Tomorrow’s post is about how, in the realm of advocacy and social action, we can’t rely on the same environmental changes that marketers and athletic trainers and others use to motivate people to take action more easily. Because, after all, if advocacy is so easy, doesn’t it lose some of its impact?
But that’s enough of a spoiler.
Because I’m still thinking through this whole “how much do we focus on motivating the individual to change, versus change the context in which the change needs to occur” question. And I’m thinking that, in social policy, there’s a pretty good argument to be made for bucket-shrinking, and that social workers would be well-served to shift some of our advocacy efforts towards those policy solutions that focus on the size of the bucket, and not the decisions people make in response.
See, there’s this popcorn bucket study in Switch that is pretty compelling–essentially, researchers found that they could make people eat more, or less, popcorn just by changing the size of the bucket.
Just the bucket. That’s all that was different.
There are all kinds of applications for this bucket shrinking in the social policy world, some of which are among our greatest policy successes. What if we made cars safer, so that even really bad driving isn’t as likely to kill anyone? What if we made food safer, so that fewer people contracted foodborne illnesses? What if we built highways everywhere and defunded public transportation, so that people learned to think that they need to drive themselves everywhere? (OK, I know, but that last one WAS successful, if that had been our goal!)
What if we applied this bucket-shrinking approach to the social policy realm?
What if Election Day was a holiday, so people would be more likely to vote (especially if they didn’t have to register in advance)? What if we gave everyone time off work to participate in their kids’ schools, instead of complaining that “parents aren’t involved”? What if we co-located services, so that it is easier for parents to, say, stay up on their kids’ immunizations and get their own cholesterol checked? What if insurance paid for mental health check-ups every year, just like physicals? What if credit cards weren’t so easy to use, and debt not so hard to avoid? What if every child in poverty knew that college was paid for?
What if, instead of just telling people over and over again, with exhortations and graphic warnings and shiny social marketing, that they should really, really eat less popcorn…we just made the buckets smaller?
Where, in the social policy issues you care about, is there a need for a different bucket size? How would changing the incentives, and the costs, make a difference? What are the limits of these contextual modifications, and what kinds of policy approaches would test those? How do social workers ensure that individuals’ right to self-determination is protected, without confusing true self-determination with the unnecessary divorce of context and behavior? Why do we focus so much on the individual, scratching our heads and wondering “what is WRONG with ‘these people’, that they eat SO MUCH popcorn”…instead of just making the buckets smaller?