Harnessing the 'Now' for Social Change
Something I personally enjoy is hearing about what it takes behind the scenes to produce Saturday Night Live. Coordinating costume changes, camera moves, props, jokes, all live without a safety net is fascinating. I was listening to an interview with Bill Hader, and he talked about a week he was in a ridiculous costume about to walk out live on air, and Lorne Michaels, creator and showrunner for SNL, asked him "But why are we doing this now?" In Hader's case, it left him with a seed of doubt before going on air. But Lorne's perspective stuck with me. What is the context in the real world that's going to inform how the audience will receive this sketch?
Why are we doing this now?
Let's apply this principle to any kind of behavioral change social project. Why now? What is a new project or organization going to achieve, and why is it relevant to the audience you need to hear about it? Working this out internally and integrating it into your communication forces you to align your activities with what's urgent for your audience, making success much more likely.
What's going on in the world right now?
The coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic is a timely example. It's impossible for anyone in the world to conduct business as usual, and for a long time we'll sort things into before and after periods hinging on this crisis. And yet, the world continues to turn. It's valid and important to continue operating and working on things, even if they don't seem related to the virus. However, you also need to be aware that it's a, let's say, huge elephant in the room. Consider how you are framing your work to meet the ripple effects of this urgent need. Consider how your audiences are having their day-to-day lives affected by this crisis.
What's on the mind of your audience now?
Social change issues — especially those targeting large numbers of people—are shaped by complex systems, and untying those knots gives you a more accurate picture of the full scope of your challenge. You likely have a multitude of audiences, each bringing a different vantage point to your work. Philanthropic funders, for example, are looking at things from a different perspective than the population audience you serve. We'll cover more with funders below.
For end user audiences, consider collecting community input whenever possible, and listening authentically. Personal experience in your audience will likely turn up easily solvable problems that make a huge impact. Maybe exercise levels have been low because the city's walking path has become overgrown, or a certain health solution's adoption levels are low because local doctors don't know to ask. Spending some time with the "now" of your audience can help you figure out where to put your efforts next.
Why is now the right time for a new solution?
"Why now" is a common, valid question from funders. They are considering large-scale solutions across an often wide spectrum of issues, and have to decide how to allocate that cycle's resources for maximum impact. As a nonprofit founder recently told me, funders follow trends just like consumers do - certain approaches to social change work that are on their minds now. Savvy organizations would do well to frame their programs and proposals through lenses that are consistent with funders' priorities right now.
If you're launching a new organization, consider tying the birth of your organization to something that's vital for right now. "Our approach is using the latest research" or "We've developed audience insights that previous approaches have ignored" or "Due to increased time with screen-based learning, we have something new in the space."
Is your organization vibrant right now?
This is a feeling thing, but is also real. If you've been around for a long time, you likely have built a deep well of expertise and relationships. But your organization doesn't have to look its age! For potential staff, partners, or funders who aren't familiar with you, a stale brand and graphic design look is a signal that your ideas are out of date. The number one piece of feedback we hear from organizations for whom we design projects is that they find themselves getting meetings and being taken seriously in the ways they want to - because the designed materials help to open doors for them.
What are you going to do now?
Thinking in big picture, longterm scales helps us set vision and goals. Thinking about the present moment helps us to decide what to do now. Now is important to us. In our research, we came across a stat that in the medical world, it can take an average of seventeen years between the development of new knowledge and when that knowledge is put into common practice. I like now much more than I do seventeen years. Ready to have a conversation about now? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's get started.
Photo by Zachary Keimig on Unsplash