Prosocial initiatives – they do work

February 13, 2008 by
Filed under: The RSA 


In Manchester on Monday to talk about our project on pro-social behaviour. We are getting a good response as we go around the city and in the evening I was asked to speak to local government officers and members from the greater Manchester area. I began my talk by referring to two articles in Monday’s Manchester Evening News.

The page one lead was about the impeccable behaviour of Manchester City fans in the one minute’s silence to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster. Six thousand, predominantly young, men had put aside a lifetime of hostility to United and not one of them had broken the pledge of City fans to respect the silence. Contrast this with the story on page two reporting that the North West is the worst region in the UK for attacks by gangs on fire crews attending emergency call outs.

The success of the minute’s silence was based on a sophisticated and concerted campaign. The way Manchester had responded as a city united in grief fifty years ago was constantly emphasised. There were many reminders that City had lost a former great – Frank Swift – in the crash so they could mourn for their own and not just United’s loss. City fans’ websites hosted long debates and agreed amongst themselves that it would be letting City down not to respect the ‘minute’. On the day United gave every fan a free scarf – with sky-blue scarves for the City fans. There was an iron fist inside the velvet glove: a proclamation from City that any fan seen disrupting the minute would get a life ban, but everyone knew this threat would have been unworkable if thousands had ignored it.

So it is possible to persuade people – even people resistant to authority – to do the right thing but it takes thought and effort. The day after the talk, the Head of Public Affairs at Canary Wharf, Howard Dawber, told me about an initiative in a nearby area, the Isle of Dogs. Fire crews facing false call outs and attacks on a local estate had explored the reasons for the problem. They had come to the conclusion that it was because the youngsters found fire engines and fire crews exciting. So they put together a set of activities which brought the fire engine into the community and provided youngsters with opportunities to ride in the engine, undertake an adapted form of the fire crew training and even wear an adapted uniform. The effect of all this was that not only did the false alarms and attacks virtually dry up but that the fire service had an unprecedented level of applications to join from youngsters on the area.

It takes effort, innovation, commitment but pro-social initiatives do work and the results can be spectacular.

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