Whether you’re recruiting new people to join your cause or mobilizing an existing base, it’s essential for people to feel they can do something about the problem.
Academics refer to this as efficacy. Put simply, efficacy is the feeling that “my actions matter and make a difference.”
If you’ve ever wondered why someone harmed by a problem wouldn’t do anything about it, a low sense of efficacy may be the (very valid) reason.
You don’t need to hear it from me that the wealthy few and certain politicians use strategic racism as a weapon to divide and conquer and make us believe there is nothing we can do, our voices won’t matter, our organization’s plans won’t succeed, or the problem can’t be solved.
One way to fight against this and bring people into participation is to increase their sense of efficacy.
Four Forms of Efficacy
The four major forms of efficacy are the following¹:
- Self-efficacy: An individual’s confidence in their ability to successfully perform an action
- Response efficacy: Confidence that completing the action will have the desired effect
- Collective efficacy: Confidence that a group (organization, country, company, etc.) can successfully perform an action or implement a plan or policy
- Collective response efficacy: Confidence that the group’s action, policy or plan will have the desired effect (i.e., solve the problem)
Let’s focus on self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief (whether accurate or not) in their capacity to act in the ways necessary to reach specific goals.
This includes whether an individual feels knowledgeable enough about the issue or can take action, like
- writing an elected official,
- canvassing their neighbours,
- or participating in a protest.
If our audience’s sense of self-efficacy is low and the issue harms (or may harm) them, their family, or their community, communication about a problem that doesn’t also increase people’s self-efficacy may cause them to withdraw in fear and engage in defensive mechanisms to control their emotions rather than participate in the desired activity to address the danger.
Put another way, if someone has a low sense of self-efficacy, agitation, education, or communication about a problem that increases attention on the danger without increasing the person’s self-efficacy may backfire instead of inspire.
What we can do
Here’s what we can do instead.
Identifying with Others
Show people in action who share a meaningful identity with the audience you are trying to recruit or mobilize.
For example, an immigrant rights organization wanted to grow its membership of older undocumented people. The organization shifted from actions led by people in their 20s to actions led by older people so that the primary audience would see people they identified with.
This changed how their constituency saw themselves, from,
“Thank goodness for the young people doing all they can,”
“People like me are doing all they can. I can join in too.”
You have done this before
Connect the desired activity to actions that people have previously been successful in.
Organizers can explain (or show) that hosting a house meeting is like inviting people to a party. Being part of the logistics team for a rally is like helping plan a wedding.
Right level of Challenge
Give people responsibility for tasks and outcomes at the right level of challenge. Tasks that are too easy may show that the organizer doesn’t believe a person is capable and reinforce low self-efficacy.
Tasks that are too challenging can discourage and overwhelm people. Tasks that are micromanaged may show that the organizer doesn’t trust the person to do something well.
Here is an evidence-based approach to designing work that increases motivation, satisfaction and the quality and quantity of work produced.
Use a coaching approach when members are faced with challenges. Good coaching improves performance and is an opportunity for people to reflect on and recognize how they have learned and grown.
My favourite way of increasing people’s self-efficacy in a coaching conversation is opening the call, “What’s one thing you did well recently, and what did you learn from it?”
This helps the person to recognise their growth and identify lessons to take forward to make them more likely to be successful in the future. Here is a simple coaching framework.
Members supporting new members
Structure your organizing program where members (not staff organizers) are supporting new members.
Members can often provide better support for new people because they can better emphasize with someone who is new, explain things in ways that are better understood, and new members can see themselves in the other member. If staff are providing the support, the new member might think to themself, “Of course the organizer says this is simple. This is their job and they do it all the time.”
The circles of commitment model where members (people in a role on a team) support the crowd (people who show up, but aren’t yet on a team) addresses this challenge.
Here is an example of how Movimiento Cosecha structures support from the core of their organization outward.
Examples from Organizations
Here are two examples from organizations that have increased perceptions of self efficacy.
Free Press and Team Internet Coalition
Watch this one-hour webinar recording to learn how Free Press and the Team Internet coalition used supports such as action guides, training, and coaching to increase people’s sense of self-efficacy (and the other three efficacy types). The result was hundreds of visits to congressional offices and hundreds of small actions over several months.
Watch this ten-minute Instagram story to see one example of how Sunrise Movement used self-efficacy messaging to recruit thousands of young people to call voters to turn out for Green New Deal champions. This email to recruit students to the first step of organizing a climate strike is a big bucket of self-efficacy, response efficacy and collective efficacy messaging.
The lesson continues with examples of how to increase the other three types of efficacy and reflection questions to help you apply the concept of efficacy to your work.
Clarifying the “People Like Me”: Racial Efficacy and Political Behavior
Davin L. Phoenix and Nathan K. Chan
Abstract: Political efficacy, or a sense of confidence that “people like me” can understand politics and receive responsiveness from government, is central to the study of political behavior. However, the reference group that respondents view as “people like me” is not always immediately clear. This limits our ability to infer how efficacy informs political participation. We propose a specific concept and operationalization of racial group efficacy, and we distinguish this concept from racial identity, group consciousness, and conventional efficacy measures. Analyses of data from the 2016 Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey reveal that for white, Black, Asian, and Latina/o Americans, racial efficacy is a more consistent and robust predictor of political participation than standard internal and external efficacy measures. Further, we show that racial efficacy exhibits associations with conventional and unconventional forms of participation that distinguish whites from people of color. We conclude by discussing how people’s racial efficacy informs their engagement in politics, from voting to protests.
Abstract: This study examines the influences of online communication, in-person socialization, and degree of community connectedness on transgender citizens’ political participation in the United States. Drawing on the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, we find that while demographics, socioeconomic status, and political self-efficacy contributed to individuals’ civic engagement and political campaign contribution, community connectedness was the single largest predictor of civic engagement and alone accounted for almost as much variance in the measurement of civic engagement as all demographics and socioeconomic status combined. At the same time, we found an unhypothesized mutually causal relationship between community connectedness and civic engagement, suggesting each reinforces the other. We also found evidence in-person communication with other transgender people was a larger predictor of political participation than online communication. Taken together, our results move us beyond the traditional sociodemographic or media-use predictors toward a more socially embedded perspective of civic engagement among marginalized groups, demonstrating the vital significance of connectedness to one’s identity-based community.
Social norms and efficacy beliefs drive the Alarmed segment’s public-sphere climate action
Kathryn Doherty and Thomas Webler
Abstract: Surprisingly few individuals who are highly concerned about climate change take action to influence public policies.To assess social-psychological and cognitive drivers of public-sphere climate actions of Global Warming’s Six Americas’ Alarmed’ segment, we developed a behaviour model and tested it using structural equation modelling of survey data from Vermont, USA (N = 702).Our model, which integrates social cognitive theory, social norms research, and value belief norm theory, explains 36–64% of the variance in five behaviours.Here we show descriptive social norms, self-efficacy, personal response efficacy and collective response efficacy as strong driving forces of: voting, donating, volunteering, contacting government officials, and protesting about climate change.The belief that similar others took action increased behaviour and strengthened efficacy beliefs, which also led to greater action.Our results imply that communication efforts targeting Alarmed individuals and their public actions should include strategies that foster beliefs about positive descriptive social norms and efficacy.
Using Political Efficacy Messages to Increase Climate Activism: The Mediating Role of Emotions
P. Sol Hart and Lauren Feldman
Abstract: Using an online experiment with a national sample, this study tests the effects of political efficacy messages on two types of climate-related political participation via the discrete emotions of hope, fear, and anger and compares these effects across ideological groups. Relative to a message that discusses only negative climate impacts, messages that emphasize the internal, external, or response efficacy of political actions to address climate change are found to influence hope and fear but not anger, and these effects vary by political ideology. Furthermore, exposure to efficacy information indirectly increases participation via hope—even, in some cases, among conservatives.
Spatial and Temporal Proximity: Examining the Effects of Protests on Political Attitudes | summary
Sophia J. Wallace, Chris Zepeda-Millán, and Michael Jones-Correa
Abstract: This article utilizes data from the Latino National Survey (2006) to analyze temporal and spatial variation in the effects of the immigrant rights marches in 2006 on Latino attitudes towards trust in government and self‐efficacy.Using a unique protest dataset, we examine the effects of proximity and scale by mapping respondents’ specific geographic location against the location of the marches as well as size of the protests using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). We find that local proximity to small marches had a positive impact on feelings of efficacy, whereas large‐scale protests led to lower feelings of efficacy. The results shed light on the role localized political events can play in shaping feelings towards government, the importance of conceptions of space and time to the study of social movements, and the positive outcomes that can result from contentious politics.
¹ There’s an old saying that a scientist would rather use someone else’s toothbrush than another scientist’s nomenclature. I don’t want to ascribe motivations here, but researchers don’t use the same terms for the four types of efficacy (or even agree on the types of efficacy and the number of types). Thanks to Justin Rolfe-Redding of the Climate Advocacy Lab for the definitions of efficacy above.
This article has been written by Randall Smith from PowerLabs. PowerLabs helps organizers design and run people-powered campaigns. They provide training, coaching and strategic planning support to build the capacity of organizations, leaders and networks.
This article is from PowerLab’s Nerdy Movement Study Group – Giving the tools, inspiration, and support to create a high-participation, high-commitment organizing program where members grow, learn, and lead.
- Designing Motivational Work
- Levels of Commitment from Community to Core
- Organizing: People, Power and Change – The One on One 1:1 Meeting
- What Helps Motivate People to Take Action?
- Building Organising Leadership During Election Mobilisation
- What motivates us to engage in activism
- Organizing: People, Power, Change
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