All in the name of change – the Mayor that mocks, moons & mimes

– by Elizabeth Bott

City wide behaviour change by the former Mayor of Bogotá,  Antanas Mockus

Professor Antanas Mockus

The President of the National University of Colombia was giving a lecture entitled “innovative behaviour can be useful when you run out of words” when as a result of rowdy and disrespectful students, he opted to moon the students – demonstrating that actions speak louder then words.  Shortly after this he resigned and (due to his new found student respect) was voted in as Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.

Antanas Mockus (pronounced mock-us) was know to dress up in a spandex suite as a super hero to set a good example for the citizens of Bogotá – his cape name was Super Citizen. 

Mockus as Super Citizen

During his two terms as Mayor (1995-1998 and 2005) Mockus proved that fun, innovation and positive social mechanisms can change behaviour. These examples of the use of public art (what he refers to as ‘sub-art’ – Art without the pretention of being art) to make the familiar, unfamiliar through a sense of estrangement in order for change. Art is used as it can be inspiring, invites people to judge and helps to build social common sense in a public environment.

Some of Mockus’ best examples of this relate to how he addressed the issue of traffic infringements.  Drivers were given a thumbs-up and thumbs-down card which they could use peacefully to signal to others that they were doing the right or wrong thing. This made behaviour noticeably public and showed that others around you were aware of your actions by using peaceful communication to resolve conflicts.

The Thumbs up and down driver cards (source: Freakanomics)

These examples explore the relationship of the motivations and regulations that dictate our actions. Motivations are developed through ­our interests, reasons and emotions. While regulations comprise of legal, moral and cultural rules.  For behaviour change to take place these mechanisms must all be in harmony.

Mockus also had an innovative, if not odd method of changing the social norms of the day. It had become very common for people to jay-walk in Bogotá, so much so that fatalities were at around 1,300 per year but his method managed to reduce traffic fatalities dropped by more then half.

To start, pedestrian deaths were marked with a star and cross painted on the road to appeal to pedestrians moral obligation, but this was not enough. Pedestrians were Mockus came up with the idea of employing 420 mimes  to mimic people doing the wrong thing in the city in an aim  to stop people from jay-walking.  The copied peoples actions, to both alert and embarrass them. And it worked by employing the fear of social rejection as a successful motivator for behaviour change.

Street Mimes in Bogotá (source: Harvard Gazette)

By reframing everyday experiences Mockus improved citizenship culture in Bogotá through communication, expression and interpretation using arts, culture, recreation and sports. He created “teachable moments” that made the city a better place to live without new regulations. Showing that positive reasons, not punishment can be successful in encouraging the acceptance of  rules through peaceful and meaningful social communications and self regulation.

For more awesome examples of peer pressure and community shame influencing behaviour change checkout the Freakanomics ‘Riding the Herd Mentality’  radio podcast here.

Here Mockus explain his approaches to designing behaviour change:

<p><a href=”″>Antanas Mockus: Changing a City through making unfamiliar the familiar</a> from <a href=””>Utrecht School of the Arts</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>