I’m watching the 2nd USDOT Distracted Driving Summit online today. Reflecting on the past year. Sharing a recipe on how to make a sweeping national difference — quickly — on a public health issue. It’s possible.
This recipe has been cookin’ to change national beliefs and behavior about using cell phones while driving:
- The backing of a very high level government official — in this case, a member of the President’s Cabinet, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
- Not only have the “backing” of a very high level government official — he or she should publicly “go on a rampage” about your issue, as Secretary LaHood often describes his mission. He is on a rampage to stop crashes and deaths due to distracted driving.
- The government official should have a very public presence and excellent communication skills.
- The government official should be in a position to influence change in federal regulation. As announced at the Distracted Driving Summit today, truck drivers must follow a USDOT regulation limiting their cell phone use.
- Federal financial resources must be allocated to fund proven effective behavior change strategies.
- Encourage people affected by your issue to start a national advocacy organization so the public hears their stories. They are also powerful advocates when lobbying legislators and others for change.
- Recruit relevant nationally-recognized organizations to see their vested interest in your issue. Changing the issue should be among their core goals. Organizations that are good at getting others to listen, that are good at getting media attention, are best.
- The relevant nationally-recognized organizations will help move change faster if they are well-connected in all sectors of politics, business, media.
- When the above support is vocal, the media will report on what these organizations and people are talking about. And media drives more media like a snowball down a mountain. Watch it roll!
- Reach out to public and private employers who can change their employees’ environment for the better. People working full-time spend most of their waking hours at work. The workplace has a huge influence on social norms. Team up with organizations that specialize in reaching employers. And as those working in public health know, influencing employer policies can make sweeping change.
- Share compelling data about the impact of your issue. I work on traffic safety and there’s (unfortunately) no shortage of compelling data about the toll of crashes. Leverage the data.
- If your issue can be addressed with state laws, develop a prioritized plan to advocate. There are 50 states. You won’t be able to work in all. If your issue is rolling, the public is talking, and it’s likely state legislators are already taking action in response to the public desire. This angle is worthy of a whole blog on its own so I won’t get in detail beyond listing it as very important for change.
- Fully use all online communications available today — blogs, Twitter, Facebook, online webcasts. I mean, fully. What does this mean? Watch for a post later with an example.
This may look overwhelming. But it’s possible. Those of us in public health know population-level change is not easy and this is what it takes. Think Thanksgiving Dinner cooking, not frozen food in the microwave.
I show a pizza recipe above because I think of public health change like a pizza — many ingredients are needed to bring change: education, social norms, policy, enforcement, technology, physical environment, etc.
This change has happened for many issues and it’s happening right now for cell phones and driving. I’m thankful to work in the middle of it, to see how these ingredients all work to influence massive change. It’s possible!