World's first empirical test on creative activism. The result? It's more effective than ordinary activism

One of our earliest contacts with our sister organisation Alternativet in Denmark was with Silas Harrebye, an academic and early founder of Alternativet. Silas is an expert in creative activism - (his book Social Change and Creative Activism in the 21st century is an amazing overview of the field). By “creative activism” is meant the use of pranks, stunts, simulations, immersive experiences and performances, as a way of getting a message across and motivating citizens. (We’re exploring some of this territory in Montreal, and cover it elsewhere on the DA).

Silas has just sent us what he claims to be a world first. Let him explain:

The past decade has witnessed a surge in “artistic activism,” both in its practice and its study. Whether it actually works is however still a matter of faith more than fact. What has not been done is an evidence-based, empirical comparative study of the variable impact of creative versus more conventional forms of activism on a public audience in terms of ideas, ideals and actions. Until now.

Over the course of three days in May of 2018  we mounted activist interventions in the popular and well-traveled bridge in the middle of Copenhagen, Denmark. Each day we paired a conventional activist intervention -- public speaking, petitioning, flyering  -- with a creative way of accomplishing the same task, in a classic A/B experimental model. The results were revealing.

At the top of this post is their three minute video, showing the headlines of their findings (and the rumbustious fun they had in executing their test). Their initial findings are in this document, but some headlines below.

(The content of the intervention, as you’ll see from the video, is about how meat and dairy consumption implies intensive use of cows in agricultural production, whose creation of methane - through flatulence - is a major contributor to global warming.)

Comparing the rap with a public speech, our observers noted considerable increases in audience Attention, Interest, Interaction, and Documentation when the speech was rapped. While the category of audience Participation favored the traditional speech slightly, the participation was largely negative, with people voicing their objections to what was being said in the Speech.

Pairing conventional petitioning with a creative approach, we also found marked differences. We determined how successful each approach was by counting the number of signatures each “facer” received on a petition and compared this to the number of total approaches to passersby the performer made.

Each of the four petitioners were able to secure more signatures, relative to approaches, while wearing cow costumes, and backed up by the creative banner and cow-fart sound track. In percentages, conventional facers were successful in garnering signatures a little less than 17% of the time, whereas the cows succeeded a bit more than 28% of the time.

Maybe these stats - and more to come, from their next wave of research - will give you the courage to be funny, wacky or stunt-oriented in your next campaign moment. (We also note that this “Copenhagen Experiment” is a coproduction with the Centre for Artistic Activism, whose direction Stephen Duncombe we profiled last week.)