Power of listening

Thai campaign shows how listening can be the first step to mobilize on new issues.

Plummeting fish stocks. Pesticide pollution. Agriculture workers’ safety. Sustainable land use. All of these issues are important. But how to design a campaign that attracts attention and creates change?

For every public campaign that mobilizes thousands and achieves major policy change, dozens more never lift off. At the Change.org Foundation, we want everyone to have not only the tools but also the understanding of how to create compelling campaigns that push for systemic change.

In Thailand, power and profit in food chains is concentrated among a few big food and beverage companies. Small scale farmers and workers often receive a disproportionately small share of the value they are generating. Experts are warning that Thailand’s food system has become critically unsustainable due to its negative impacts on the environment, labour and human rights.

But sustainable food isn’t a topic that attracts much attention in Thailand. Campaigns on overfishing, workers safety or land management can struggle to gain public momentum or generate impact. That’s why the Change.org Foundation recently partnered with Oxfam in Thailand and their allies to find out exactly what could move people in Thailand to act on these issues.

We could have suggested driving headlong into a campaign, using a personal story, painting a picture of bad working conditions and condemning wasteful practices.

By taking a step back and starting our work with some social listening, we learnt that many people in Thailand, particularly in the cities, think about food in a context of self-image and health. Migrant workers rights remains a controversial issue in Thailand and an issue that is still relatively ‘new’ to many people.

We started by listening to what the public was saying about sustainable food, fishing and migrant workers. We followed public social media posts using tools like Crowdtangle, Tweetreach and Facebook search and assessed whether the posts received positive or negative engagement. Then over 3,000 people completed our online survey designed to understand what types of campaigns they were most likely to engage with.

We found that people were ready to engage with campaigns on the imbalance of power in the food industry, and in particular on the role of migrant workers in the fishing industry.

But campaigns had to be presented in a way that made people feel positive and linked self-image and food. We realized that while talking about migrant workers can be controversial, it was still important to expand people’s awareness of the issue in a positive way.  Finally many campaigns are driven by a strong emotional story. But this issue is relatively new and many Thai people associate food with convenience and health, rather than injustice or migrant workers. People told us they would want hard facts and reliable information in order to become involved in the campaign.

Structuring a campaign like this isn’t always possible. Some campaigns tap into a news cycle or a culture moment and take off. But just because an issue isn’t front page news, doesn’t mean we can’t mobilize and organize to tackle it. Our tactics just have to be different. After taking our online survey, 84% of people said they now wanted to be involved in a sustainable food campaign. That’s already over 2,500 potential supporters!