Every year the state spends millions of kroner on public information campaigns, on topics as diverse as urging Norwegians to eat more vegetables to observing speed limits. New research suggests it’s all a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“At best it’s doubtful that people will really learn anything from reading a brochure,” Niklas Jakobsson of the state welfare research agency NOVA told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We can’t, at any rate, expect that.”
NOVA researchers had studied whether Norwegians who received information from welfare agency NAV about pensions actually remember what they were told. Jakobsson said the researchers were surprised that those who received and read the campaign literature neither comprehended it nor had a basis to learn more later.
“We thought that when folks read the material they would learn at least a little, and have a better basis for learning more later,” he told NRK. “But our results show that they read the material, learned a bit but had forgotten it just four months later.”
Subsidizing the advertising industry
Others said the state information campaigns on simpler issues than pensions, like the roadside warnings urging motorists to remember to use their seatbelts, also have little effect and mostly only subsidize the advertising industry. “It wasn’t the years of public health warnings against smoking that got people to stop smoking,” noted researcher Runar Døving. “It was the laws restricting and later prohibiting smoking.” In the case of speed limits, so many motorists continue to drive too fast that state highway authorities are setting up more cameras and equipment that monitor speed over a certain distance and automatically issue fines to those caught exceeding the posted limit.
Guro Ranes of the state highway department (Statens vegvesen) agreed that public information campaings have little effect on their own. She defended the department’s use of more than NOK 20 million (USD 2.4 million) a year on public information campaigns, though, in conjunction with increased traffic control and monitoring campaigns.
While the NOVA researchers think such money can be used more effectively, Ranes contended that just one human life is worth around NOK 35 million. “As long as we can save one life on the roads a year, it’s worth every krone,” she said.