One step at a time: executing social movement campaign at the pace of our audience
Bumi Kepanasan
From 2023 to 2024, in collaboration with various CSOs from all over Indonesia, C4C conducted an open-source campaign entitled “Bumi Kepanasan” to instill a sense of urgency among uninitiated social media users about policies to mitigate climate change. This is the lesson we have learned from the campaign.

One method employed by many NGOs or activists to promote social change is to design social movement campaigns. These campaigns are often conducted online in hopes of reaching a wide audience. However, campaigners frequently find themselves frustrated because campaigns that they perceive as "buzzing" don't seem to bring about any tangible change in the general public’s opinions, let alone systemic or structural ones.
It's essential to recognize that social change rarely happens immediately. It's a gradual process that requires patience, persistence, strategic planning, and realistic expectations of how humans change their behavior. Social movement campaigns should be seen as a long process of engaging the indifferent public to become citizens ready to take collective action, with different indicators of success at each stage.

Social movement campaigns are more than demonstrations and rallies

Encyclopedia Britannica describes a social movement as “a loosely organized but sustained campaign in support of a social goal, typically either the implementation or the prevention of a change in society’s structure or values.”

Social movement campaigns may aim to influence policies, recognizing that law changes can significantly impact norms and behavior. For example, advocating for environmental policies that can accelerate the adoption of renewable energy can shift corporate behavior and individual consumption patterns, ultimately impacting broader climate change mitigation efforts.

A historical example is the suffragette. Before the campaigns, women in the UK were largely shut out of politics. Laws like the Representation of the People Act 1832 only allowed men who owned property to vote, leaving women on the sidelines.
But after the tireless efforts of the suffragettes through many alleys including public rally, petitioning, and advocacy, things started to change. The Representation of the People Act 1918 was a big step forward, letting some women over 30 vote if they met certain conditions. Then, in 1928, the law was updated to give all women the same voting rights as men, lowering the voting age to 21.

Alongside these changes, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 made it illegal to discriminate against women in jobs and professions. These new laws broke down barriers and gave women more opportunities to participate fully in society.

Secondly, campaigns may target specific demographics or communities to push for behavioral change. This approach involves interventions that aim to shift attitudes and practices within these groups. For instance, a campaign to prevent youth from starting to smoke might involve educational programs in schools, targeted advertising campaigns, and smoking cessation support groups tailored to the demographics most at risk.

In essence, social change campaigns seek to address systemic issues through policy advocacy and/or targeted behavioral interventions. By understanding the interconnectedness of policy change and individual behavior, campaigners can develop more comprehensive strategies to effect meaningful and sustainable societal transformation.

Social change comes from individual changes

As we can see, the steps we need to take to change society are challenging. So naturally, people who are unfamiliar with an issue will need to go through many stages before they are willing to engage in collective action to push for social change. As an analogy, campaigners can see themselves as marketers trying to sell a new “product” that no one has known before. Therefore, by employing the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) model that is commonly used in marketing, we can envision how society progresses from exposure to an issue into taking action.

AIDA is a framework that outlines the stages individuals typically go through when exposed to a message. It consists of four key stages:
  • Attention, where the goal is to capture the audience's attention and make them aware of the message.
  • Interest, where the focus is on sustaining the audience's interest by providing relevant information and compelling arguments
  • Desire, which involves generating a desire for the product or message by appealing to emotions, values, or aspirations.
  • Action, where the ultimate goal is to inspire the audience to take a specific action, such as making a purchase or supporting a cause.
AIDA is depicted in the shape of an upside-down triangle or funnel. This illustrates the reality that the amount of people will always be reduced as we get deeper into the layers, and this is normal. It’s a natural progression that we have to expect in our campaign.

Engaging with people will always start from point zero

Research done by C4C in collaboration with Development Dialogue Asia (DDA) indicates that even for issues they care about, our society tends to be reluctant to engage in social movements. Despite individuals having concerns or interests in specific matters, they often hesitate to actively participate in collective actions aimed at addressing those concerns. However if we look at the pattern, people tend to join the action when the participation poses less risk or less effort.
In another survey that we did with Kantar Indonesia, we tested several messages about harm that will be done by global warming with various groups of respondents. In this survey, respondents preferred messages that are more profile-centric, specifically that mention their family, religion and income.

These findings show that people will always care more about the immediate issue that they can see in front of them, or issues that feel relevant to their livelihood. This is why, whenever we start a social change campaign, we need to assume that they don’t know or engage in the issue that we campaign for as much as we do and we will always start from ground zero.

From zero to hero

Let's revisit the stages of societal change from indifference to concern within the funnel of the AIDA model for social change campaigns. Here, we can observe the various stages that need to be traversed, emphasizing that campaigns should be viewed as efforts to gradually move people from one stage to the next.
Exposed to a problem

In this phase, we are talking to the people that’s currently on “ground zero”. We need to aim to reach an audience that exists outside of the echo chamber of activism. We can do this using advertising, or creative campaigns to “steal” attention and spark emotions to make them care.

This will be the longest stage because people need repeated exposure to our message so they can be provoked to take any action, so the message needs to be delivered constantly for a member of the society to be exposed to the same message. The delivery also needs to be done on a large scale because research has shown that for a social change to occur we need to change the opinion of 25% of society members. In short, we need 25% of Indonesians to be exposed to the same message at least 7 times during this phase of the campaign before we can hope for them to move to the next layer.

One thing that is also important to understand is that in this stage of the campaign, we don’t need a clear or demanding call to action because we aim for the message to linger in their mind.

Convinced that the problem is relevant

After being exposed, the public needs to be convinced that the issues they face are also faced by many other people, and are caused by systemic problems and not by some bad apples. This is essential to make them realize that they are not the only ones that are impacted by the problem and they should move together in collective action with people that share the same fate with them.

The sense of shared fate can empower people because now they know that they aren’t alone in facing their problem. This belief also plays a major role in making them trust collective actions later along the way.

Believe that they can help solving this problem

Once they are aware of the issue, they need to be made aware of their role in solving it. Informing them about the problem needs to be accompanied by presenting solutions that make them believe these can be achieved within their control.

It's essential to empower individuals by highlighting actionable steps they can take to contribute to the solution. This is why it’s important to instill a sense of ownership and responsibility in the previous phase so people are more likely to engage actively and persistently in efforts to address the issue.

Joining the action

Once the people believe that they have a role to play, they can be “captured” by NGOs/activists to participate in collective action. It is important to remember that different people have different levels of participation. So CSO needs to create various levels of activism people can engage in, starting from lighter involvement to the more demanding ones. It may include low-barrier activities such as signing petitions, attending awareness-raising events, or participating in community discussions. As individuals become more engaged and committed, they can be progressively involved in more demanding actions, such as volunteering for grassroots projects, organizing local initiatives, or participating in rallies and protests.

NGOs and activists play a crucial role in facilitating this progression, providing opportunities for meaningful engagement, offering support and resources, and ensuring the safety and well-being of participants throughout the process. By offering a range of involvement options and respecting individuals' comfort levels and boundaries, campaigners can effectively mobilize diverse segments of society and harness their collective power for social change.

Campaigner need to decide when to move to the next phase

While it’s always safe to assume that we start our campaign from point zero, we can never use assumption again as the campaign goes on. The only way to know whether our message has caused any effects in society is by doing periodical research to see if there are any changes in our audience’s thoughts and actions. This data will help us make informed decisions in our campaign for a more efficient campaign.

At the end of the day, the key for successful public campaigns is thorough planning based on empirical data and realization that each stage has different indicators of success/not. With careful steps, we can tailor our approaches and adjust our strategies quickly to bring upon changes that we would like to see.
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