Background - A huge stumbling block for the Climate Change community is that we seem to be approaching this great cause as if humans had never solved any problem like this before. Our response is to keep doing what is easy, instead of what will work. It is easy to focus on raising awareness and to put ads on TV showing the problem and mentioning some incremental approaches to the solution, like windmills or solar installations, or hybrid cars. It is easy to marshal our forces to call Senators and Congresspersons, asking them to pass a particular piece of legislation.
What is not being done because it is more difficult is to move masses of people, the citizenry, up the path from Awareness, to Interest, to Evaluation, to Trial, to Adoption and on to Advocacy – the well-worn path of adoption of any innovation. This is the path that has been taken whenever innovations have been successfully introduced, including postage stamps, compulsory free education, hybrid rice strains and family planning in the Third World. Yet we seem not to have reached back into our collective past and brought forward this vast store of memory. Instead we seem to be flailing around as a community, trying to effect change by merely raising awareness.
A Model for Proceeding - In this short paper I want to make a plea for a more rigorous planning paradigm. It is axiomatic that good tactics can win a battle, and good strategy can win a campaign, but only good logistical thinking can win a war. I contend that it is time to think long term and logistically.
The seminal thinker in the field of innovation and diffusion was Professor Everett M Rogers, 1931-2004. Rogers’ book, The Diffusion of Innovations, published in 1962, is absolutely current in terms of the model he describes. Rogers contended that adoption of any innovation occurs in five stages:
4. Trial, and
My own past work, undertaken through discussions with Rogers, adds a sixth step to the paradigm --- Advocacy --- the stage in which an adopter becomes a vocal advocate, helping to move a community of peers forward through the five steps. That creates a feedback loop to accelerate change. My work during the successful adoption of family planning in South Korea and Taiwan from 1967 through 1972, and during the less successful efforts to bring family planning to the Philippines from 1972 through 1975, convinces me that non-material and material incentives can accelerate the adoption process. Those experiences also showed that a culture of change needs to be created and sustained in the larger society, to make the transformations that are required socially, politically, economically, and even spiritually acceptable.
Therefore, it is time to experiment in the U.S. and elsewhere with procedures that have worked in the past in a variety of cultures, to help move citizens through the climate change transition.
Rogers popularized the following diagram, showing how an innovation is typically diffused through the population. The last people to catch on are the “Laggards”, that 16% plus percentage of the population ” at the right of the curve; that group, in our society, self-identifies as “Climate Change Denialists.” . They won’t be swayed, though some of their children or spouses will be. In any case the best strategy is to focus elsewhere, except to try to alleviate their concerns that we are “moving toward socialism,” or that we are “going to break the bank.” Next comes the Late Majority. They will only come aboard after the Iinnovators, Early Adopters and Early Majority have bought in and have proven the validity of the new concept. So again, an optimum strategy focuses elsewhere, except to engage them once they have seen that the changes are acceptable to at least some of their neighbors and friends.
My belief is that what we need to do next is to use incentives of all sorts to get the Innovators and Early Adopters to make the personal behavioral changes that will lead to a lower carbon footprint, lower energy costs, and lower use of scarce resources – and to do this early on for themselves and their families. It is likely that many of the Innovators are already making those changes. The Early Adopters are a key group. They look to the Innovators for new ideas, but in adopting them make various changes that will make the ideas more acceptable to the larger population. This will encourage the Early Majority to climb aboard, with the assistance of small public incentives and awards. Late Adopters and Laggards may never change their lifestyles, so the place to start is to focus on those who will make the changes now because they are already true believers or could become believers with very little effort. That shows that “others are doing it.” It changes the behavioral environment that surrounds the others. As with the historic decline of smoking, there comes a tipping point where something new is now “the thing to do – or not to do.” The cause of climate change involves both.
Rogers also discussed what he called the perceived characteristics of innovations. These are factors considered by potential adopters that affect how likely they are to move up the scale from Awareness to Adoption and on to Advocacy. They are:
- Relative advantage (the ‘degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better than the idea it supersedes’);
- Compatibility (‘the degree to which an innovation is perceived to be consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters’);
- Complexity (‘the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use’);
- Trialability (‘the opportunity to experiment with the innovation on a limited basis’); and
- Observability (‘the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others’).
Innovations that have greater relative advantage, compatibility, trialability, and observability, along with less complexity, will generally be adopted over innovations that do not. That is why it is easy to get households to change light bulbs, which are visible to everyone who comes into a house. But it is more difficult to get them to reinsulate the house by blowing insulation into the walls and attic, a procedure that is not observable, is relatively complex, and not trialable on a small scale by a householder. If we can simplify and improve the visibility and trialability of any procedure, we will be able to win more adherents.
However, we discovered in the Family Planning programs in East Asia that we often could bypass the trial period and go straight to adoption with the selective use of awards and incentives. In our work with households on making changes to fit a new low-carbon lifestyle, we should be considering the incentives needed for each adaptation that we are asking families to undertake, using Rogers’ work and the work of others who have been using his model in public health and rural redevelopment programs worldwide.
I recommend that a working group be convened to bring to bear the work of Everett Rogers on the global warming problem, with members drawn from family planning program administrators, public health practitioners, and experts in rural redevelopment. Such a group can hammer out lessons learned from past experiences to be applied to the cause of Climate Change action --- for the US population and others around the world -- in a systematic way.
For a thorough exploration of the Diffusion of Innovations, which was the basis for the Green Revolution (increase in agricultural productivity resulting from the introduction of high-yield varieties of grains, the use of pesticides, and improved management techniques), for the diffusion of public health measures, and for family planning action in the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s, please see:
Edited by Katherine Forest.