The picture above is the same photo that Cesar Cortijo used in his petition at Change.org, which started in Peru two months ago. It features him and his son Cesar, who has Down syndrome– two ordinary citizens standing up for the rights of millions. With the support of almost 40,000 signatures in a fast-growing campaign, Cesar managed to influence the government’s decisions and alter the Covid-19 vaccination rule in his country: now, all Peruvians with Down syndrome over 18 years old will be prioritized in the 1st phase of the country’s vaccination program.
In Change.org language, that’s what we call a victory! ✊
And Cesar is called a “petition starter” (PS). 📝
Local Change.org teams follow hopeful stories like this every day. Hundreds of new petitions are created in every country each week, and our local campaigners do their best to help and support petition starters in raising public awareness.
Many times, we win, and sometimes we don’t. So we ask ourselves: is it possible to do more?
In January 2021, together with the Change.org teams in Latin America, we started an ‘active listening’ initiative with Change.org users in the region where we had this learning question: how might we inspire and support petition starters in a more human way while being more effective and scalable in our practices?
The kickoff involved an online survey that targeted citizen petition starters from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. Our target group met the following criteria: has published a petition between March 2020 and March 2021 or had an all-time victory (a petition that achieved its objective). We got responses from 485 people with an active petition (with 36 achieving a victory).
In this article, we want to share the results of this active listening study to foster collaboration with other countries in the Change.org ecosystem and inspire other organizations working in the field of citizen activism worldwide.
😇 User segmentation
There are two very different type of Change.org users in Latin America:
- Non-activist, adult “everyday citizens” (most of them have been signing petitions for a long time before starting their own).
- Young activists that are quite new to Change.org (most of them have started a petition based on a recommendation).
😨 Common challenges
Petition starters need further support for the very first steps of their campaigns to–
- Increase the number of signatures
- Identify the correct decision-maker to target for their petition
- In countries where Change.org teams are new and small, users prefer workshops and social media platforms as channels to learn how to create quality petitions.
- Meanwhile, in countries where Change.org has been operating for much longer and has larger teams, users prefer to be supported through online guides and prefer communication via WhatsApp.
Let’s take a deeper look at the survey results and our conclusions…
First, let’s look at the percentage of responses by country and age group.
Our largest group of survey respondents belong to the age group ranging from 55 to 64 years old. This also tells us that they are the most active users among our petition starters userbase.
Next, we asked petition starters if creating a petition on Change.org was their first act of citizen activism. We wanted to know more about their background and if they’ve had previous experience in social activism. While we acknowledge that these answers are influenced by the cultural and social contexts of each country, the information we’ve gathered is sufficient in helping us formulate a stronger narrative for our target audience.
For example, we could use the message, “Take your advocacies online” or “Digitize your activism” to approach those users who already consider themselves activists even before encountering Change.org. Alternatively, we could say, “Change.org is the place to start” to users who are new to the world of activism.
In Panama, Peru, Ecuador and Chile, petition starters considered creating a petition at Change.org as their first experience of taking action on an issue they care about.
Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Colombia, more users shared that they have had experience in social activism before starting a petition on Change.org.
According to the survey, 60% of users between 18 to 24 considered themselves activists before even starting a petition on the platform.
What turns a Change.org user into a petition starter?
We learned that there are three main factors that motivate our users to start a petition:
- A personal connection to the cause
- A certain level of dissatisfaction with the status quo
- Confidence that they could be successful
67% of petition starters signed other petitions before creating their own. This information is key in helping us build and engage audiences. It also tells us that there is great potential for ‘signers’ to become petition starters.
Respondents were then segmented according to their age. With this data, we discovered that respondents from the youngest age group were influenced to start a petition by people they know who have started petitions in the past.
In addition to channels with which petition starters used to create their petition, we wanted to know what their underlying motivations were.
40% of users started a petition to fight injustice. 17% became petition starters because of how an issue affected them personally. Only 5.7% started one because the issue affected someone within their network (a friend or a family member).
What is the most common barrier for a PS?
Understanding the biggest roadblocks that petition starters face when creating and escalating their campaigns can help optimize our tools and create new, better products that will address their needs.
Most users find it challenging to reach their signature goals. While the second most challenging part for them is identifying the decision-maker of their petition (who they’re addressing their petition to).
How could we have helped you better?
Below are some responses we got from users with active petitions and victories. Respondents who experienced a victory had more positive feedback.
Preferred channel of communication
We asked respondents which channel they preferred to receive support from the Change.org team.
The survey results showed that they preferred e-mail and WhatsApp more than others.
Did you know that Change.org is physically present in your country to support people like you?
Change.org local campaigners help many petition starters improve and escalate their petitions, but it is almost impossible for our teams to support all petition starters and their campaigns.
We want to make our local teams more visible to the public and to let people know that they can reach out to our local team and initiate communication with our campaigners (in case we don’t reach out to them first). One way we thought of improving our support is by optimizing automated channels to make it possible (and easy) for users to initiate communication.
So we asked respondents if they were aware that local teams, with people actively coordinating with and supporting petition starters, were present in their countries.
Only 36.9% were aware that Change.org has a local team that offers campaign support. We then asked if they know how to contact the Change.org team.
Among those aware of our local presence, more than half know how to get in touch with the team. This tells us that more efforts need to be put in place in raising awareness. We learned from experience that coordinating with our teams to help improve and escalate petitions is a key factor in creating impactful campaigns.
Have you used any Change.org support tools?
This question helped us realize that we needed to place more emphasis on our communication efforts in letting people know of the tools and resources we offer to support petition starters. Only 16.7% of those surveyed said they have previously used a support tool.
Would you like to participate in online workshops on tools to improve your petition?
Comparing the answers to this question with the previous one, we can gather that there is much enthusiasm for engaging with our campaign support tools and experiences.
According to the survey, our respondents from Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia–countries where our presence is ‘new’–shared that they would like to participate in online workshops. Meanwhile, respondents from our more established countries where Change.org has been operating for much longer, said they preferred other types of support.
Do you think online petitions work?
Not all petition starters are satisfied with the results of their petitions. Many of them express their dissatisfaction with the platform and how difficult it was for them to get signatures. We wanted to get an idea of how many petition starters believed in people power and saw Change.org as a driver for their advocacy.
Panama, Chile, Peru, Argentina and Colombia are the countries where our impact program needed to focus more on increasing users’ belief. In these countries, less than 60% of their users agree that Change.org works.
Would you recommend creating a petition on Change.org to someone else?
Through this study, our Latin American team now has a better understanding of the ‘pulse’ of our petition starters in the region–their motivations, experience with the brand, and challenges they’re facing. The study doesn’t end here! For user-centred initiatives like this, it’s important to keep the approach of active listening going as we iterate and shift our focus on improving our tools (or creating new ones) to better serve the needs of our users.
We hope our initial study will spark ideas for similar social impact initiatives and prompt better conversations between campaigners and citizen activists around the world.
Stay tuned at the Change.org Foundation to learn more about our Latam Impact Initiative! 💪🏼