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NGO Marketing & Semiotics

Marketing is hard. This is equally true for organisations and marketers in non-profit and private sectors. It should be easy, but it is difficult. One of the main reasons is because consumers – or patients or the general public, depending on how you want to characterise them – have minds of their own. They have free will and they often frustrate marketers by not doing what is wanted of them. Examples:

  • They don’t donate to your charity, but they donate to rival charities.
  • Health and Safety notices have to be erected to control their behaviour. People often ignore these notices.
  • They keep trying to treat colds with antibiotics.
  • They won’t stay indoors under lockdown, even when the risks of coronavirus are explained to them.

This is a tricky situation but in research we do have a way to handle it. There’s a powerful tool in the box of market research methods. It’s great when you are faced with intractable behaviour.

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, which importantly includes words, like “antibiotics”, for example. It is a research method which investigates the meaning of signs and examines how they are connected to local, cultural values. In turn, this helps both charitable and profit-making organisations to design better communications.

There are three tips I can share with you today, or we could even call them three stages, as they work in a sequence. They are actions that I take in my daily work as a provider of semiotic research and marketing strategy. You can use them too; here they are.

Step 1. Identify keywords in consumer talk. Clearly, when users of the NHS pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics, the word “antibiotic” is functioning as a powerful tool in those conversations. In another data set, for example if we look at the public talking about lockdown non-compliance, we might find that words like “party”, “jogging” and even specific terms like “kebab” are all achieving powerful effects in conversation.

Step 2. Identify the function of those words. On inspection of your data, perhaps you conclude that patients are quite prone to feeling disempowered in conversations with doctors and anyone in medical uniform. Maybe the interactions show that speakers are using technical terms such as “antibiotics” as part of an attempt to gain or maintain power, or to get the doctor to take them seriously. Observe the way that the function of words expresses a consumer need.

Step 3. Design marketing communications which acknowledge the need and work with it rather than trying to override it (as with disobeyed Health and Safety notices). A great example is found in a recent ad by Nike, a brand which is seriously affected by the contraction of sport and outdoor games during the pandemic. Nike knows that its customers would rather be playing football outside, which cannot happen, but it also knows why people want to do that. What rewards are they getting? The rewards are things like a sense of achievement, approval and recognition from others. Nike offers consumers its extensive suite of indoor, online training opportunities as a worldwide gathering of athletes: a place where the sought-after rewards are even more abundantly available than they were before the virus.

Semiotics is a research method and it is used by charities, NGOs and other third sector organisations as well as private businesses. It decodes the language and then the behaviour of the public and finds solutions to marketing problems. Semiotics includes a large suite of techniques that any researcher can learn to use and now a self-guided course is available in a new book. “Using Semiotics in Marketing: How to achieve consumer insight for brand growth and profits” (Rachel Lawes, 2020, Kogan Page) is available worldwide now via local book stores, Amazon and koganpage.com

Learn more about this on our latest webinar. You can now access the “Standing Out From The Crowd: NGO Marketing and Semiotics” webinar recording and slides on-demand!

About the Author: 

Dr Rachel Lawes, Owner Lawes Consulting Ltd.

From Panic To Pivot

Pivoting your organization’s operations during a global crisis is no simple matter. On top of event cancellations, funding setbacks, and everything in between, there’s the basic reality that your staff and stakeholders have their own unique personal obstacles occurring concurrently to the evolving tasks at hand. In our webinar session, hosted by the ESOMAR Foundation, we set some clear and actionable goal posts for NPOs struggling to find an equilibrium in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic with the lives and livelihoods of nonprofit professionals in mind. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation:

Current Realities for NPOs

You’re not alone: charitable organizations across disciplines and sectors are facing unforeseen challenges during the pandemic, the impacts of which will likely be lasting.

  • CNN reports that the pandemic could mean the end for many NPOs and charities as their major fundraising events are cancelled and usual sources of donation income are put on hold.
  • As of March 2020, Nonprofit Quarterly was reporting 86% of NPOs had already made changes to their programming, including fundraising events.
  • Charity Navigator reported that, as of mid-April, 83% of nonprofits reported they are suffering financially. Of those nonprofit organizations experiencing financial hardship, the average expected decline in revenue is 38% for the April -June time period.

In preparation for our presentation we asked a number of nonprofits, ranging in mission and aid sector, for feedback on their current challenges relating to COVID. By and large, adjusting programming to a remote environment has been the most difficult, with one respondent stating, “our biggest challenge has been to move F2F (face to face) to digital.” In this same vein, event cancellations, and especially fund-raising focused events, are going to have major effects on organizational budgets. Most respondents said something along the lines of, “we are fundraising but have changed our tactics considerably.” And, out of all of the responses we received, most mentioned having already adjusted their budget to prepare for the challenges now and ahead with some saying they’ve had to adjust as much as 100%.

The Fundraising Pivot

Many of us are unsure how to move forward with fundraising or even if fundraising is possible right now. While generating revenue isn’t ideal at this time, it’s not impossible but it will require a rethinking of the tactics we’ve used in the past. For those in a major gifts capacity, the ideal turn should be toward donor retention and relationship building. The Chronicle of Philanthropy echoes this idea, saying, “building and keeping strong connections with our donors by crafting clear, thoughtful plans and increasing individual outreach is crucial.” For this reason, taking steps to solidify and strengthen donor relations is first and foremost on our pivoting plan. Some tips for getting these conversations going:

  • Reach out to check in from a place of empathy.
  • You decide the cadence of communication based on your relationships.
  • Talk about them, not you. Your needs will come later.
  • Gather points of view to inform your planning.

Once your donors have been looped into your organization’s communications, move on to your community. Everyone in your organization’s eco-system has something to contribute to your plan of action moving forward. Stakeholders and Boards are especially critical at this time; their expertise and diverse backgrounds can be leveraged to assist with organizational leadership and funding tactics. Similarly, your volunteers have an important, on-the-ground perspective of the most pressing needs impacting your community and their insight can inform your planning in an indelible way. Be creative with the venues you use to connect with these communities — social media, emails, phone calls; whatever is least likely to alienate and most likely to create valuable touchpoints for future engagement.

Budgeting and planning will rely heavily on the feedback you’ve just gleaned. Take a realistic approach when analyzing your current revenue streams and adjusting your budgets; know that you’ll likely continue to adjust your budget as conditions evolve. Pay close attention to your bottom line here and develop a number of possible approach scenarios addressing the myriad ways events could continue to unfold—and impact—the way you operate. Keep the lines of communication between your marketing teams and financial decision-makers open; the way you communicate as an organization will have a direct impact on the way your community responds to your needs. Remember: you control the story you tell right now about your nonprofit; make sure it’s in line with the information you’ve gathered.

Finally, take the leap to digital. With so many orgs operating on a limited staff, digital options can provide an extra hand where one is lacking. That might look like putting some extra funding into website integrations or taking advantage of automatic invoicing — whatever lightens the load and quickens the pace by which community need is addressed.

 The Programming Pivot

Our big takeaway when it comes to a pivot to online programming is that moving things online isn’t just a temporary fix; it’s an investment in the long-term reach of your organization’s message. If your organization has been reluctant to try online programming, this is your wake-up call, not just for diversifying your offerings but also for reaching an increasingly global community. While we’re all experiencing waves of webinar fatigue, by and large, you have the most captive online audience for your message right now and it is THE time to get them engaged and involved with the work you do.

In our aforementioned survey of fellow non-profit organizations, we found that, overwhelmingly, event cancellations and remote programming adjustments were the biggest obstacle organizations said they are currently facing. Issues such as maintaining client relationships and content sensitivity were especially popular when we asked what obstacles were limiting online programming offerings. While a true programming pivot is going to be different for everyone there’s one thing we do know: it won’t just be webinars. While webinars are a useful tool in the online programming pivot game plan, they just don’t cut it when it comes to recreating the experience of in-person events in toto. Your job now, as the pilot of your organization’s programming pivot, is to uncover what makes your events special, engaging, and impactful and then work to find the online tools that will mirror or enhance those qualities—not just the content but the feeling and overall experience of being part of your larger mission.

How can one home in on those qualities and figure out what your community needs from your organization right now? One easy way is to make those open channels of communication we described in our fundraising pivot work as pipelines for community feedback and insights. If you have a community Facebook or LinkedIn group you can post a brief survey or ask open-end questions to get a conversation going on the platform which will double as an engagement opportunity for your community. You might also check in with any internally facing stakeholder groups like volunteers, staff, and board members and just ask very directly what would be helpful to them at this time. All of these communication points need to work both ways: they should deliver information that informs your pivot, but they should also keep your extended community engaged with your mission and feel supported by your cause.

Once you know what your community needs and why they’re staying engaged with your cause, it’s time to figure out what online platforms are going to recreate as much of your in-person event experience and/or bring new benefits to your community’s continued engagement. One example of this is leveraging the social media platforms you might already have to become engagement spaces/event spaces…with a dash of creative problem-solving. During our presentation an attendee asked how an NPO that relies on exhibitor space to feature sponsors might make a programming pivot — in this case, a well-oiled social media account can provide a venue, help boost sponsor branding, and have a lasting value for your community all in one. Stakeholders and marketing teams too will have much to offer when it comes to bringing things online; let the connections and gifts that your board members bring to the table inform the way you perform outreach on these new platforms.

We truly feel that a pivot IS for NPOs and charities of every shape and size but it will take an evolutionary approach, a community-focused response, and plenty of grace for organizational staff and support alike to get there. Focus on what will maximize impact without asking for too much additional bandwidth from those implementing changes and rely on your Board to drive the decisions that risk long-term organizational health. Organizations that work as a collective force will be the ones who walk through the line of fire and come out stronger on the other side.

Missed the webinarYou can now access the “From Panic to Pivot: A Practical Guide to Remote Programming (…and Fundraising) for NPOs and Charitable Organizations Operating during Times of Crisis” webinar recording and slides on-demand!

About the Author: 

Jessica Sage, Marketing and Events Director at Women in Research

Research Got Talent Australia Announces Winner

MEDIA RELEASE – 8 MAY 2020

The Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO) and the global ESOMAR Foundation today announced the inaugural Australian winner for the Research Got Talent Award competition.

The competition encourages young professionals to use market research and insights to support local charities and NGOs to overcome pressing social issues.

Three finalists were announced last month and the winner is Stephanie Perry from Ipsos for her entry – Reaching out to elderly Australians, in association with spur:org – that sought to address the loneliness and vulnerability that older Australians commonly experience.

The research projects in the competition aimed to assist change in a range of areas including gender inequality, access to justice and education, integration and diversity, environmental issues, and climate change. The young researchers were required to submit a project proposal about the issue facing the charity/ NGO and how they would conduct research to assist them to overcome this issue. Entries were required to reflect a relevant, innovative, and impactful research design project that assesses the organisation’s specific issue.

The other finalists were:

Stephanie Perry will now complete the project with spur:org and enter her final report in the Research got Talent global competition. Winners from each region participating in the global competition (six countries in total) will present their work to an international audience at ESOMAR Congress in September.

AMSRO Executive Director, Sarah Campbell, said: “Our judges were looking for projects that were innovative, addressed a prominent social issue and had the potential to make changes to the organisations they supported. The judges were unanimous in their decision on our Australian winner, Stephanie Perry, who delivered a clever, powerful and timely submission to address loneliness and social isolation issues with elderly people.

“We had an exceptionally strong field of entrants, many of whom addressed the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrated the incredible value of research during times of crisis, and also highlighted the depth of research talent we have in Australia. As a result, a number of the entries are likely to be implemented over the coming months, which validates the overall quality of the submissions, their worthiness and applicability. The Research Got Talent Award competition is a great avenue for young researchers who really want to make a difference.”

The Research Got Talent Award competition was open to young research professionals aged 18-35, who are AMSRO member organisation employees or work for an ESOMAR Australian-based member (individual or corporate).

The judges for Australia’s Research Got Talent Award competition include: Dianne Gardiner, CEO, Bastion Insights; Caroline Tomiczek, Director, Urbis; Lisa Lewers, CEO, Lewers; Nora Hungershoefer, LUCID; Rob McLachlan, Chair, Kantar Australia and Sally Joubert, CEO, Luma Research.

Sally Joubert, AMSRO member and ESOMAR’s Australian representative said:
The Research Got Talent award competition aims to recognise young researchers, who want to make a difference. As recently witnessed via the outpouring of support for those affected by the bushfires, Australians like to give back. This competition provides a fantastic platform to enable young researchers to support a worthy cause of their choice, while simultaneously showcasing their professional talent. We are calling on all AMSRO and ESOMAR members to support this competition and young researchers. Don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate your employees and company on the global stage”.

In support of those people affected by the recent bushfire crisis, 50% of all entry fees received were donated to The Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.

For further information:

Research Got Talent Australia 

 

Research Got Talent Australia Finalists Announced

 

The Australian finalists for the Research Got Talent Award competition, the Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO) and the global ESOMAR Foundation’s exciting new venture, were announced this week.

The competition, which has launched in Australia for the first time this year, encourages young professionals to use market research and insights to support local charities and NGOs overcome pressing social issues. The research aims to assist change in a range of areas including gender inequality, access to justice and education, integration and diversity, environmental issues and climate change. The young researchers were required to submit a project proposal about the issue facing the charity/ NGO and how they would conduct research to assist them in overcoming this issue. Entries were required to reflect a relevant, innovative, and impactful research design project that assesses the organisation’s specifc issue.

The finalists (in alphabetical order) are:

Finalists will go through to the next round of virtual judging on Wednesday 6 May 2020. One winner will be selected and entered into the Research Got Talent global competition. Winners from the global competition will take to the stage at the ESOMAR Congress to present their work to an international audience.

The competition is open to young research professionals aged 18-35, who are AMSRO member organisation employees or work for an ESOMAR Australian-based member (individual or corporate). Entrants can work individually or in a pair.

Sarah Campbell, AMSRO Executive Director, said: “The Research Got Talent Award competition is a great avenue for young researchers who want to make a difference. Our judges were looking for innovative projects that addressed a prominent social issue and had the potential to make changes to the organisations they supported.  We had an exceptionally strong field of entrants, many of which addressed the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrated the incredible value of research during times of crisis. These young researchers have submitted excellent ideas and we look forward to the final round.”

Australian judges for Research Got Talent include Dianne Gardiner, CEO | Bastion Insights; Caroline Tomiczek, Director | Urbis; Lisa Lewers, CEO | Lewers; Nora Hungershoefer, CS Manager | LUCID; Rob McLachlan, Chair | Kantar Australia and Sally Joubert, CEO | Luma Research.

AMSRO and ESOMAR would like to acknowledge and thank all of the entrants for their outstanding submissions and their respective member organisations for supporting this new joint initiative.  We would also like to thank the generous sponsors for helping make the Australian competition possible – Lewers, Luma Research and LUCID.

In support of those people affected by the bushfire crisis, 50% of all entry fees received will be donated to The Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.

 

About AMSRO

The Association of Market & Social Research Organisations (AMSRO) is the peak body for the market and social research, data and insights industry. AMSRO works in partnership with its company members, plus privacy authorities, business, government and the community to protect and promote the industry and uphold the highest ethical and privacy market and social research standards. Since its establishment in 1989, AMSRO has grown to more than 90 members, who employ over 5,000 people, representing 70% of the industry’s annual (data collection) turnover.  In 2003, AMSRO pioneered its own privacy code for members, which won an Australian Privacy Award in 2009.  www.amsro.com.au

About the ESOMAR Foundation

The ESOMAR Foundation is a charity representing the Market, Social and Opinion Research industry. Our industry has a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be applied to every aspect of society to ensure a more transparent, reliable and sustainable world. The ESOMAR Foundation believes that a fair, just and peaceful society is deserved by all and recognizes the immense promise that the research community offers to those striving to achieve these goals on a global level. The ESOMAR Foundation brings volunteers and resources together to execute projects to help and support charities and NGO’s to achieve their aims. Its aim is to encourage the usage of more insightful and inventive research and increase the overall impact of market research in building a better world.

For further information:

Sarah Campbell | Executive Director | AMSRO

 

Driving earlier diagnosis and care for Alzheimer’s disease

Identifying pathways to change behavior in the U.S. healthcare system

5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.  By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million.  It’s currently the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. While early diagnosis can help, only 50% of those living with the disease are diagnosed. And only 16% of seniors receive regular cognitive assessments. To advance the mission of supporting more patients and families battling this disease, a key objective of the Alzheimer’s Association is to help across the health system to achieve earlier diagnosis.

To accomplish this goal, a broader understanding of the Alzheimer’s system was required. To offer this systemic perspective, it was necessary to comprehensively understand how two domains intersect.  The first being how families deal with the onset of the disease, pursue diagnosis and make decisions for care between patient and caregiver over time and progression. The second being how and where the primary health care system engages across this landscape.

The research and strategies developed were produced in collaboration with UPSTREAM, an innovation consultancy based in Austin, Texas, USA with significant experience understanding health systems and exploring opportunities for innovation that improve the lives of all stakeholders.

The research was based on system-journey methodology customized for this engagement. This technique leverages visual elements to empower a respondent to provide a rich mapping of the progress they made (or did not make) as they traversed their decisions regarding Alzheimer’s or dementia. The result is a visual map from each respondent indicating the milestones they crossed and elements that served as drivers of progression and those that served as barriers to inhibit them.

This technique was deployed qualitatively across 4 respondent groups. (1) People living with the disease (2) Caregivers in the family/personal ecosystem that are aiding the person living with the disease (3) Primary care providers engaged with patients facing the disease or symptoms and (4) Healthcare system administrators tasked with developing services to respond to patient needs.

Synthesized together, the results from each respondent group formed a singular map of the holistic Alzheimer’s system that revealed how each stakeholder integrates and the role that they play. Ultimately, this resulted in a single perspective with findings that align stakeholders to a common understanding of the challenges and opportunities to drive earlier diagnosis.

The results were further assessed by other stakeholders that validated the framework and prioritized the resulting opportunities for impact.

The research resulted in a new framework to understand the system of Alzheimer’s. This output was the first of its kind in establishing a single reference that revealed the roles of multiple stakeholders and how their interactions with the rest of the system can positively impact those with the disease or unintentionally inhibit them. This framework describes the system-journey of Alzheimers across 6 distinct stages, each defined by a milestone that signifies progress.

Equipped with a new understanding of the system, the research revealed 4 categories of barriers to earlier diagnosis that are currently present in the system – (1) Knowledge (2) Capacity (3) Incentives (4) Beliefs.  Specific findings were informed across these categories and indicated how the barrier manifests in the system, which stakeholders are involved, and where they appear across the spectrum of the framework. This provided a specific and actionable landscape of the areas where innovation initiatives could intervene to further achieve the objective of earlier diagnosis.

This research output has allowed the Alzheimer’s Association to advocate for several distinct challenges that the Alzheimer’s community can directly address to achieve earlier diagnosis of the disease and thus improved support and outcomes. These challenges are relevant for the broader healthcare system and provides others with a roadmap for change and clarity on the levers that will be most effective in driving that change. Furthermore, this common framework serves as a basis for defining metrics for the impact that various interventions will provide. The broadest impact may be that for the first time, multiple efforts can be aligned to a common perspective that optimizes the value of resources deployed towards this objective.

Efforts to directly address many of the challenges revealed by this unique research are currently underway at the Alzheimer’s Association, while others are being explored by diverse audiences across the system.

The crisis around this disease is accelerating as 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. On top of this suffering, it’s placing an unsustainable financial burden on the healthcare system and society as a whole.  In 2020, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the U.S. $305 billion.  By 2050, these costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion. The U.S. has no choice but to find more innovative opportunities to improve the system of Alzheimer’s diagnosis and care.  But before redesigning the system, we need to understand it.  That’s the impact that this project brings to the system and our society.

 

About the Author: Jeff Mulhausen, Founding Partner, Upstream Thinking, U.S.A.

 

This article is published as an entry for our Making a Difference Awards.

The 3rd edition of ESOMAR Foundation’s Making a Difference Awards are open for entries. This is a chance to applaud and reward the best examples of #marketresearch making a difference to the world’s Charities. Submit your entry here!

Research Got Talent Award Competition To Help Address Social Issues – Launches in Australia

The Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO) and the global ESOMAR Foundation announced this week an exciting new joint project, the Research Got Talent award competition, focused on encouraging young professionals to use research to address prominent social issues.

AMSRO and ESOMAR’s aim is to recognise young researchers in the industry and showcase their work on the local and global stage.

Participation in the Research Got Talent competition will also foster closer relationships between competitors, local charities and NGOs, as participants are required to nominate a charitable cause to support as part of a practical research project.

The overarching theme of the initiative is the role of market research and insights play in supporting charities and non-profit organisations to overcome relevant and meaningful social issues. The research can focus on social issues such as gender equality, access to justice, education, improving the lives of people with disabilities, environmental issues and climate change.

Sally Joubert, AMSRO member and ESOMAR’s Australian representative, said: “The Research Got Talent award competition aims to recognise young researchers who want to make a difference. As recently witnessed via the outpouring of support for those affected by the bushfires, Australians like to give back. This competition provides a fantastic platform to enable young researchers to support a worthy cause of their choice, while simultaneously showcasing their professional talent.

“We are calling on all AMSRO and ESOMAR members to support this competition and young researchers. Don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate your employees and company on the global stage.”

The competition is open to young research professionals aged 18-35 and will run from 3 February to 30 March 2020. Project proposals may adopt traditional research methods, as well as new methods, including data analytics and analysis.

Finalists will present at the AMSRO Leaders Forum in Sydney on 6 May, with one winner selected and entered into the Research got Talent global competition. Winners from the global competition will take to the stage in Toronto at the ESOMAR Congress 2020 and showcase their projects to international industry leaders.

Entries open at 9.00am on Monday 3 February 2020. For more information, visit: https://www.amsro.com.au/research-got-talent

Winners receive return flights (departing from an Australian capital city to Toronto, Canada) and free admission to the ESOMAR Congress. A cash prize is offered to the winner of the global competition.

The Research Got Talent Initiative was pioneered by market research associations in India and Hong Kong and saw great success in connecting a range of stakeholders and ultimately showcasing the positive impact of the insights sector.

To enter, visit the AMSRO Research Got Talent online portal here.

The first edition of the Research Got Talent Global initiative is coordinated globally by ESOMAR and ESOMAR Foundation and implemented locally by the following market research associations:

About AMSRO

The Association of Market & Social Research Organisations (AMSRO) is the peak body for the market and social research, data and insights industry. AMSRO works in partnership with its company members, plus privacy authorities, business, government and the community to protect and promote the industry and uphold the highest ethical and privacy market and social research standards. Since its establishment in 1989, AMSRO has grown to more than 90 members, who employ over 5,000 people, representing 70% of the industry’s annual (data collection) turnover.  In 2003, AMSRO pioneered its own privacy code for members, which won an Australian Privacy Award in 2009.  www.amsro.com.au

About the ESOMAR Foundation

The ESOMAR Foundation is a charity representing the Market, Social and Opinion Research industry. Our industry has a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be applied to every aspect of society to ensure a more transparent, reliable and sustainable world. The ESOMAR Foundation believes that a fair, just and peaceful society is deserved by all and recognizes the immense promise that the research community offers to those striving to achieve these goals on a global level. The ESOMAR Foundation brings volunteers and resources together to execute projects to help and support charities and NGO’s to achieve their aims. Its aim is to encourage the usage of more insightful and inventive research and increase the overall impact of market research in building a better world.

The science of imagination: how System 3 offers a new way for NGOs to change minds and raise money

I’d like you to start this article by imagining a different world. Imagine the planet, and the society, you’d like to be living in – is it different to the one we inhabit right now? How does it make you feel to picture that new world?

What your mind is doing right now, as it creates the outline of a possible world, is the key to a major scientific breakthrough. A new development in behavioural science is starting to shape how market research will be done in the coming years. This emerging field brings together how people imagine the future, how they empathize with others and how they plan out their choices. All of these processes take place using brain functions separate from the “System 1 and 2” model that is often used to describe immediate decision-making: it has therefore been labelled System 3.

We live in a world where the attitudes and beliefs of the public are in greater focus, and at greater question, than ever before. Five years ago many of us (including me) assumed the arc of human politics and society was bending towards greater compassion, inclusion, equality and understanding. Now we are not so sure.

In some ways, this moment brings new urgency to the role of NGOs in the public conversation. Climate change presents an immediate and obvious priority; many dimensions of inequality have come into sharp clarity in this political environment; an increase in conflict-driven migration has created new tensions in Europe and North America; and the environmental, welfare and development campaigns that have animated global charity work for decades continue to matter just as much.

A personal example: I support a small charity that helps immigration detainees in the UK. AVID provides resources and advice to volunteers who visit asylum applicants and other migrants during the long periods of detention while a decision is made on whether they can stay in the UK. In the last ten years, AVID has faced the tough challenge of unsympathetic public opinion and media narratives. Between the Brexit referendum and recent UK election results, it could feel as if charities like this are fighting a hopeless battle.

If you work in an NGO that campaigns to influence public views, a new tool to change minds might be very useful around now. And if your job is to raise money, you might also be seeking something to strengthen your case. Fortunately, a new area of behavioural science may offer exactly what you need.

Many readers will know of the behavioural science work that has become prominent in recent years. Summarised in Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow and Thaler & Sunstein’s Nudge, the behavioural economics world tells us about human “irrationality”, cognitive biases, and how to influence decisions in-the-moment. Researchers have responded by incorporating implicit testing into their research approaches to understand respondents’ unconscious thinking. New nudges have been designed: anchoring techniques to increase donations and opt-out defaults to change behaviour.

These approaches are good for influencing what people do, but they barely affect what people think or how they feel. Lasting impact requires changing minds, not just behaviour. In the last ten years a new body of scientific research has emerged to fill this gap.

Psychologists have explored prospection, the capability of humans to imagine and plan the future. They have investigated mental simulation, which allows us to think about the alternative outcomes our choices might bring about, and the different worlds we could possibly live in. Neuroscientists have discovered the default mode network, a set of systems in the brain that are activated when our minds are not focused on immediate tasks – for instance when we are daydreaming; or watching TV and absorbing ourselves in the world on-screen. And these processes have been linked to empathy: when we think about how life is for other people, we use the same brain regions that we use for planning our own future.

These research activities are even influencing the latest thinking in artificial intelligence and machine learning: some AI experts are starting to give computers the power of mental stimulation, to help them make better, more human decisions.

Why does this work matter? Because imagination governs how people see, shape, and choose, their future lives. The decisions we make today are motivated by the world we want to live in tomorrow.

On a small scale, this means the products we buy when we visit the supermarket to buy next weekend’s lunch. On a larger scale it translates the choices we each make, into a world that we will all share in the coming decades. The values that we live by are a manifestation of the future we want to be part of. Change how people imagine that future, and you can influence their values today.

Leaders who brought about great changes in society have often started with a call to the imagination. “I have a dream…” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities…it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Nelson Mandela’s words during his 1964 trial described an ideal that, at the time, could exist for black South Africans only in the imagination. Emmeline Pankhurst’s speech in Connecticut in 1913 called on the listener to put themselves in the place of – to imagine – the women and men engaged in the political, legal and physical battle for women’s votes in the UK.

So how can you use this new science of imagination? There are three steps you can follow to take advantage of these new discoveries.

About the Author: 

Leigh Caldwell, Founding Partner, Irrational Agency

The science of imagination: 3 steps to follow

In the previous article, I discussed how the imagination of your supporters – also called the “System 3” part of their brain – is the key to changing minds and changing behaviour. If you understand how people perceive the world they live in – which may or may not correspond to reality! – you can influence them, and give yourself the chance to reshape that world.

Here are three steps you can follow to take advantage of these new discoveries.

First, measure how your supporters and your broader audience imagine the world. A new set of research tools are emerging to measure System 3– the brain’s capability for imagining, and the counterpart to the System 1 and 2 distinction explained in Kahneman’s book. By measuring System 3 thinking, you can find out how people think about the world of the future. This might take the form of an “imagination map” (see Figure 1) and is the baseline you are working with.

Figure 1: An example of an imagination map. This would be drawn by measuring an audience’s implicit attitudes towards refugees.

Second, design the world you want them to see. You can create a new imagination map that represents your vision of the future. This is probably different from the way your audience sees things now – that’s only natural, and it gives you a guide to what to do next.

Third, create interventions to redraw your audience’s imagination – to make it more like the world you want to create. Those interventions take one form above all others: stories. Your audience’s imagination is made up of the stories they tell themselves about the future. Your job is to create new stories that are compelling enough to become a part of their internal narrative. Connect the things they already care about to the things you want them to care about, through personal examples, life stories and ideas that they can’t resist; those stories will change their view of the world.

Stories by authors from Harriet Beecher Stowe to George Orwell to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have created new understanding in their readers. They led the reader to see the world as their fictional characters did; and on emerging from the world of the novel, to think about reality in a new way. The science of imagination sheds light on how they did that. It shows how a mental model of cause and effect shapes our interpretation of the world, and how stories create new beliefs about causality and change that interpretation.

This new body of scientific work offers a deeper form of understanding of your audiences, supporters and donors. The old style of behavioural economics was about changing people’s behaviour. This new field, sometimes called cognitive economics, is about changing how they think. It offers a powerful set of tools to influence the future via the public’s mind.

Remember that new world you imagined at the beginning of this article? You have the power to create that world. Share your vision, through stories and imagination, and you really can invent the future.

About the Author: 

Leigh Caldwell, Founding Partner, Irrational Agency

Successes of Non Profit Organization to Strengthening the Poor and Marginalized Access to Security Services in Nepal

Nepal indulged into ten years (1996-2006) of insurgency, affected the entire communities of the country that created a sense of insecurity in the mind of people, especially poor, marginalized [including youth and women]. It created widespread poverty, youth unemployment, injustice, inequalities and discrimination (cited in Upreti, 2006). As per Shakya (2008), the major consequences of the conflict on women are the lack of social safety and psychological trauma.

The political transition of the last decade as guided by the Comprehensive Peace Accord (2006) couldn’t bring changes in the insecure mind of people. The frequent political violence and security actions of police further forced these groups of people to stay away from the police and their service. Moreover, the aforementioned groups were frequently denied access to security and justice services. The lack of public knowledge about the security procedure and trust for police along with the role of middlemen in the manipulation and exploitation of poor and vulnerable people further prevented these groups from easily accessing the security services, especially in province no 2, Nepal. People would fear and feel tense in the presence of police.

In the situation above, this article explores how did the interactive formula of community police dialogues and participatory performances contribute to improving the access to security for poor and marginalized in Nepal?

Interventions and Methodologies

From September 2016 to December 2018, a consortium of CSOs led by Janaki Women Awareness Society, a non-profit organization, Nepal implemented Strengthening the Poor and Marginalized Access to Security and Justice project in central southern 4 districts of province no 2, Nepal. The project was implemented in collaboration with Search For Common Ground (SFCG) where the funding was provided by UKAID. The overall aim of the project was to improve access to security and justice of poor and marginalized communities. During the implementation period, 208 participatory interactive dialogues between the citizen [poor, marginalized, youth and women] and police were conducted. Each participatory art-based intervention i.e. football clinics and drama clinics lasted for three days. The follow-up visits with the project participants for the individual as well as group interviews combined to generate the success stories for exploring the changing relationship between police and citizen.  Within the framework of qualitative analysis, the researcher, who had also served as a consortium coordinator for the project, analyzed past security situations in the context of the project site. Then project reports, media evidence and other related reports were also reviewed to reach the conclusion.

Citizen participation in the project and results

During the project, citizen got the opportunity to discuss about their security issues with police, jointly played in a football game with the police officers, performed in a participatory street theater, shared their problems associated with security and justice to police, learned about the work as well as working modality of police, become familiar with the security service obtaining procedures, jointly prepared as well as implemented the security improvement plan with the police in order to upgrade the security situation in the communities. These all actions of the project helped people to overcome their unnecessary thought about the security and justice process of the country. Further on, citizens became aware of their responsibilities to improve the security situation in the communities. Police, on the other hand, also got the opportunity to know the real security issues of the citizen.

The final result of the project showed that interactive dialogues and participatory performances between police and citizen [poor and marginalized people] could establish a mutual relationship between them. The outcome of the project also built a sense of consciousness to the citizen that accessing service from police is easy and police are helpful as well, they learned about the police commitment towards improving the security situation in the communities. They became familiar with the challenges and difficulties police are facing for maintaining a better security situation. People have started seeking the security and legal services in their need by visiting police office without fear and hesitation. This is a tangible success over the objectives of the project.

Participants also responded about the changed behavior of some police personnel. Previously, when women from the rural village used to visit the police office for obtaining security service, the police personnel would often send them back asking them to bring a middleman who knows the application procedure. After the project interventions, whoever from the community went for the security service, police received them in a dignified manner.

Conclusions

The project engaged police, citizen, and CSOs to find a common ground for solving the security-related issues in the community.  The common ground approach of the interventions further led to the collaborative joint actions taken by the police and the public. The participatory nature of the joint actions further promoted the mutual cooperation between police and citizens and opened up opportunities for future collaborations for improving the security situation in the communities. The change in police behavior in treating the security-related service seeker and the initiation of joint actions between police and citizens are the main elements for improving the security situation in communities.

About the implementing organisation:

Janaki Women Awareness Society (JWAS) is a non-profit making non-governmental organization established by a group of women social workers in 1993, at Dhanusha district of Nepal. The formation of a democratic government provided space to the women social workers who were very much disturbed and concerned about the social evils of child marriage, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS, dowry system, domestic violence, conflict-affected people, disables, discrimination against women, youth and marginalized people. To improve people’s lives from the above situations, the group of women social workers decided to work in an organized way and founded JWAS.

References:

Shakya, A. (2008). Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Children in Nepal. New Delhi:  WISCOMP

Upreti, B.R. (2006). Nepal’s Armed Conflict: Security Implications for Development and  Resource Governance. Kathmandu: NCCR

About the Author: 

Nub Raj Bhandari has focused on issues related to girls’ and women’s rights, education, conflict transformation and social accountability for the past ten years. He is the Program Director at Janaki Women Awareness Society and also a researcher for child marriage and education-related projects. His research focus and commitment are policy-focused and he seeks to transform society by promoting quality education, gender equality, and peacebuilding.

Why Don’t We Talk About This? Why Kenya needs to start talking about mental health

At Be Forward, Africa is our passion. We want to share our passion by bringing to life research and stories from across the continent.

A mental health crisis in Kenya

Africa is facing a mental health crisis. Over the past year, mental health stories have hit the mainstream media headlines, especially in Kenya, the focus of our study.  We wanted to understand what was going on with mental health in Kenya, and to evaluate if the country was indeed facing a crisis.

Research into mental health in Africa has been a neglected priority. Compared to physical diseases, NCDs (Non-Communicable Diseases) have received little research focus; there are still many unknowns where mental health is concerned in Africa.

At Be Forward, we wanted to address this gap and to lay a benchmark for future research by shedding light on mental health in Kenya. How do Kenyans navigate around mental health? What does it mean to them, and how does this impact on their lives? How are changing socio-economic factors impacting on mental health? What impact are global shifts, government, mental health professionals and grassroot advocates having on the mental health agenda?

If the country is facing a crisis, we want to evaluate not only what is being done to address this, but alsogauge if people’s views around mental health were changing (or not). Our research also enables us to identify which challenges and opportunities exist to advancing the mental health agenda in Kenya.

We wanted to primarily understand the average Kenyan’s understanding of mental health. We spoke to members of the general population: men and women, between 20-40 years of age, based in Nairobi, Mombasa and across the Rift Valley, both higher and lower SECs (BC1C2). In order to gather a more comprehensive picture of what was going on in Kenya, we carried out in depth interviews with a range of mental health experts: from radio journalists, to senators, suicidologists to mental health practitioners, as well as recovered mental health patients.

Understanding the stigma around mental health and getting people to open up

We conducted a qualitative general population survey through our online community, providing respondents with a safe and anonymous space in which to explore this sensitive topic. We spoke to more than 80 people either during one-on-ones or in mini groups (3-4 people max). Mini groups were first used to gather general perceptions about mental health; groups were separated by gender, with exception of some deliberate mixed gender groups to allow respondents to exchange and reflect around their mental health experiences. Online research was supplemented by face to face in depth interviews.

We also spoke to people who had recovered from mental health illnesses or had lived an experience with a close family member/friend. For these stories, we used one on ones (face to face or online) to allow them to share their stories privately and in confidence.

To complement the voice of the average Kenyan, we also reached out to numerous stakeholders invested in mental health in Kenya, from policy advisors and politicians, to numerous NGOs or non-profits on the ground. These experts provided us with their knowledge and insight into the mental health landscape in Kenya. In all, 15 stakeholders in Kenya were interviewed. Unanimously, these experts all said the same thing- that there was an urgent need for more research.

Strongly believing that film naturally complements a research report, we produced a short film to accompany the report. This film reflects the title of the report, ‘Why Don’t We Talk About This?’ and illustrates the barriers around mental health and the stigma often faced by those suffering from mental health illness in Kenya. It’s a visual depiction of the current state of mental health in the country.

Whilst our research results are currently qualitative, we are hoping to quantify the hypotheses in 2020 and would value any funding contributions to do so.

Who can benefit from this?

This piece of research provides a robust qualitative baseline that can be used to inform any future research (qualitative and quantitative). This research clearly lays out the population’s thoughts on mental health – a comprehensive ‘U&A’ around the subject. Added to this, our experts have validated and corroborated that the insights uncovered are a true reflection of the current mental health landscape in Kenya.

As far as we know, this is one of the most comprehensive pieces of research that has been undertaken around mental health in Kenya. It’s the first step in a very important journey: that of breaking the silence around mental health in Kenya in order to end the stigma. The research has also recently been used for NGO funding requests.

Help us tell Jackline’s story

In the course of this research we came across many inspiring and tragic mental health stories. One that deeply affected us is that of the death of Jackline Chepngeno, the 14 year old Bomet schoolgirl who tragically took her own life after alleged period shaming by her teacher. Jackline’s story moved us so much, we decided to make a documentary. It’s our first documentary and a huge passion project. We need help to finish it.

If you can spare a little this Christmas, please make a donation on our crowdfunding page. Please help us finish this story!

 

About the Authors: 

Paul Drawbridge, Amélie Truffert and Rhonda Nicholl – Be Forward