History has shown that what might be viewed and accepted in one decade can be an anathema in the next – take smoking as an example.
Looking retrospectively, we tend to categorise these as monumental societal shifts in attitude and behaviour, when in fact they typically come about because of small and incremental step changes.
When considering the driving force behind these significant shifts, we might like the answer to be because it’s ‘good for us’, but this isn’t typically a ‘good enough’ reason for such drastic changes.
The complexity of human nature means we don’t wake up one day and decide to stop smoking. What happens is actually the exponential effect of subtle and continuous stimuli in our individual social environment. And because ours is such a hyper-connected society, the compound effect of numerous small changes, over time, can be described as a new ‘trend’ or movement.
Although it’s really a scientific concept, the Butterfly Effect also resonates in a political, economic and social sense. And it has potential too in the area of behaviour change, particularly regarding how the impact in question, depends on the initial condition.
For Drinkaware, this is a critical aspect of the Effect – knowing the starting point to measure the progress towards the finishing line ie where you want to be. Our mission is to prevent and reduce the misuse of alcohol, so we invest in research to better understand what the present consumption and attitude reality is, in order to aspire to and plot a pathway to change this.
Using our data, our interactions and observations in this space, along with national and international research, we craft evidence-based campaigns to create the change we seek in the long term. In the short term, we apply our knowledge and experience to changing the trajectory of alcohol consumption and to writing a new and empowering narrative. One that inspires, endorses and grounds positive attitudinal and behavioural change.
We take inspiration and direction from all of the changes we witness and measure: a rise in use of our online calculator, deeper conversations on Facebook, more questions in our workshops, greater media interest and coverage.
And the Butterfly Effect, the collective significance of this is genuine movement in public interest, awareness and change regarding alcohol. The tangible shift in the public consciousness on the subject of alcohol is starting to mainstream a new and important narrative, where moderation and abstinence are socially acceptable.
That’s not to say there isn’t a way to go. Change can be fragile, and the public’s readiness to change is a critical factor. But the work we do is to create and bed down that readiness, people’s willingness to consider and to converse, and especially to challenge the alcohol stereotype echo chamber.
Because we, all of us in Irish society, are the powerbrokers for meaningful change. And we must do our part. However small.