Selling Social Change Scientifically

Using science to sell ideas makes sense, one likes to think. Ideas that we are supposed to support, accept, or pay for (especially those!) need to be supported by facts, statistics, and theories. Expert opinions from scientists could be helpful, but only if used sparingly; we all think you are politely ignoring the quotes that don’t support your point of view.

(The same problem comes up with statistics and historical facts. We all know that your facts and dates and such are going to tend to support a certain idea. Some “scientific thinking” is most helpful in other ways, so those aforementioned problems aren’t so serious.)

Science can still help activists to sell their ideas:

1. The psychology of persuasion – use knowledge of psychological drives to write copy that will get peoples’ attention and motivate them to act.

2. Trend analysis – show how the numbers have changed over a significant period of time. Is the situation really getting worse? Two numbers don’t indicate a trend! Raw numbers might not indicate a trend either. If there were 8000 teen suicides one year, 9000 two years later, and 10000 two years after that what could one conclude? Nothing. Was the same geographic area being measured? Was there a change in how records were kept? Has the population been growing rapidly? What was the teen suicide rate like 10 years ago? Eight years ago?

3. Rates and proportions – Use them to help establish the magnitude of the problem at issue.

4. Raw numbers – use simple statistics but sparingly. Rates and proportions are more important to understanding an issue so they are important for your own planning and decision making as well as for social marketing.

5. Theory – NOTE: Theories are tentative systems of statements regarding the relationships between sets of observable phenomena. Theories are not the same as guesses! Use widely-accepted theory to buttress your case. Use the same to help you identify a good idea.

Take those five tips and apply them to your current efforts, to your planned efforts, to the opposition’s ideas, and to your own planning to sell social change.


~ by chetdavis on October 24, 2007.

One Response to “Selling Social Change Scientifically”

  1. Hi Chet,

    I just discovered your blog. It ties in nicely to what I write about, which is social marketing for health and social change. I look forward to reading your posts in the future. I looked for an “About” page to find out more about you but didn’t have any luck. Do you have another website or info on your affiliations?

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