Tina Rosenberg is the author of one of the most influential books I’ve ever read while creating the framework for Colipera, Join The Club, and the creator ofwww.jointheclub.org. I had the pleasure of grabbing breakfast with her and asking her a few questions about life, group accountability, revolutions, climate change, and the AIDS epidemic.
Can you elaborate on what jointheclub.org is all about?
A Join-the-Club (Social Cure) strategy is an attempt to help people change their behavior by giving them a new peer group to identify with. (The classic example is Alcoholics Anonymous – A group that supports you and holds you accountable.) This behavior change may itself solve a problem, or it may be used to create catalysts for action on a wider scale. On the website, we’re trying to collect stories and a lot of best-case examples of how elements of the social cure has worked. People will be able to come to the website and they can connect and discuss what worked for people and what didn’t. The site is in its infancy right now but it’s coming.
What Got You Involved in the Social Cure Sphere?
I met Ivan Marovic from Otpor!, which is the Serbian student movement that played a key role in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. I had already written about Lovelife in South Africa, which is the national teen AIDS-prevention program. I realized that these two organizations couldn’t be more opposite and yet they were using the same strategy. Lovelife is a government run program trying to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. It is aimed at the personal behavior of teenagers on a massive scale in South Africa.Otpor! was a group of 11 clandestine students – who were the furthest thing from government run as you can be – who were aiming to topple a dictator and to change grand political behavior in Serbia during Slobodan Milosevic’s rule. Yet the same idea made them both successful – they relied on positive peer pressure. I had to connect the dots. And once I put on my Social Cure glasses, I saw it everywhere.
Where do you see the Social Cure Movement being employed today in businesses?
I see it a lot in healthcare. Businesses are getting alarmed at the obesity levels and the diabetes levels of their employees so they’re interested in doing something that will keep their workers more productive. A lot of companies are trying innovative things in the line of group health, forming people into small groups, health coaching and such. That’s where I see a big growth.
How do you feel that climate change is at the mercy of the social cure?
Climate change is a tough issue for a government – at least ours – because it means present sacrifice for future benefit. Moreover, there is a tendency for a government to have a difficult time doing something and focusing on something that isn’t right in front of them. The social cure might help by encouraging people to make better choices as individuals. For example, power companies are using a cheap and easy strategy to help people use less energy – they simply tell us on our bill how much electricity comparable households are using. Believe it or not, this works. But on top of making better choices as individuals, what climate change policy is going to require is people organizing and putting political pressure on governments – and the social cure, because it is a way to mobilize people to work for a cause, can help with that.
What keeps people from accomplishing their goals?
In order to overcome a feeling of hopelessness or incompetence, we need to have some power to do something about it. We need self-efficacy – to feel that we are able to make a difference, and we need to identify with a group that has the social norm of action towards our goal.
What is the key to people achieving their goals?
Without the sense of pressure, achieving a goal becomes difficult. Typically, pressure from an outside source, assumed or real, does wonders. That’s one reason that positive peer pressure is so effective.
Why do some groups fail?
Some people know each other too well and they understand each other’s issues too well. Sympathetic understanding trumps accountability. For example, friends who form a diet group may be so sympathetic that they end up giving social permission to not lose weight – which is the opposite of what you want. Sometimes you need some form of competition so that you create a social dynamic and an environment where it’s ok to be tough on each other. You need someone who can break the taboo. That can be by making reaching the goal a competition, and a lot of times that can be done by a leader or a coach.
What are your thoughts on online vs. offline groups?
Face-to-face is the best format. I can’t picture an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting online. The online part is a facilitator, it’s a way of communicating and spreading knowledge, perhaps about a cause or a movement, that makes a join-the-club movement work better. But you do need the face-to-face. However, we should be cognizant that online communities do offer help for people who aren’t able to be part of a face-to-face group. Things like video chatting can be an in-between solution.
(NOTE: Yes, the font is bigger on my posts in 2012. I figure I’d make it easier on your eyes.)