There are two generalizable findings on influencing behavior change. First, citizens are more likely to get involved politically if they see members of their peer group or social group getting involved. In other words, the choice to participate may be as simple as doing something that everyone else is doing. In this case, there is an element of social pressure exerted, but also witnessing like-minded others "getting active" is a heuristic that the issue merits attention and personal resources. When these peers also start making personal requests to participate, it can be a powerful combination. In fact, this is one reason why churches are such an effective political communication and mobilization context. Second, is the idea of "social modeling." If people can visualize themselves achieving a goal or performing a task, it increases their efficacy, or their belief that they can accomplish something, and make a difference.
I point out these general findings because in a recent interview, director Davis Guggenheim suggests that the DVD version of Inconvenient Truth is likely to have an even greater mobilizing impact than the theatrical release.
He argues that not only will activists be inviting friends, co-workers, and family members to view the film at "Truth House Parties," and then trying to the use the viewing to mobilize their guests into action, but also that the DVD version will include additional features or vignettes showing examples of how citizens from varying backgrounds were able to take action on climate change in different ways. Here's what he has to say, and go here for the full interview:
DG: It's tough. You know, one of the things that struck me was the DVD of this movie. Because I think that the dvd is going to be a very powerful tool when it comes out - people are going to give it to their friends, they're going have parties and watch it. In the way that a lot of other activist documentaries have been used. I think that you can put on the DVD of this movie, little vignettes, four or five vignettes of real people - doing - changing their lives and getting involved and changing this problem in their own individual ways. I'm a big believer that films are about people. It's hard to make a documentary about a list of things you can do. And a websites great for that. What if there are little movies about people like me - about a dad with two kids - and he's learning how to become carbon neutral. Or there's another story about someone who's figuring out a commute to work with a gas guzzling car, how to make those changes. Or someone's who's trying to reach their congressman. The idea that I'd love to have someone come up with the money for is to make four or five little vignettes - so that if you had the DVD you can hit a button and see what it's like to convince my congressman, or I want to take the political route, or the carbon neutral route. Or I want ... and then you can watch that person do that and watch that person transform. That would be pretty cool.
As a long time political organizer let me add something to this: should you manage to turn people out to do something to take more control of their political environment, it is essential that you give them what I call "an experience of efficacy." That doesn't mean they necessarily have to have a "win," but at the very least they need to feel they completed "something" (a project, a mailing, whatever) and to be helped to interpret their experience as building something larger.
If they don't get this feedback, the experience of involvement will quickly dissapate, even if they are surrounded by others who are active.