A Public will campaign seeks to understand the multiple factors already at work in communities, then builds on existing efforts by making previously unseen connections.

Public Will: Describing the Shift

Public Will: Describing the Shift


For three months in the Fall of 2017, an ad hoc group of strong TBCAC supporters — Denise Busley, Cindy Smith, Jen Hutchinson, Pat Warner, Jayne Moore, Mary Gillett — met on a weekly basis in order to define next steps for a large scale prevention effort. After successfully training 5% of the adult population in the Grand Traverse region in Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children sexual abuse prevention program, this group of trailblazers recognized that as a community and a society, we need to do more. Though group trainings on recognizing the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse are vital and must continue, there is a bigger and deeper problem which needs a bigger and deeper solution.

By the winter of 2017, we learned about the theory of a Public Will Campaign and a real shift in the way we were approaching the Primary Prevention campaign began. We started to see this challenge more broadly from a systems perspective, and redesigned the process to open our aperture: to learn more fully from the people and organizations who are actively working to change the system, and also from those who directly feel the impacts of the system as it exists.

In essence… we realized we need to change the will of the public to proactively and openly protect children from sexual abuse.

Enter, Public Will Campaign. This approach to social change is considered an organized, strategic initiative designed to legitimize and garner public support for social problems as a mechanism of achieving policy action or change. “Public Will” marries the feelings and beliefs people hold about an issue with their willingness to act on it.

Building on the foundation set forth in the TeamZero effort striving towards “Zero Tolerance for Child Sexual Abuse,” we shifted our focus from primary prevention to the evolution of public will to take action and make child sexual abuse rare and non-recurring in our lifetime… a significant step to realizing the final goal of “a world without abuse.”

This strategic shift was designed to speak more clearly to the direct and powerful impact individuals can have behaviorally, culturally and within the structures and systems that drive society as a whole.

Working together, we use the momentum generated to observe the system as it changes itself.

What does this look like? One example, known to most Americans, is smoking in public places. Those of a certain age can clearly remember when smoking was allowed on airplanes, in restaurants/bars, workplaces and all types of public venues. You may even have been part of the generation whose mother openly smoked while pregnant, or whose parents smoked inside cars with closed windows. In those days, smoking was so normalized in the media, corporations, government and the behaviors of our peers that we never gave it a second thought.

According to a report dated April 22, 2011, in the span of 10 years, smoke-free workplaces, restaurants, and bars went from being relatively rare to being the norm in half of the states and DC. Several factors appear to have contributed to this outcome:

  • First, smoke-free laws increasingly were viewed as a worker protection measure that should apply to all employees, including those in restaurants and bars.

  • Second, as state and local smoke-free laws were enacted across the country, other states and communities learned from the experiences of similar jurisdictions and were able to adapt and implement such laws. For example, New York City's adoption of a comprehensive smoke-free law in 2002 drew substantial news media coverage and established that a smoke-free law could be implemented successfully in a large, diverse, metropolitan setting.

  • Finally, the Surgeon General's 2006 report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, presented several important conclusions about the health risks associated with SHS exposure and effective protection approaches, generated extensive news media coverage, and was cited by a number of state and local policymakers as influencing their decisions on this topic. Of the 26 states that adopted comprehensive smoke-free laws, 16 did so after this report was released.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of states that enacted comprehensive smoke-free policies (workplaces, restaurants and bars) increased sharply, from zero states in 2000 to 26 states in 2010. As of January 2, 2019, there are 5,074 states, commonwealths, territories, and municipalities with laws in effect that restrict where smoking is allowed, many of which are 100% smoke-free Non-Hospitality Workplace, Restaurant, or Bar laws, and combinations of the three.

Of course smoking has not been completely eliminated, even though much has been done to build public awareness of the dangers of smoking and the risks of secondhand smoke. It was only when the nonsmoking public at large began to assert their right to cleaner air that this initiative took hold in society. Groups such as the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation came into being, to build awareness and move the societal levers of individual behavior, social norms and structural realities such as cigarette taxes, tobacco company lawsuits and changes to laws and policy.

Regarding the rights of non-smokers, the world is a very different place than it was in 2006. And we as Americans have seen these changes take place in just a fraction of our lifetimes. So too, Americans must embrace and own the right of every individual to experience a childhood free from sexual abuse.

We realize that despite our best efforts, child sexual abuse (CSA) will not be ended forever, regardless of how well we’re engaging the system. However, we do recognize there are drivers in society and key moments of clarity (e.g., #metoo) which can create momentum to move society forward. This can result in proactive, measurable activities we can use to learn and adapt, which in turn lead to stories that illuminate the challenge and feature positive results — ripples that build on themselves as these stories and activities evolve and advance.

Four drivers of success. Systems thinking is a different model than traditional thinking... it’s never that clear-cut, but it does help us understand the system as it currently exists and helps us to visualize potential areas to have the most effective impact.

What will drive our effectiveness moving forward? These four questions:

  1. Are we delivering positive impacts to those we hope to serve?

  2. Are we actually catalyzing changes in the underlying dynamics (i.e., Individual, social, structural)?

  3. How well are we listening to the system together? Are we leveraging information and assets in a structured and meaningful way?

  4. Are we learning and adapting effectively as we move forward?

Herein lies the challenge before us. We welcome the involvement of all who read our posts.

Workshop #1: History & Vision

Workshop #1: History & Vision