PowerGames: Getting at Motivation?

Oct 12, 2006, 4:07 AM, Posted by Susan Promislo

Foundations support countless focus groups and audience surveys, learning lots about what people say concerns them when it comes to social change.  At the end of the day, though, we're often left wondering why so few people actually go beyond caring to getting off their duff and doing something to solve a problem.  For an institution like RWJF, getting a better handle on this question could be a real help in shifting the tides in, for example, the fights to cover the uninsured or to pass more clean indoor air policies.

Recently I participated in the first of three PowerGames that took place in Denver to try to bridge this "activation gap."  PowerGames are the "rubber-hits-the-road" part of a grant we made to the Communications Leadership Institute (CLI) to test a novel approach to qualitative audience research. For this work, CLI partnered with The Curious Company, a market research firm that designs highly interactive, immersive exercises (using skilled improv actors/facilitators) to draw out people's visceral responses to questions of what motivates them.

Curious is usually hired by clients like Pepsi and General Motors, and so they were excited to test how the PowerGame methodology could be applied to social sector challenges.  The objective: to get at people’s spontaneous thoughts on what might inspire them to move beyond caring about a social change issue – or even writing a check – to actively engaging in solutions.

There were 10 recruited participants, two consultants from CLI and me in the Saturday group, which focused on global warming.  Since I had to take part as a full participant like everyone else (no anonymous luxury of taking it all in behind the one-way mirror this time...) it was important that I not be in a session that related closely to our area of work so that I wouldn't blow our cover or sway the discussions.  The other two groups examined what might activate people around sex education in schools and childhood obesity.

We've just received the report on all three sessions and I'll post again soon on the technique and its results.  After my experience, I'm dying to see how the other two games worked out.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.