Is it a bird? Is it plane? No, it is ... a super citizen!
The former Mayor of Bogotá (the capital of Columbia), Antanas Mockus, used very non-traditional methods when he created significant changes in a South American metropolis with massive problems.
Mockus (pictured) clothed in a Superman costume with a big "C" on the chest (Super Citizen), ran around the streets and gathered trash. With this, he made himself a living example of the good citizen (the Super Citizen). Like a regular Superman he put himself and his own body into the fight to save the city. In record time, he transformed Bogota into a city with significantly less crime and corruption, and better waste and traffic conditions. But most importantly, he awoke citizens to be co-creators and co-owners of a brand new city.
A city of horrors...
Bogotá had massive problems. There were major issues with crime, corruption, waste and lawlessness in traffic. And the public had lost confidence in the police. If problems were to be solved, there was a need for radical change in the Colombians' mentality and behavior. There was the need to change the individual's perception of his/her own role in a city where many people live together in a confined space. It was quite a task. Behaviour is one of the most difficult things to change.
…and a social experiment
Mockus also knew this, so he tried highly unconventional methods to reverse this trend. Among other things he hired 420 mime artists to control the traffic by influencing people's behaviour with humor and gags. He hired artists into his administration to get fresh approaches to policy. He equipped drivers with red and white signs, which they could use to respectively criticize or praise each other's driving – instead of getting out of their cars and beating each other up. He made photocopies of a police officer with a hole where the face should be, so that citizens could place themselves behind the characters and try acting as the police for a while.
He invented a ‘Women's Night’ event when men were encouraged to stay at home and women to go to town! Mockus was looking for a symbol of safety, as many women were afraid to go out. 700,000 women went out during Women's Night and the evening became a symbol for Bogotá as a safe city to go out in. He organised an opportunity for citizens to call his administration when they met a nice and honest taxi driver. These drivers were then invited to a workshop, where ideas on how to tackle the ‘bad’ drivers were developed.
His efforts had a huge impact. The number of cases of violence and killings fell sharply, roadblocks became less frequent, people began to take care of the environment and above all the general atmosphere of the town was noticeably improved.
Empathy, art and humour
The interesting thing about this story is that Mockus managed to engage citizens in the development of their own city to a degree never seen before, and it's great to read about the positive changes it created.
The particular thing Mockus did differently (and is a rare thing in politics) is that he invested himself emotionally and managed to touch the citizens so that they were reawoken (to be a little grandiose). He made politics relevant and present rather than reducing it to questions of distribution and media rhetorics. As he himself says "If people know the rules, and are sensitised by art, humour, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change".
I belive that this emotional touch is vital in processes of change and is one of the secrets of Mockus’ success. To get citizens to change their behaviour and be active co-creators of our society requires methods of communication which appeal to other parts of us than our intellect (and the inner beast). Namely humour, our emotions and our longing to be co-creators of valuable communities.
Is it a bird?
Mockus' Bogotá is a great story of how the unexpected can happen. That you sometimes need alternative methods to change. To create hope in even the direst situations. And perhaps we should dare to invest a little more of ourselves when we go into new projects, political or not. You can see a selection of the film Bogotá Change or the entire film on www.filmstriben.dk. You can read more about the social experiment on the Harvard Gazette.
Here, Mockus is the starting point of our blog, which will focus on the way we involve users in change, both big and small.