Balancing short-term & long-term results

Balancing short-term & long-term results

Readers who join my email list receive a 1-question survey in their ‘welcome’ email that asks:

“What is the biggest challenge you face with motivating audiences to take conservation and environment related actions?”

This series of articles respond to a selection of these challenges that I’m sure many can relate to. They’ll cover topics of: managing conflict when engaging audiences, reaching tourists as an audience, avoiding audience fatigue, balancing results (below) and getting people to care more.

Want to get in on the ‘influencing article topics’ action? Then join the crew here.


This post is in response to one reader’s challenge on balancing the need for short-term results with longer term goals.

Results challenge: We feel that sustainable conservation-related actions are best served by developing a longer term relationship with users and audiences.

However, in a very “quick results” oriented world, it seems that wanting immediate outcomes from single campaigns is prioritized.

We are trying to balance between what are acceptable and meaningful short term results that don’t betray a long term relationship with our audience and an eventual (perhaps years) shift in world view regarding wildlife and nature.”

Achieving sustained behavior change takes a long time.

I mean, hell, we’re still running ads about buckling seat-belts and most states made it a law 35 years ago!

Beyond achieving behavior change, seeing the positive impact of said change on species, habitats and ecosystems can take even longer.

So how can we balance these longer term goals with the need to show more immediate outcomes?

Step by step

Yes, that’s a New Kids on the Block song reference. You’re welcome and I’m sorry.

There are a lot of interim steps our audiences need to take before they reach the ultimate behavior change milestone.

Some of these things are a natural part of the process, like trying the behavior for the first time to see what it’s like.

Some of them are things we ask the audience to do, like attend a workshop or training we’re hosting.

All of them are important steps that prepare the audience to tackle larger changes.

In my online course, participants create a behavior journey as part of the first lesson to map out all the various steps the audience should take.

Check out the below example of what a behavior journey can look like (note: this is a template example and not an accurate depiction of a sustainable fishing behavior journey).

Example of behavior journey

P.S. My next online course runs from September 30 through November 19, 2021. More info on what the course includes, and a link to get on the waiting list, is here.

Creating a behavior journey not only provides a comprehensive picture of what you’re asking audiences to do, it also creates a great foundation for setting interim indicators of progress and impact.

Are there any quick win steps?

Before we get into indicators, it’s worth seeing if there are any quick wins that can be added or identified as part of the longer behavior change journey.

Quick wins are actions or behaviors that may not have a direct impact on your ultimate goal, but they are realistic to achieve fairly quickly with the resources you have available.

Quick wins can be:

  • Supporting actions or “stepping stone” behaviors that need to happen first in the journey, like learning about food storage techniques that can help reduce food waste behaviors down the road.
  • Less challenging actions or behaviors that can be helpful motivators for the audience to believe that change can happen, like signing a commitment.
  • Steps you’re asking the audience to take as part of the program, like joining a series of capacity building workshops related to the behavior goal.

The intention of quick wins is to progress towards larger goals, helping prepare and empower the audience to achieve more.

Quick wins by themselves, without a larger behavioral goal at the end of the journey, won’t get us to where we need to go.

Rather, they should be used as “acceptable and meaningful short term results that don’t betray a long term relationship” (as the reader described the need for).

Short-term metrics that feed into to long-term goals

In addition to quick wins, there are other metrics that can satisfy the need to see results while also providing useful insight on how the program and target audience is progressing.


The amount of time your audience spends engaged with the message, or at an event, indicates their depth of interest and consideration.

The longer your audience spends with your content, the better!

You can measure engagement by looking at:

  • How long people spend at your event or at your booth engaging with staff
  • How many people use and display your give-aways (like bumper stickers)
  • How many people are sharing, tagging others, commenting on your social media posts (beyond just “liking” it)
  • How many people are reaching out to the organization to volunteer and/or learn more
  • How many people are showing up to events

If you’re seeing low engagement results, then it’s worth assessing if the messages or materials are catching people’s attention, and if the channels you’re using are reaching them when they’ll be most receptive to the message.


This measures how well your message approach is being received by the audience and whether it’s resulting in a positive perception of the program/behavior.

Receptiveness and affinity can be measured through quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews and is best done within a few months after new messages have circulated.

You can measure receptiveness and affinity by asking:

  • How they perceive the message and what it’s asking them to do
  • If the message makes them feel open to the idea of doing the behavior
  • If they are considering doing the behavior and why they have/haven’t done it yet
  • How they feel about the program leading the campaign (positive/negative/indifferent)
  • How likely they are to share the message with others

These questions can also help determine if there are intention-action gaps that need to be addressed in the project.

If you’re seeing low affinity, then consider if the call-to-action is clear enough (get tips on doing that here) and realistic to do. You can also use the qualitative interview time to explore what would help the audience feel more connected to the effort.


The specific behavior indicators you measure will be dependent on what you’re asking people to do in your messages. And it may require getting a bit creative in determining what progress looks like and how to measure it.

Direct correlation between messages and behavior intention/change may be hard to prove, but it’s still important to measure and identify if there are shifts or trends occurring.

You can assess progress towards behavior change by looking at:

  • Number of people who “clicked” on a call to action button and if they followed through on the action
  • Increase in donations during the campaign, if that’s an objective
  • Shifts in self-reported intentions before and after a campaign (or even before and after a meeting/workshop)
  • Number of audience members who report feeling confident in their skills to do the behavior (based on attending capacity building workshops)
  • Number of people who have acquired and/or used the product/tool needed for the behavior

If you’re not seeing progress on behavior indicators, then consider if the effort needs more time or if additional channels need to be added to increase repetition of the message.

This is just a sample of ideas and indicators that can be integrated into your plan.

The main point is that a desire to see “quick results” doesn’t have to come at the expense of a longer term plan.

Rather, interim indicators can be equally valuable to the success of the program by regularly taking stock of our audience’s engagement and progress, and adapting as needed.