“I’m tired of human rights campaigns that rely on invoking pity or sound preachy.”
A fiery university student uttered the sentence to me during a group discussion last Thursday. He was one of the participants of Sekolah Hak Asasi Manusia (SeHAMA / Human Rights School), where I was invited by the Commission for the Disappeared & Victims of Violence (KontraS) to deliver a session titled ‘Humanizing Human Rights Campaigns’.
I understand his sentiment. Campaigns for human rights advocate for some of the most pressing changes of our time, but often fail to find an ear with their intended audiences.
In many cases, campaigners tend to either stick to the old recipe of emotional soap opera or ‘preach to the converted’.
The problem with the first is that pity is usually short-lived. It doesn’t provoke a sense of ownership. It may not always result in action, or when it does, it is not very sustainable. It may work if the action required is short-term, for example to make a donation or sign a petition. If, however, your objective is to create a shift in the audiences’ attitude or behavior, which implies long-term engagement, pity may not be your best bet.
To know which approach to use in your campaign strategy, including which emotion you need to invoke, you need to have clarity on the problem you want to address and the objective you want to reach.
Does the problem occur because your audience does not understand what they should do? Do they understand but they do not care, or think it’s too much of a hassle to do?
Also think about your objective. Do you need to shift your audience’s attitude from being against the change you’re promoting to supporting it? Is it necessary or achievable? Or, do you only need to make sure that they do not see the change as a threat, and thus do not try to block it?
A useful tool to remember when you’re putting together your campaign is OASIS. Make sure that you clearly state your Objectives, Audience insights, Strategy, Implementation, and Scoring and evaluation.
As for ‘preaching to the converted’, this has a lot to do with Audience insights and how they inform your Strategy.
When you truly believe in something as important as human rights, it is easy to think that everyone should agree with such basic tenets of humanity. “Of course they should not persecute the LGBTQ community!” “Of course the government should still respect the rights of the separatists!” You may feel that you need to help those who don’t share your views to see the errors in their way, and end up frustrated when the message doesn’t go through.
Yet morality is complex and made up of a diverse collection of mental modules. What one sees as the ultimate truth may be seen as the ultimate transgression by others. So, your audiences may not get what you are so worked up about, or think you are being condescending. Neither of these inspires social change.
According to leading social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, humans possess six universal moral foundations, which get built upon to varying degrees across culture and time. They are: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, Sanctity/Degradation, and Liberty/Oppression.
Think of these like the receptors on your tongue. Some of us are particular to sweet and hate bitter. Some other love sour dish with a hint of savory, yet hate sweet.
Similarly, if we’re looking at the audiences across the Conservative/Progressive matrix, the Progressive are mostly attuned to the moral foundations of Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating, whereas the Conservative uphold all of the foundations.
For instance, in the case of protecting the human rights of separatists. Progressives would campaign that they be treated humanely because not doing so would betray their Care vs. Harm foundation. Contrastingly, Conservatives may instead support harsher stance against the separatists, because in their worldview, Loyalty to the country and respect for the Authority are just as important.
This means, if the Progressives frame their campaign solely within the corridor of Care vs. Harm, their message may not resonate with the Conservatives. Instead, they may be more successful in getting through to their audiences if they reframe violating the separatists’ rights as “Betraying the core beliefs of a nation that was built on law and order” and “Degrading the Sanctity of the nation’s identity as a leader in justice”.
Last but not least, in designing the action that you want your audiences to take, it is better to assume that they have very low motivation to begin with. This means, you will need to make the action as simple and easy to do as possible. That way there is a better chance the prompts you provide will succeed in getting your audiences to where you want them to be.
– Marsha Imaniara
If you are an organization active in human rights contact us at email@example.com to find out about our next ‘Catalyst’ event.
Catalyst is Maverick’s quarterly pro-bono initiative to support local organizations to make a greater difference to society. We conduct hands-on communications related workshops with industry leaders and help create powerful networks for our participants.