It is a strange symptom, but it happens to all of us: if we get used to a negative situation, be it that we observe that old people need to collect empty bottles out of the waste to earn some money, children who fail at school because they miss the right support or homeless people who cannot even afford to visit a doctor if they are ill, it’s getting hard to to feel responsible, to take the initiative and start to think how to change it actively. We talk about it, we realize the bad situation, but do not act. What is it that makes us passive observers?
Diffusion of responsibility
Diffusion of responsibility is a sociopsychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present. We assume that others either are responsible for taking action or have already done so. The phenomenon tends to occur in groups of people above a certain critical size and when responsibility is not explicitly assigned. It rarely occurs when we are alone or directly confronted with a concrete situation where we asked to help.
When a few weeks ago I put an announcement on a local board that I need wool and knitting needles for a project with tribal women in India I was surprised how many people react and offered huge packages with materials. Some needles still arrived via mail weeks later.
If you want to motivate others to become part of change movements and get support think about how to split it in small, very concrete pieces. Communicate in a way that people easily understand what you need and how they can contribute. People like to share and give if they can connect to an ‘individual’ case, a concrete location where support is needed. They have to feel that their contribution makes a difference and that their engagement is decisive to make change happen.
When it comes to companies and a real social engagement, this applies as well. If there should be a real engagement that goes beyond a financial sponsoring and social behavior should become a real part of a culture, it is needed that there is a team in place that works on concrete opportunities and cases on how employees can engage. Taking responsibility means to give even resources who prepare engagement opportunities and market it in a strategic way.
Do you have similar experiences to share?