Elephant Diaries: Leveraging Audience

Regular readers will have noticed that I’m a fan of David Zetland, the water economist. He has a great blog that is widely read in the water wonk community. Reading it has helped me a great deal in understanding some key economic principles that underly water issues I follow.

But there’s a problem. A guy like Zetland in the new media ecosystem appeals to a self-selected audience of people interested in the issues he’s raising, either because they agree, or disagree and want to argue, or are just trying to understand. But for his work to have the necessary reach to influence policy outcomes, Zetland’s ideas need to reach beyond the self-selected water wonk world. How to do this?

By infecting people like me with his ideas, or perhaps, my colleague Sean Olson, who wrote about water pricing in this morning’s newspaper:

The logic goes that people notice slight increases in their water bills, but it isn’t enough of a bother to change their watering habits. But when a bill three times the size of their last one shows up, they burn the hose and post a guard at the bathroom door. “If the price is high enough, people will pay attention,” water economist David Zetland said in a recent interview.

Sean pushes Zetland’s message beyond the people who would not self-select.


  1. Hey! Thanks for the compliment! It’s indeed hard to push against the door on water stuff — not with the general public (who hate higher prices at first blush but then quickly see the reason — avoided rationing), but with the water managers. They are insulated in their monopolistic cocoons and have little incentive to consider new ideas…

    Of course, politicians or the public can get angry and “make” the managers pay attention to new ideas, but the managers just trot out some kinda “we know what we are doing; do you trust an ACADEMIC?” rationalization that gives pause… and it’s back to business as usual.

    I am trying to educate water managers with incentives (better water pricing = fewer customer complaints) but that’s a distant benefit compared to the cost of learning a new way of thinking (most are engineers, not economists).

    I’m open to ANY suggestions of how to get the word out, but I’ve got to say “thanks God” that I can at least blog. If I had to be get tenure first, we’d all dry up and die before I had the “platform” from which to proclaim these Econ 1 (NOT 101) ideas…

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