September 13, 2013
Advocacy, ultimately, is about persuading people to think and/or behave differently. In the July 2013 New Yorker article “Slow Ideas”, the surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande explores why some innovations spread fast, and how to speed the ones that don’t. (For example, the introduction of anesthesia during surgery caught on in months, yet the medical profession took decades to adopt sterile surgical practices.) Interpreting “innovation” as “ideas”, the article has some relevant lessons for advocacy. For example, as Gawande notes,
In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions.
One key point, it seems, is people.
Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.
As any honest evaluator will tell you, advocacy success often alchemistic. At the same time, we can identify some critical elements in that alchemy. Investing in social processes, and engaging spokespeople, can be overlooked in this ‘turnkey’ solution era. Successful campaigns happen not just because of viral videos, but because people talk about them and have something to do in response. Translating Gawande’s point to advocacy, a critical component is doing something very old-fashioned: talking to people.
You can read “Slow Ideas” at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/07/29/130729fa_fact_gawande