This evaluation assesses a set of outreach resources that were created to educate the public about the use of woody biomass as a source of alternative energy. These web-based and print outreach materials are the primary output of the Wood to Energy Outreach Program, and include an array of materials: fact sheets, case studies, economic analyses of the use of woody biomass in select communities, and a guide for conducting community outreach activities. The audience for the materials includes groups such as extension services, natural resource or energy professionals, community leaders and citizens. Residents of the southeast United States are the primary audience for this program, though the materials could be used broadly in the U.S. and beyond.
The development of the outreach materials involved a four-year process that progressed from content research activities to stages of formative and summative evaluation. Formative evaluation techniques included mail-in surveys, observations, focus groups and pilot tests, all used to inform the content of outreach materials and the process of outreach using these materials. During formative evaluation stages, researchers first used needs assessment techniques to identify misconceptions and needs of the public. They then assessed the quality of the completed program materials, as well as the ability of materials to increase user knowledge about woody biomass energy sources, and user confidence in using materials for community outreach. A two-stage summative evaluation used an in-person survey and semi-structured phone interviews to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the program. In summary, the evaluation results were used to improve program materials during the development phase, and to document the program successes and areas of needed improvement in the first years of outreach.