“Raising Awareness” towards what goal?

April 4, 2011

April 5th this year is a Day Without Dignity a counter campaign to a Day Without Shoes. Saundra Schimmelpfennig the originator of A Day Without Dignity had a number of goals for this initiative, among them looking at what it really takes to raise awareness and have an impact (more than just walking barefoot for the day).

To address this goal, a few reflections on the growing trend of ‘raising awareness campaigns’:

  • The Number of  ‘raising awareness’ campaigns has been steadily growing over past years –  most focusing on annual days.  (World Aids Day December 1st, Earth Hour, March 26th, etc…)
  • What are the goals and the impact of these ‘awareness raising’ days?  Often the ‘follow-up’ or ‘impact’ is not clear.  They could be: (1) Passive:  make an impact on someone so they may view issues differently going forward when they are asked to do something (i.e. donate to a particular cause, support legislation, etc..) (2) Active:  encourage them to take some action themselves.  Or unfortunately the impact can also be: (3) ‘Negative’ – instant gratification that makes you feel good but then you go about your business as usual.  Worse yet the awareness campaign may have just provided a simplistic understanding of a complex issue (such as what is effective international aid and development) that may actually hurt the intended recipients.
  • Most campaigns focus on the passive action (if they focus on any follow-up at all) and don’t take the next step to articulate what someone can do themselves.  Least effective and potentially negative are those that go for a ‘feel good’ moment that day and have no discussion of the complexity of the issue at hand, or what constructive action the participant can take going forward.  This is what has led to the discussion of the Day without Shoes.
  • Unfortunately we see very few attempts to analyze what makes an effective ‘raising awareness’ campaign.  After World Aids Day in 2009 there was some attempt to analyze “What does all this social media buzz do for real-world sufferers and their families? “   But it was done mostly in passing and the short answer proposed was that “more money was raised and available for testing, counseling, AIDS treatment and services.”  Perhaps, but little explanatory information was given.  While for Earth Hour, although an ‘exciting event’, most of the attention is just placed on the event itself.   This year there were some initial steps made to get participants to send in their own action steps but almost as an after thought as they sent in their pictures.
  • Most effective are those days that actively focus as part of the day on what target audiences  can do as follow-up themselves.  Blog Action day is an example of one of those.  Each year a subject is chosen and those who blog are asked to include what their readers can actively do.  Here is an example of what I wrote last year: The Preciousness of Water.

So what can you actively do today after thinking about the goals of “A Day without Dignity?”  Here are some ideas:

  • The next time you are asked to participate in a ‘raising awareness’ day, look for the goals, follow-up and impact envisioned by the organizers.  If these are not clear, encourage them to include them.
  • Before you ‘sign on’ to participate take a few moments to educate yourself about the issue and analyze the possible impacts of your participation: will it be passive, active, or potentially negative for the intended recipients?   Might there be a better use of your efforts?

Other blogs for “A Day Without Dignity”