I came across this post by Craig Lefebvre several weeks ago, in which he considers what we may all want to start thinking about as we start a new year of social marketing.
“What if we…
- didn’t have target audiences – but co-creators
- didn’t have distribution systems – but places where people could play
- didn’t use focus groups – but designed research to fit the puzzle and people
- didn’t assess knowledge and attitudes – but sought insight into people’s motivation and values
- didn’t start with analyzing people – but first assumed that it was something in their environment
- didn’t create messages and stories – but focused on crafting exchanges
- didn’t track program output – but what, how often and from where people saw and heard from us
- didn’t aim at target audiences – but served people
- didn’t focus on changing behaviors – but offered people new ways to solve problems, meet their needs and reach for their dreams
- didn’t focus on evaluation as the end of the process – but sustainability as the start of the next one”
I think I’m going to print this list and put it up by my desk – it so eloquently captures what I think should be some of the core tenants of public health (and other) work.
Many of these points relate to things I’ve been mulling over as a result of a community organizing course I’m currently taking. One of the first articles we read for this class was an article entitled “Services are Bad for People,” by John McKnight, in which he argues that service systems are often antithetical to powerful communities. They serve clients, they don’t empower citizens. They are hierarchical, not democratic. They have a vested interest in people needing them, not in tapping into the problem solving capacity of the people so that people can collectively shift power and change their own communities.
Granted, nothing is quite that black and white. And McKnight himself says that well-run services have their place. But ultimately, I think his point is right on and extremely underappreciated in the public health community and in service-related professions more broadly.
As Lefebvre has pointed out, we should have co-creators (point #1) and offer people ways to solve their problems, meet their needs, and reach for their dreams (point #9) – which, interestingly, is probably the key to sustainability (point #10). Communities taking ownership of initiatives means initiatives actually have a chance of continuing onwards, instead of being dependent on the whims of outsiders, who eventually run out of grant money or time.
The other much under-appreciated aspect of creating change that we have discussed at length in our community organizing class is the importance of relationship-building. We go in so focused on research and program/business plans (both of which are important, no doubt) that we forget this most fundamental of things. And just as Lefebvre points out, and just as we’ve talked about in our class, the keys to relationship building are seeking insight into people’s motivations and values (point #4), and finding the shared values that allow for the exchange (point #6) of resources needed to achieve a common purpose.
Of course, I also can’t conclude this post without a quick note about Lefebvre’s point #5 – don’t start with analyzing people, but instead first assume it’s something in their environment – which is something I harp on pretty often, in this blog and elsewhere. We keep trying to change people’s behaviors without considering the myriad of things in their environment that might be encouraging the behavior and/or preventing them for changing it. Let’s focus our efforts on changing the systems and environments within which we live – after all, health starts where we live, learn, work, and play.