts/Results (see slide below)
  • Next Steps: Request NaCo award summary & Register for an upcoming webinar
  • Q&A (contact info shared to discuss further)

For those of you curious about the impact and results of our program, here is our summary page:

Meckleberg_impacts

If there is anything the past two years has taught us is that we need to be nimble in our outreach programming. It appears virtual programming is here to stay!

If you are considering community education via e-learning, this presentation is a must listen. You are also invited to register for one of our free monthly public presentations. And, don’t forget to contact us to receive a copy of our 2021 NaCo Award submission for more background. Feel free to reach out to either of us to learn more.

About the Authors

Maitri Meyer

Maitri Meyer

Ms. Meyer owns and operates Recycling Educators, a certified woman-owned, small business that offers educational outreach services to municipalities. She has a diverse and global business background of 20+ years, now focused on sustainability, waste reduction, and recycling. RecyclingEducators@ActuallyDone.com

 

 

Jeff SmithbergerJeffrey Smithberger, P.G.

Mr. Smithberger has 35+ years’ management and leadership experience in the solid waste industry. He currently serves as the Director of Solid Waste for Mecklenburg County in North Carolina after leading the solid waste department in Fairfax County, Virginia for 28 years. Jeff proudly served on the SWANA International Board for almost 10 years. SolidWaste@MeckNC.gov

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